Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Francis in the Desert

A treasure of the Frick Collection is Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Francis. It measures roughly four feet square and depicts the saint alone in a rocky landscape. The work was long thought to represent Saint Francis receiving the stigmata, but recent cleaning and technical examinations have refocused scholarly attention on the painting, with the result that it has been given the more neutral title, Saint Francis in the Desert. Bellini (1430–1516), a master of the early Venetian Renaissance, was a learned and accomplished painter with close ties to the Franciscans in Venice and its surroundings.

Bellini was also technically proficient. In this painting he uses a mix of hard-edged, linear tempera for clarity and an overlay of oil glazing, recently invented by the Flemish painters, which infuses the painting with a golden atmospheric glow. Along with the oil technique, Bellini also adopted the Flemish painters’ meticulous rendering of natural objects—plants, animals, household goods—with an underlying resonance of implied symbolism. The picture is teeming with details, none of them accidental. How are we to make coherent sense of them all and read the painting as the artist intended?

Gazing into the Light

THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:


Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.

Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

Online
Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.


more on art from the online archives

32.4—July/August 2019

Sojourner Knight

on Single-Mindedness in Durer's Ritter, Tod, und Teufel by Anthony Costello

30.3—May/June 2017

St. Luke the Evangelist

by Mary Elizabeth Podles

33.2—March/April 2020

Christ Chapel at Hillsdale

An Architectural Sign of Mere Christianity by Michael Ward


more from the online archives

27.5—Sept/Oct 2014

The Hundred Years' War

The Culture of Death's Campaign Against the Catholic Church by Brantly Millegan

32.1—January/February 2019

The Life of Sean

on Down Syndrome & the Lives That Matter by David F. Watson

32.2—March/April 2019

The Boy Genius

Finding Him Again Through the Patriarchal Group by Anthony Esolen

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

00