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Work Saint Bonaventure's Body Lying in State

Department of Paintings: Spanish painting

L'Exposition du corps de saint Bonaventure

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Paintings
Spanish painting

Author(s):
De Vergnette François

The Franciscan cardinal Saint Bonaventure, who died during the Council of Lyon in 1274, is lying in state as the Pope, the King of Aragon and humble monks pay tribute to him. The canvas, one of Zurbarán's first commissions in Seville, was originally in the church of the Franciscan College there. The composition, steeped in spirituality, is a blend of archaism and Caravaggesque effects.

A tribute to a saint

Saint Bonaventure lies in state in the middle of the painting, dressed in white liturgical dress, with his cardinal's mitre at his feet. Saint Bonaventure was minister general of the mendicant order of the Franciscans and a great theologian. Zurbarán depicts the funerary tribute paid to him following his death during the Council of Lyon in 1274. The most illustrious figures attending the Council crowd around the catalfaque - the sumptuously clad James I, king of Aragon, and Pope Gregory X - alongside gentlemen and lowly medicant brothers in austere dress. Each expresses his grief differently, but always in silence and with restraint. The two monks kneeling in the foreground are the most expressive. Zurbarán is here showing the due reverence to saints dictated by the Counter-Reformation.

Zurbarán, "spokesman" of the Spanish Counter-Reformation

This picture is the last painting in the cycle commissioned by the church of the Franciscan College of Saint Bonaventure in Seville, four of which were executed by Zurbarán and four by Francisco de Herrera the Elder. The Louvre has two paintings by each artist, including Herrera the Elder's Saint Bonaventure Taking Communion from an Angel. The cycle recounts the life of Saint Bonaventure from his childhood to his death. Zurbarán painted these canvases in 1629, at the beginning of his career in Seville. Their success was instrumental in his settling there definitively. He became the favorite painter of the Andalusian monasteries, who awarded him several commisions. In his work, he expressed the beauty of monastic life and became the painterly "spokesman" of the Counter-Reformation

Archaism and Caravaggism

Zurbarán's style is characterized by an almost archaic simplicity. The diagonal of the saint's corpse divides the painting in two and forcefully and clearly expresses the idea of death. Zurbarán plays on the symmetry of the figures. A buffer figure is placed in the foreground on either side of the catafalque. The figures in the background frieze are grouped in pairs. But Zurbarán, who was familiar with Ribera's works, also knew how to use the modern vocabulary of Caravaggism. The light is contrasted, in keeping with the scene's funerary nature. The realistically portrayed figures stand out starkly against the sombre background. The impasto is thick and, as in many of his other works, Zurbarán has played on white highlights which contrast here with the dominantly brown hues. The pristine clarity of the saint and the reverence of the figures infuse the scene with profound spirituality.

Bibliography

Delenda Odile, "Zurbarán, interprète idéal de la Contre-Réforme espagnole", in Revue du Louvre, 1988-2, pp. 119-121.

Ressort Claudie, "L'Exposition du corps de saint Bonaventure", in Ecoles espagnole et portugaise, catalogue du département des peintures du musée du Louvre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, pp. 266-268.

Technical description

  • Francisco de ZURBARÁN (Fuente de Cantos, 1598 - Madrid, 1664)

    L'Exposition du corps de saint Bonaventure

    1629

  • H. : 2,45 m. ; L. : 2,20 m.

  • Acquis en 1858 , 1922

    M.I. 205

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Murillo
    Room 26

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