Saint Francis Venerating the Crucifix

Sr. Contributor

Saint Francis was the keystone to El Greco's business empire.

The Grecian was an artist first but a businessman in close second, so of course he gave the people what they wanted. While Francis was Italian, Spaniards in the 16th and 17th century felt like they could relate to the saint's story and message. The gist was that Saint Francis wanted to mystically mind meld with his creator, which he supposedly achieved by attaining the stigmata. All it took was grit, determination, and the one-two knockout combo of penitence and repentance, very much en vogue with Counter-Reformation Catholics of El Greco's lifetime.

Spaniards of the period felt that dangerous combination of protective and insecure over the status of their religion as Protestantism swept through other parts of Europe, including France next door. Thus, Saint Francis became one of El Greco's bestsellers and was a fixture of his workshop's output for around thirty years straight. El Greco and his workshop made about 100 - 120 versions of Saint Francis vibrating with penitence, the varied styles of which were ripped off by other artists for the next century or more.

There are seventeen notable versions alone of this particular look of Saint Francis venerating the crucifix. The one in San Francisco is considered the best (#BayPride) because of the work done on the head and hands, and along with two others (at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago), is considered to be painted by El Greco directly. The other fourteen are dispersed around museums and private collections worldwide and are either from El Greco's workshop or by well wrought copy cats painted in the 17th century.