Saint Francis

about 1640–45
Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664)


207.0 x 106.7 cm (81 1/2 x 42 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

William I. Koch Gallery (Gallery 250)





Zurbarán was renowned as a painter of large-scale religious images, greatly in demand for churches and monasteries throughout Spain and the New World. Zurbarán’s colors are restrained and his compositions rigorously simple; this austerity, combined with precise detail and strong, theatrical lighting, gives his sacred figures an intense, almost mystical presence. This image may, in fact, represent a vision reportedly seen by Pope Nicholas V two hundred years after Saint Francis’s death in 1226: the undecayed body of the saint standing in his burial crypt as though living.


1823, acquired in Madrid by William à Court (b. 1779 - d. 1860), 1st Baron Heytesbury, Heytesbury House, Wiltshire [see note 1]; by descent within the family to Margaret Anna (d. 1920), Lady Heytesbury; April 27, 1926, Lady Heytesbury estate sale, Hampton and Sons, Heytesbury, lot 1358, sold for £21. 1931, with Tomás Harris, Ltd., London [see note 2]. By 1935, Julius Böhler, Böhler and Steinmeyer, Lucerne [see note 3]; 1938, sold by Böhler and Steinmeyer to the MFA for $3502.50. (Accession Date: November 10, 1938)

[1] See Martin S. Soria, The Paintings of Zurbarán: Complete Edition (London: Phaidon, 1953), p. 179, cat. no. 184. William à Court was ambassador to Spain from 1822 to 1824.

[2] The MFA painting was exhibited at Tomás Harris, Ltd., London, in 1931 ("Old Masters by Spanish Artists," June 1931), though whether Harris owned it, or it was on loan from Böhler (see below, n. 3), has not been determined.

[3] Julius Böhler lent the painting to the exhibition "Alte und neue spanische Kunst" (Kunstverein, Hamburg, August-September, 1935), cat. no. 27. When asked about its provenance, Fritz Steinmeyer wrote (letter to the MFA; November 25, 1938) that the firm had bought it in 1927 from an English dealer, who had acquired it from a French private collection. Two other paintings by Zurbarán, also included in the Heytesbury sale of 1926, are documented as being owned by Böhler in 1927. However, because the MFA painting is not known ever to have been in a French collection, Steinmeyer's information is, at least in part, erroneous. According to Juan Antonio Gaya Nuño, La Pintura Española fuera de España (Madrid, 1958), p. 344, cat. no. 3107, the MFA painting was purchased at the Heytesbury sale in 1926 by Tomás Harris, who sold it in 1931 to Böhler and Steinmeyer. This has not been substantiated, however, and the painting's provenance between 1926 and 1935 remains unclarified.

Credit Line

Herbert James Pratt Fund