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Reform Magazine | December 1, 2023

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Art in focus – July/August 2023

Art in focus – July/August 2023

St Francis of Assisi
St Benedict’s Cave, Subiaco Monastery
Fresco, 1223-1224

I think I would like to have met Francis, the young Italian nobleman turned saint. This fresco on the wall of the monastery of Subiaco near Rome is the oldest known portrait, made before his death. It may therefore give us a valuable image of what he looked like though it is worth remembering that it is an image in the icon tradition, where accurate likeness is not so important as rendering the spiritual essence of a person. Here he stands in a brown, hooded habit of sackcloth, his customary rough rope belt round his waist. He gazes directly at the viewer with an expression both stern and warm. His hand, without the later stigmata (following the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands), is on his heart. Francis seems to have been, above all, a loving, creative person, actively interested and involved with everything from the neediest person to the whole of creation. As I say, I would love to have had an opportunity to talk to him. He would have been right there, seeking to address the issues and challenges of our own day.

The exhibition Saint Francis of Assisi is on at the National Gallery, London until 30 July 2023.

Art in focus is curated by Meryl Doney

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