Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata

Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata is the name given to two unsigned paintings completed around 1428–1432 that art historians usually attribute to the Flemish artist Jan van Eyck. The panels are nearly identical, apart from a considerable difference in size. Both are small paintings: the larger measures 29.3 cm x 33.4 cm and is in the Sabauda Gallery in Turin, Italy; the smaller panel is 12.7 cm x 14.6 cm and in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The earliest documentary evidence is in the 1470 inventory of Anselm Adornes of Bruges's will; he may have owned both panels.
The paintings show a famous incident from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, who is shown kneeling by a rock as he receives the stigmata of the crucified Christ on the palms of his hands and soles of his feet. Behind him are rock formations, shown in great detail, and a panoramic landscape. This treatment of Francis is the first such to appear in northern Renaissance art.
The arguments attributing the works to van Eyck are circumstantial and based mainly on the style and quality of the panels. (A later, third version is in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, but is weaker and strays significantly in tone and design.) From the 19th to mid-20th centuries, most scholars attributed the two versions either to a pupil or follower of van Eyck's working from a design by the master. Between 1983 and 1989 the paintings underwent technical examination and were extensively restored and cleaned. Technical analysis of the Philadelphia painting established that the wood panel comes from the same tree as that of two paintings definitively attributed to van Eyck, and that the Italian panel has underdrawings of a quality that it is thought could only have come from him. After nearly 500 years, the paintings were reunited in 1998 in an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Today the consensus is that both were painted by the same hand.
The paintings may have belonged to the Adornes family of Bruges. A copy of a will written in 1470 by Anselm Adornes, a member of one of the leading families in Bruges, was found in 1860. As he left for pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Adornes bequeathed to his two daughters in convents two paintings he describes as by van Eyck. He described one as "with a portrait of St Francis, made by the hand of Jan van Eyck" ("een tavereele daerinne dat Sint-Franssen in portrature van meester Ians handt van Heyck ghemaect staet").
Anselm may have inherited the paintings from his father Pieter or uncle Jakob, who had travelled to Jerusalem on pilgrimage about 50 years earlier, returning to Ghent around 1427 or 1428. On their return the Adornes brothers funded a replica of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre built in Bruges, known as the Jerusalem chapel. They may also have commissioned the two St Francis paintings as commemoration of the pilgrimage, in the fashion of the Eyckian The Three Marys at the Tomb – attributed to Jan's brother Hubert – a painting which may have been commissioned to commemorate a successful pilgrimage. An alternative theory is that they had the small painting prepared as a portable devotional work to bring on pilgrimage. The ownership of private devotional pieces was not uncommon – the often itinerant Philip the Good kept an altarpiece for travelling. Philip had van Eyck paint two identical betrothal portraits of Isabella of Portugal in 1428 – to ensure one survived the trip from Portugal – which may have set a precedent that Bruges art patrons sought to emulate. Anselm Adornes almost certainly brought the smaller painting with him on pilgrimage in 1470; it was seen in Italy, particularly in Florence, and widely copied. In the early 1470s Sandro Botticelli, Verrochio, Filippino Lippi and Giovanni Bellini each produced variations of St Francis Receiving the Stigmata that included motifs from van Eyck's version, especially evident in the rendering of the rocky background.
The paintings fell into obscurity for centuries until 1886 when art historian W. H. J. Weale drew the connection between them and the Adornes will. William à Court, 1st Baron Heytesbury bought the Philadelphia painting sometime between 1824 and 1828 in Lisbon. At that time it was thought to be by Albrecht Dürer, but in 1857 the art historian Gustav Waagen attributed it to van Eyck. Heytesbury sold it to a dealer in November 1894; a month later the Philadelphia collector John G. Johnson bought it for £700.[8] In 1917, he bequeathed his art collection to the City of Philadelphia.
The Turin painting was acquired in 1866 from the mayor of a nearby town. Previously it was owned by a professor living in the province of Alessandria; he bought it from a former nun in that province. The documentation is sketchy, but suggests the nun possessed it early in the 19th century during the dissolution of convents in the area under Napoleon. That a nun owned the painting three centuries after Adornes purportedly bequeathed a van Eyck St Francis to his daughter in a convent, and that the Adornes family owned property in Alessandria, is suggestive, but no evidence exists to confirm a connection.
The technical investigations Butler conducted during her tenure resulted in worldwide collaborations and three publications. The culmination of the research came in 1998 with an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The exhibition was small, with a handful of paintings and a few manuscript leaves. Only two are definitively attributed to the master, the Annunciation, which came from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and Saint Barbara, loaned from Antwerp. Two Saint Christopher's, one in Philadelphia and the other from the Louvre, are considered to be by workshop members. From Cleveland came a John the Baptist in the Landscape, thought to be by van Eyck followers. The Philadelphia and Turin Saint Francis paintings were both on display, reunited for probably the first time since the 15th century.
The small Philadelphia panel is painted with oil on parchment (vellum); a reconstructed red vermilion border surrounds the image – it is similar to those seen in contemporary illuminated manuscripts. It gives the illusion of the viewer looking through a window into the landscape. The parchment measures 12.9 cm × 15.2 cm (5.1 in × 6.0 in); the image measures 12.7 by 14.6 cm (5.0 by 5.7 in). Underneath are five wood supports; the parchment is glued to one, and four smaller pieces, added at a later date, frame the image. The parchment is unusually thick and has a thin insoluble layer of primer. The wooden frames were primed in a thick layer of white, which overlaps the parchment in places. The borders were gilded at some time; technical analysis found particles of gold leaf on the lower border. The Turin panel is painted on two oak panels joined with a band of parchment or cloth, on a ground of chalk and animal glue.