Arts & Culture

The miracles of St. Francis Xavier

Peter Paul Rubens1617/1618

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Like a monument, the protagonist stands in a dark robe with deep folds on the plinth-like projection of a wall. Francis Xavier dominates the scene as the “missionary to the Asian peoples”, his left hand pointing to Fides, the personification of faith, his right hand extended towards the toppling idols, and his gaze turned to the listeners and supplicants. Rubens has used dramatic lighting – the Jesuit is back-lit – to stage the group of listeners and observers, who, keeping a respectful distance, are bathed in bright light. Standing in the shadows the armoured soldier creates an optical turningpoint in the composition, leading the gaze of the viewer to the actual miracle depicted: in the left foreground deathly pale figures are rising from their graves. The blind man on the right, whose striking posture is based on a work by Raphael, provides counterbalance in the composition. His outstretched arms also strengthen the compositional effect of the “plinth” on which Francis Xavier is standing.It was hoped that placing the work on the high altar of the new church in 1618 would hasten the canonisation of Francis Xavier, and indeed both he and the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, were canonised in 1622. In additionto the modello (KHM, GG 528), the altarpiece was preceded by a large number of drawings of the individual elements. Most of the execution of the monumental altarpiece, which was designed to be viewed from a distance and create maximum effect in the church, was carried out by members of Rubens’s studio with the great painter himself only reworking important features. But the concept and thus the most important aspect of the work was entirely by Rubens. For the previous history of the painting cf. KHM GG 528. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010

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  • Title: The miracles of St. Francis Xavier
  • Creator: Peter Paul Rubens
  • Date Created: 1617/1618
  • Location Created: Antwerp, Belgium
  • Style: Flemish Baroque
  • Provenance: acquired in 1776 from the Jesuit Church in Antwerp
  • Place Part Of: Belgium
  • Physical Dimensions: w3950 x h5350 cm
  • Inventory Number: GG 519
  • Artist Biography: International diplomat, savvy businessman, devout Catholic, fluent in six languages, an intellectual who counted Europe's finest scholars among his friends, Peter Paul Rubens was always first a painter. Few artists have been capable of transforming such a vast variety of influences into a style utterly new and original. After study with local Antwerp painters, Rubens began finding his style in Italy, copying works from antiquity, Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo and Titian, and contemporaries like Annibale Carracci and Caravaggio.He worked principally in Rome and Genoa, where Giulio Romano's frescoes influenced him greatly. Returning to Antwerp, Rubens became court painter to the Spanish Viceroys, eventually receiving commissions from across Europe and England. Rubens's energetic Baroque style blends his northern European sense of realism with the grandeur and monumentality he saw in Italian art. His characteristic free, expressive technique also captured joie de vivre.From his workshop, with its many assistants, came quantities of book illustrations, tapestry designs, festival decorations, and paintings on every subject, which his engravers reproduced. He maintained control of the quality, while charging patrons according to the extent of his involvement on a picture. Frans Snyders, Jacob Jordaens, and Anthony van Dyck each assisted him.Rubens's impact was immediate, international, and long lasting. The works of Thomas Gainsborough and Eugène Delacroix, among others, testify to his posthumous influence. ©J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link:
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas

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