Saint Francis and his brother León meditating on the death of El Greco

Saint Francis and his brother León meditating on the death of El Greco
Saint Francis and his brother León meditating on the death of El Greco

El Grecois basically a painter of religious themes, and in it he painted some of his masterpieces such as El Expolio or the Assumption of the Virgin. And of course, dealing with so many religious matters, he also received commissions that consisted of representing different saints.


Saint Francis and his brother Leo meditating on the death of El Greco

One of those who painted Saint Francis the most, of which he made paintings such as The Vision of Saint Francis or this other painting in which the saint is represented with his brother, León,

The full title of this oil painting canvas isSaint Francis and his brother Leo meditating on death. A work that today hangs in theMuseo del Prado in Madrid, but for which we do not know the exact date of execution, what does seem certain is that he would carry it out after the year 1600.

In it we see the saint of Assisi sheltered in a cave, and in his hands he carries a skull, which he looks at and inspires his reflections on death. This is watched with veneration by his brother, who is located on a lower plane. The whole scene is extremely sober, as much as the gray habits of the Franciscan order itself. And that event is set for us inside the grotto, where the characters are illuminated by a somewhat spectral light.

An ideal atmosphere for thisholy. In fact, El Greco's great achievement when it came to painting saints was being able to paint true archetypes, in which the image itself, its presentation and figuration tell us about the vocation and personality of each saint. Something that embroidered in the case of the most ascetic and austere saints, like Saint Francis, whom he always represents skinny, so much so that he has too much habit, and his face is sharp as he usually happens with those who do not eat much.

Of course they are representations that must be understood within the historical context in which El Greco lives. A time in which Spain is strongly proclaiming the Counter-Reformation against the ideas of the Protestants of Northern Europe. And within the ideology or dogma of the Counter-Reformation, the issue of death is key. In fact, on many occasions other contemporary or Baroque painters have painted similar scenes, but who appear reflecting are other saints such as Saint Jerome.

However, and as a curiosity, on more than one occasion, this painting by El Greco with San Francisco contemplating a skull has been linked with one of the most famous monologues in the universal history of theater: that of Hamlet of William Shakespeare when he launches his acquaintance: “To be or not to be”.

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