This painting is one of seventeen surviving canvases from a series of forty-nine devoted to the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, commissioned in 1691 from Cristóbal de Villalpando—the preeminent artist of colonial Mexico—for the Franciscan convent in Antigua, Guatemala. In this scene Francis thrusts a sword into the Antichrist’s chest as the prophet Elijah, directly behind the saint, charges brandishing a flaming sword. The Antichrist’s supporters, grouped at the right, recoil in horror. The top of the composition, trimmed off sometime in the painting’s history, showed a battle between angels and demons, whose legs are still visible.
This violent confrontation is not described in any of the biographies of the famously peaceful saint. It was likely devised by the artist with the guidance of his Franciscan patrons, making it the earliest known example of this unorthodox iconography, which is found only in Mexico. The powerful narrative in this painting underscores Villalpando’s flair for the type of dramatic composition that epitomizes the Baroque era.
Convento de San Francisco, Santiago de los Caballeros (now Antigua), Guatemala, until about 1773 ; Convento de San Francisco, Guatemala City, about 1773, possibly until 1917 or 1918 . John Hampton Hickman III (d. 1997), Sweet Briar Farm, Geneseo, NY, purchased in the 1980s? ; his estate; sold through ZZ Importers, Inc., East Meadow, NY, as agent for the heirs, Scott Mitchell, Barbara Hickman, and John Hampton Hickman IV, to Barbara Insalaco, Nantucket, MA, February 12, 1998 ; sold by Barbara and Dennis Insalaco (dealer), Nantucket, MA, to PMA, March 19, 2008.
1. The painting was commissioned as part of a series of forty-nine canvases for the cloister of the convent.
2. Soon after a 1773 earthquake the cycle of paintings was moved to the new Franciscan convent in Guatemala City (Guatemala City was officially established as the new capital of Guatemala in 1776). When the convent was closed in 1873, the paintings were moved to the sacristy and choir of the church (some probably left the collection at that time). In 1917 and 1918 most of the remaining Villalpando paintings were destroyed by earthquakes; however, fourteen of the series still survive in Guatemala (see Luis Luján Muñoz, La Pintura de Cristóbal de Villalpando en Guatemala, Guatemala City, 1983, p. 8; Luis Luján Muñoz, “Nueva Información Sobre la Pintura de Cristóbal de Villalpando en Guatemala,” Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, no. 57, 1986, pp. 122-23; Juana Haces Gutiérrez, et al., Cristóbal de Villalpando, ca. 1649-1714: Catálogo Razonado, Mexico City, 1997, p. 386).
3. Hickman purchased the Sweet Briar property in 1979. Hickman’s son John Hampton Hickman IV believes that his father purchased the painting in Toronto, probably in the 1980’s. After the death of John Hampton Hickman III on February 22, 1997, part of the mansion’s furnishings and art collection were sold at an auction at Sweet Briar on October 25 and 26, 1997; however, this painting remained on the estate.
4. Copy of sales agreement in curatorial file. Scott Mitchell and John Hampton Hickman IV are sons of John Hampton Hickman III. Barbara Hickman is his ex-wife. Scott Mitchell was president of an entity called Sweet Briar Corporation, which contracted with ZZ Importers to sell the contents of the estate.
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