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Saint Francis in Meditation

Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

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This is one of Zurbarán’s most austere and intensely spiritual works. Saint Francis is shown kneeling in fervent prayer, his clasped hands cradling a skull. Shadow obscures his face, giving us only a glimpse of his features. He wears the robe of the Franciscans, the religious order he founded in the thirteenth century; its patched and tattered appearance draws to mind the vow of poverty taken by all the order’s members.

Zurbarán shows the saint in a moment of profound contemplation, his head tilted upwards and mouth slightly open. The skull is a symbol of death and refers to Christ’s crucifixion. Meditation on death was particularly favoured by the Jesuits, and saints contemplating skulls are frequently found in seventeenth-century Italian and Spanish painting.

The National Gallery, London



Saint Francis in Meditation




Oil on canvas


H 152 x W 99 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1853

Work type



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Normally on display at

The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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