(b. 1573, Morazzone, d. 1626, Piedmont
St Francisc. 1610
Oil on canvas, 99 x 75 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
In some respects this work is associated with the point in Morazzone's career when he was working on the frescoes in the seventh chapel at the Sacro Monte, Varese. The painting may be viewed as a symbol of the tireless search for subtleties and depth of feeling that marked the Counter-Reformation spirit of seventeenth-century Lombard painting. Having abandoned the profane elegance of the preceding period, it strains for a programmed mortification of the senses. The corrupt and corruptible body is the principal subject, and tears and sorrow prevail. Intended to show a forthright, almost brutal realism, this St Francis achieves the opposite effect. From its insistent "reality" there emerges an absolute abstraction, an entirely expressionistic unreality. Impetuous rhythms explode in and around the metallic brown habit, the claw-like hands, the drawn mask of the face, the agitated sky and the highlights on the figure.