(b. 1563, Pisa, d. 1639, London)

St Francis and the Angel

Oil on canvas, 133 x 98 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

Considered a youthful work of Orazio Gentileschi by most of the critics, the canvas shows a well-known episode from Tommaso da Celano's account of the life of St Francis.

The literature connects the canvas to Orazio's early Circumcision and sets it among a group of canvases executed before 1605. Moreover, this could be the project for which Gentileschi used a pair of false wings and a capuchin monk's habit that he borrowed from Caravaggio: the incident is recorded in the transcripts of a 1603 trial. Recent documentary discoveries about the patron who commissioned the work, on the other hand, suggest that the painting should be placed later in Gentileschi's career and dated to 1612-13. Such a dating would match the new chronology of the painter's works that has been reconstructed on the basis of recent archival research. The subject was evidently quite popular, and two other autograph versions of it by Gentileschi have been noted.

Around the turn of the century, Gentileschi encountered Caravaggio in Rome: though he was almost forty years old and had been a successful painter for over twenty years, Orazio was deeply influenced by his encounter with the new style of the younger master. In contrast to other followers of Caravaggio, Gentileschi was not enslaved to the strong personality of the young Lombard and his extraordinary naturalistic novelties: rather, he selected the aspects of Caravaggio's art that stimulated him. He tended to prefer the clear and transparent light of Caravaggio's earliest works. As the Barberini Saint Francis demonstrates, he elaborated these immediately and without uncertainty, forming a striking synthesis that is based on his own depth of artistic experience. Gentileschi unites his Caravaggism with the influences of Santi di Tito and Commodi's reformist Florentine manner, as well as a particular chromatic sensitivity inherent to Tuscany: these elements are refined and Romanized through the artist's long experience working on papal projects.

There is an inscription at the lower right, in gilded block letters, "ORATE PRO R.D. HORATIO GRIFFIO/ HVIVS ORATORII ET CELLAE / FVNDATORE"

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