Federico Barocci St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata


National Gallery of the Marche




2450 x 3600 mm



historical period


Exhibit Artwork

Artwork Details

The painting was commissioned to Federico Barocci by Francesco Maria II Della Rovere between 1594 and 1595 for the Chiesa Dei Cappuccini in Urbino, as evidenced by the payments to the painter in the duke’s expense notes. The subject is taken from the stories of Tommaso Da Celano (1247) and St. Bonaventure (Life of St. Francis, 1262) and it was particularly close to the painter who was spiritually attached to the Franciscan order. He was a serviceman of the order and he created other important paintings related to the figure of St. Francis for the community of the friars of Urbino, such as The Forgiving of Assisi and the Immaculate Conception (circa 1575-1576) both made for the local church dedicated to St. Francis. The sincere Franciscan spirituality follows faithfully the Gospel, and it focuses on meditation and the idea of simple life, devoted to poverty and prayer of the founder of the order, and it was suitable for the Counter-Reformation that the Church was pressing on the arts. The idea was to clarify and bring the sacred tales closer to people, and this inspired Barocci in his representation with a great scenic impact, full of mysticism and drama, starting from the original nocturnal setting of the canvas preserved at the National Gallery of the Marche. The artist depicts St. Francis and Fra Leone on La Verna Mountain, in Casentino, where the friars had retreated to live in asceticism and prayer. Therefore, the scene takes place in a dense forest on a night, suddenly illuminated by the flaming light of a seraph – an angel with six flaming, resplendent wings – who represents himself as crucified Christ to the saint. The Seraph's strong light illuminates Francis, kneeling with his arms wide open, raising towards the Crucifix, waiting for the martyrdom to happen. He is ready to receive the stigmata on his hands, feet, and side by the seraph, just like Jesus on the Cross. Francis is considered Alter Christus who lives, physically and spiritually, the Passion and sufferings of Christ. Fra Leone is sitting on his side, covering his face with his hand, blinded by the powerful, divine light. In the background, you can see the façade of the Chiesa Dei Cappuccini in Urbino, and, illuminated by a bonfire, the scene of Abel being killed by his brother Cain in front of the church and witnessed by shepherds who are leading their flock to pasture. The space is expanded, and the emotional intensity and tension are enhanced because of the miraculous event. The splendid setting makes the scene even more theatrical, and it is rightly defined by Paolo Dal Poggetto as “the most extraordinary, pre-romantic, silvery scene of the 16th century”. The intense divine light breaks the darkness and surrounds the two friars and the nature around them: the trees, the boulders, the bush, and a falcon, firmly perching on the branch at the top left. A preparatory study of the predator is preserved in Berlin, while numerous other sheets relating to the composition and the two figures are found in various museums and collections. The National Gallery of Marche preserves a drawing representing a kneeling nude figure of classical style, a preparatory study for the figure of Francis, as well as a study of an ear, always relating to the saint, while another signed drawing represents a study of raised arms of Fra Leone, considering his position, who is shielding his eyes struck by the divine light. The theme was certainly not new to Barocci who had already depicted the miraculous event experienced by Francis in etching and the altarpiece commissioned from him by the Congregation of Fathers of the Fossombrone Oratory. However, the painting of Urbino is characterized by certain grandeur, in the large and almost theatrical gesture of the saint, in the forest setting, and in the expansion of space which continues in depth. According to Andrea Emiliani, this vision could have been affected by works such as The Stigmata (1538) by Giorgio Vasari, painted for the main altar of the Malatesta Temple in Rimini, as well as by the works of Girolamo Muziano. The painting remained in Chiesa Dei Cappuccini until 1811 when Napoleon’s troops invaded the city and it was taken to Milan, to the Brera Museum, and then returned to Urbino in 1826. It was kept there until the suppressions of 1866 when it was moved to the collections of the Institute of Fine Arts of the city which became the National Gallery of the Marche in 1912.

Artist Details

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Federico Barocci was born in Urbino to a family of Lombard origins. He initially studied with Battista Franco around 1549, then he was sent to Pesaro where his uncle Bartolomeo Genga was the architect of Duke Guidobaldo Maria II Della Rovere. With him, he studied geometry and perspective and the masterpieces in the collection of the Ducal Palace, in particular the works of Venetian masters. Back in Urbino, Barocci painted a now lost St. Margaret for the Oratory of Corpus Domini but soon he moved to Rome where he stayed for a while and returned to his hometown in 1557. During this period the artist worked on various altarpieces such as the Martyrdom of San Sebastian for the Cathedral of Urbino. In 1560 Barocci returned to Rome to decorate the Casino of Pope Pius IV in the Vatican Gardens. He became close to Taddeo Zuccari who drew his attention to Raphael's examples and the Counter-Reformation's influence. In 1576 he was struck by an intestinal disease which convinced him that he had been poisoned by a jealous rival and he left Rome for good and returned to Urbino, where he was welcomed under the protection of Duke Francesco Maria II Della Rovere. Francesco painted a portrait of him, which is now preserved in the Uffizi Galleries in Florence. He also painted the Rest on the Flight into Egypt in 1579, now preserved in the Vatican Museums, and the portrait of Prince Francesco Maria, his close friend who had just returned from the battle of Lepanto, which dates back to 1572. Even though Barocci felt a bit isolated in Urbino, where he didn’t have his important Roman contacts anymore, he managed to work on significant altarpieces, such as the Madonna of St. John and the Crucifixion for the church of Crocifisso Miracoloso and the Madonna of St. Simon, as well as the Deposition for the cathedral of Perugia, all works dating back to the mid-sixties of the 16th century (Urbino, Galleria Nazionale Delle Marche). Barocci was also a prolific and skilled designer of charming pastel and oil sketches which are influenced by Leonardo’s sfumato effect and Correggio’s works. These were often preparatory studies for the paintings that helped him speed up the slow and creative painting process in large format and on the final work. The artist applied a complex coating that gave it the particular aspect that still characterizes his works today. Many of his sketches still exist today, and they focus not only on the composition but also on the colors, gestures, expressions of the figures, and the use of light. Despite the slow creative process, in which nothing is done by chance, also due to practical needs, as his poor health prevented him from working for a long time which led him to many delays, Barocci’s works are characterized by a strong and fresh vivacity, especially in the colors spread with free brushstrokes which influenced Peter Paul Rubens for a long time, and in the atmospheric and surrounding light. These characteristics can be seen in his Madonna del Popolo (Florence, Uffizi Galleries) of which there are sixty-five preparatory drawings or Beata Michelina Malatesta (Vatican Museums) that was painted for the church of St. Francis in Pesaro, with an ecstatic expression and a dress that seems to be in constant movement which anticipates the vitality of the Baroque. Between 1580 and 1600 Barocci received important commissions, such as the Deposition in 1582 for the church of Santa Croce in Senigallia, and the Visitation, painted between 1583 and 1586 for the Chapel of the Visitation in the new Church in Rome, founded by Filippo Neri, who greatly appreciated the work. In the same church, Barocci painted the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple in 1593. The self-portrait of the Uffizi Galleries and the Institution of the Eucharist (Rome, Aldobrandini Chapel, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva) commissioned by Pope Clement VII date back to the early 17th century and they demonstrate that despite he moved to Urbino, the artist never completely lost relations with the high-status Roman client. Barocci was also an innovator in the field of engraving, especially in the etching technique for replicating works. He is known for free brushstrokes and joyful colors, an artist whose figures express a sweet and serene devotion, but inside, he was depressed. He was tormented by this, and as it emerges from the letters to Duke Francesco, he was melancholic, solitary, and had a strong temperament. His friend convinced him to stay at the Duke’s Palace, but he soon decided to leave and go live alone with his depression. Despite his illness, he had a long life. He died on 30 September 1612 at the age of 77.

Collection Details

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National Gallery of the Marche