Ecstasy of St Francis of Assisi (1580) El Greco Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This version of Ecstasy of St Francis of Assisi from around 1580 can be found at the Bishop's Palace in Siedlce, eastern Poland. El Greco and his studio worked on around five different versions of this theme.

The painting features the saint with his arms open, ready to receive the message that he desires. The injuries given to Christ during the Crucifixion will shortly be transferred to his own body, and soon afterwards he would pass out on the floor. Some other depictions of this scene include an angel holding his body from the floor after the shock of this event. El Greco chooses here to picture him reaching out to the skies above, just before the moment of ecstasy. In all of the artist's depictions he is dressed in a simple garment, with a brown cloak which is tied around his waist by piece of rope. His head is down in this version, allowing us to see more of the saint's facial features. There is also a touch of light from the sky which produced more of a dramatic atmosphere than in his other versions which are all dimly lit throughout. A skull is placed to his side, and this is a symbolic addition used in many artworks, normally to signify mortality. Clouds are spread across the sky, which helps to connect to the impact of a higher power upon St Francis of Assisi.

The workshop of El Greco had regular requests for this title, leading to a large number of copies and different compositions being produced over a relatively short period of time. They enjoyed a good number of patrons in and around Toledo, many of whom choose to add a depiction such as this for their properties. El Greco became so popular that it would be impossible for him to keep up with all of the different requests that came in, particularly whilst living in Spain. It was actually a large commission in the first place which persuaded him to leave Italy, and he would build a strong reputation across Spain over a number of years living here. He would also feature the landscape of Toledo within a number of paintings after becoming very fond of this region after arriving in around 1577. El Greco was a highly religious man who impressed with his depictions of religious themes, where he could connect with his own emotions in order to deliver powerful, impactful art. The version shown here is relatively restrained, and may have some involvement from members of his studio.

This Greek artist would leave behind an important body of work which would influence many later artists, across a wide variety of styles. He brought emotion and drama in a way that had not been seen before, and also fused Italian and Spanish styles together. El Greco achieved success within his own lifetime but there dropped into obscurity for some years before historians re-appraised his work. Since then, the public have continually been drawn to his work and he remains highly regarded today, all across the western world. His work in Toledo remains the highlight of his career, though the journey that he took to get to this point was just as important. His son would join him in his studio and they set about expanding the amount of work taken on, though he never matched the brilliance of his father.