Saint Francis of Assisi

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Saint Francis of Assisi 

at the National Gallery until 30 July 

One of the measures of the popularity of Saint Francis of Assisi - and of his importance to the church - is that he was canonised (recognised as a Saint) just two years after his death in 1226. By means of comparison, his contemporary St Dominic, who died five years before him, was not canonised until six years after. 

The life and legend of Il Poverello ('the little poor one') has inspired artists throughout the centuries, and continues to do so until the present day. The National Gallery explores this fascination in an exhibition which mixes ancient and modern in an intriguing and entirely apt way. Indeed, the first things you see are works by contemporary British artists Anthony Gormley and Richard Long, and the latter was commissioned to make a new piece especially for this occasion. 

Francis's life is told in paintings by Sassetta from the Gallery's own collection, and then the history of his followers - the Franciscan's - and the importance of the Saint for the church as a whole is explored through international loans by artists as exciting and varied as Caravaggio and Stanley Spencer, not to mention the best painting I've seen by one of the lesser-known 17th Century women, Josefa de Óbidos. 

Some of the 20th and 21st century works may, at first glance, appear tangential, but the choices are always astute, and understanding their place in the story reveals how expertly the exhibition has been conceived and hung, and how cleverly the narrative of Francis's life and legacy are gradually and logically revealed, as the curators explain why they believe his ideas are still relevant today.

 During the talk we will take a quiet and I hope contemplative virtual stroll around the exhibition (there are just the right number of works, so no need for a headlong rush) as we consider if the curators are indeed right, given the increasingly secular nature of our society. 

Please remember, I do not record my talks.
Via Zoom®
Mon 19th Jun 2023
6:00pm BST
75 mins