Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert

Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430–1516), St. Francis in the Desert, c. 1480, oil on poplar panel, 49 x 55 7⁄8 inches, The Frick Collection, New York

One of the most familiar and beloved paintings at The Frick Collection, Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert (c. 1480), is also deeply enigmatic. The artist has imagined this medieval saint alone in a stony wilderness, stepping forward from his simple shelter into a golden light that seems to transfigure him spiritually. For centuries, viewers of this masterpiece have puzzled over the meaning of Bellini’s composition and have sought explanations in a variety of pictorial and textual sources.