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Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata

1430-1432
Jan van Eyck, Netherlandish (active Bruges), c. 1395 - 1441

This brilliant display of Jan van Eyck’s microscopic technique highlights his ability to create pictures that seem at once very sharp yet very far away. The artist meticulously depicted the moment during a forty-day fast in the wilderness when Francis of Assisi received the wounds of the crucified Christ, who is seen here held aloft by a seraph, or angel. Although Van Eyck positioned the scene in the rocky landscape of legend, he included a bustling Netherlandish city in distance, as if to suggest that the miracle is visible outside boundaries of time or geography.


The picture’s small size suggests that it was intended as a portable and personal object, one easily held in the hands and filled with details that reward close and repeated examination. The painting likely traveled in the artist’s lifetime or shortly thereafter, possibly on an early owner’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

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Object Details
Private collection, Lisbon. William à Court (1779–1860), 1st Baron Heytesbury, Heytesbury, Wiltshire, England, by 1843; sold to Gooden and Fox (dealer), London, November 14, 1894; sold to John G. Johnson (1841–1917), Philadelphia, December 1894 [1]; bequest to the City of Philadelphia, 1917.1. The above provenance is according to Joseph J. Rishel, “The Philadelphia and Turin Paintings: The Literature and Controversy over Attribution,” in Jan van Eyck: Two Paintings of “Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata,” by J. R. J. van Asperen de Boer et al., exh. cat. (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1997), pp. 3–4. William à Court was the British envoy to Portugal from 1824 to 1828. An 1827 letter to his brother describes a shipment of pictures but does not include specific titles. An 1843 inventory of his collection includes this picture and describes it as coming from “a physician at Lisbon” (Rishel, “Philadelphia and Turin Paintings,” p. 4). A 1955 transcription of the 1827 letter can be found in the curatorial file for cat. 314, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Department of European Painting and Sculpture.

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