Francisco de Zurbarán
Francisco de Zurbarán

Details & Cataloguing

Contemplation of the Divine


Francisco de Zurbarán
Oil on canvas, in a carved and parcel gilt wood frame
157.5 by 100.5 cm.; 62 by 39 1/2  in.
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Don Luis Pacheco Suárez de Deza, Spain;

By descent to his son Don Alonso Pacheco de Torres, 1st Count of Ibangrande, by 1700;

By descent to Doña Pilar Carrillo de Albornoz Dávila, 8th Countess of Ibangrande, by circa 1906;

By descent to her daughter Doña María Dolores Carillo de Albornoz;

Doña María Luisa Martínez Carrillo de Albornoz;

By whom sold Madrid, Alcala, 15 February 2001, lot no. 288;

With Caylus, Madrid;

Private collection.


Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Francisco de Zurbarán, 29 January – 25 May 2014, no. 51.


O. Delenda, Francisco de Zurbarán, pintor, 1598 - 1664, Madrid 2007, pp. 72-73;

O. Delenda, Francisco de Zurbarán, Catálogo Razonado y Crítico, Madrid 2009, vol. I, pp. 640, cat. no. 231, reproduced;

O. Delenda, 'Francisco de Zurbarán: los ultimos hallazgos', in Ars Magazine, Jan-Feb 2010, no. 5 pp. 108-110 & 114;

Exhibition catalogue, Francisco de Zurbarán, Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 29 January – 25 May 2014, pp. 194-95, no. 51, reproduced.

Catalogue Note

This arresting image of Saint Francis at Prayer by Francisco de Zurbarán can be dated on stylistic grounds to around 1650-55, towards the end of the artist's Sevillian period, and is characterised by his dramatic treatment of light and sense of monumentality to the figure for which he was so admired during his lifetime as also today. Zurbarán produced devotional works relating to the founder of the Franciscan Order throughout his career, and through their stark simplicity and profound sense of spirituality, they can today be considered amongst the most evocative and iconic sacred images produced within 17th century Spain.1

For over three centuries the present work remained in the collection of the Counts of Ibangrande, Spain, whose descendants sold the painting at auction in Madrid in 2001, when its true authorship was obscured by dense layers of dirt and accretions that covered the paint surface. It was only following a professional restoration in London that, as stated by the leading Zurbarán scholar Odile Delenda:

‘then appeared the indisputable qualities of the work which permit it to be accepted as a totally autograph work.’2

Subsequent to its restoration the painting was rightly restored to the artist’s oeuvre, and was included in the 2009 catalogue raisonné published by Odile Delenda, as well as more recently the exhibition dedicated to Zurbarán held in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (see under Exhibited).

In its simplicity and directness, Zurbarán’s depiction of Saint Francis is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Counter Reformation, following the Council of Trent (1545 – 63), which encouraged a new focus on devotional life and re-affirmed the importance of the veneration of images. Saint Francis is shown in a grotto, kneeling in prayer before an outcrop of rock that he has improvised for use as an altar. On top rests his only worldly belongings and the objects of his contemplation: a book of scriptures, a skull (symbolising man’s mortality) and a simple cross. The simplicity of the scene is matched by the artist’s monochromatic palette which adds to the sense of austerity and piety of the image. Against the backdrop of the cavernous setting, the figure of Saint Francis is carved like a sculpture, the tenebrist lighting and voluminous folds of drapery creating the illusion of three-dimensionality and monumentality to the figure. Captured in a moment of prayer, Saint Francis looks out towards the beholder, his mouth open (presumably mid-recital), inviting us to engage in a life of devotion to God and thereby lead us to our own salvation.

The success of the present design is attested through the existence of a variant (oil on canvas, 168 by 114 cm.) from a Spanish private collection, which was exhibited in public for the first time in the recent exhibition dedicated to Zurbarán held at the Palazzo Diamanti in Ferrara, a studio version of which is in the Indianapolis Museum of Art.3

The present work has been requested for the exhibition Francisco Zurbarán.
Nueva mirada, to be held at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, on 9 June -
13 September 2015.

1. For example, the Saint Francis in the National Gallery, London, or that in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for which see the exhibition catalogue, Sacred Made Real: Spanish Paintings and Sculpture 1600 - 1700, London, National Gallery, 21 October 2009 - 24 January 2010, pp. 174-75 and pp.178-181, reproduced.

2. ‘aparecieron entonces sus innegables calidades que permiten admitirlo como una obra totalmente autógrafa.’ See O. Delenda, op. cit., p. 641.

 3. See the exhibition catalogue, Francisco de Zurbarán, Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, 14 September 2013 - 6 January 2014, pp. 204-05, pp. 204-05, reproduced.

Contemplation of the Divine