(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)
St Francis in Prayer before the Crucifix1585-90
Oil on canvas, 106 x 87 cm
Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao
This painting comes from the Carmelite convent in Cuerva, Toledo, founded by dona Aldonza, the sister of cardinal Nino de Guevara, who probably commissioned the work directly from the painter. As was usual during this stage in his career, which was fully consolidated in Toledo, El Greco signed his name in minute Greek letters on the small piece of paper depicted on the floor.
The representation of St Francis of Assisi is one of the most popular themes of devotion and one of those that El Greco repeated the most. Here the ascetic figure of the saint, dressed in rough clothes, is silhouetted against the dark ground of the cave at Mount of La Verna where he is praying before a crucifix which, together with the skull and the book on the rock, composes a superb still-life. The painting is rendered by means of swift brushstrokes that dissolve into one another; bold touches of carmine, characteristic of the artist's technique, have been applied to intensify certain areas of flesh such as the lips.