POZZO, Andrea
(b. 1642, Trento, d. 1709, Wien)

Saint Francis Xavier

1701
Oil on canvas, 235 x 137 cm
Kiscelli Museum, Budapest

After the liberation of Hungary from the Turkish occupation, the church of Our Lady in Buda Castle passed into the ownership of the Society of Jesus. Their annals referred as early as 1701 to a "new and elegant" altarpiece of St. Francis Xavier, while a minute record from 1710 also describes the subject of the picture and its great artistic value. In this latter notice it is also mentioned that the altarpiece was painted by the greatly loved member of the order, the highly gifted Andrea Pozzo. The note about this brilliant and versatile Baroque artist (he was a painter, drawer, aquarellist, architectural designer, as well as an art theoretician), written in the year following his death, should be taken as fully authentic. It is inspired by the pleasure the Jesuits of Buda felt with the possession of at least one work of art from his splendid oeuvre.

The picture represents one of the most glorious successes of St. Francis Xavier as a Jesuit missionary in India: the very moment of his baptizing Queen Neachile of India, an eminent member of the royal family, giving her the name Isabella. Until then the Queen, a devout adherent of the ancient Indian religion, had been a most stubborn enemy of the Cristian faith, so her conversion was regarded as a singular achievement of Cristian missionary work in the Far East.

In Pozzo's oeuvre there are also some other variations on the same theme. In the Buda altarpiece the main figures of the scene are brought into relief by a monumental shaping; the modelling of light and shadow lays emphasis on the moment of administering the sacrament. The balance of the composition is given by a kneeling boy who holds a baptismal bowl in his hands - a figure entirely absent in the other variations.