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Conventional Can Be Beautiful

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Who are the Two Saints?

Well, one of them is easy: to the Virgin's right, St. Francis is instantly recognizable by his stigmata. (Like the glorious wealth of his basilica in Assisi when he was such an ardent champion of poverty, this too, by the way, is rather curious: he hid his stigmata as much as possible until the day he died.)

But as to the white-robed friar on the Virgin's left, lacking a written name or some clear iconographical tip-off. . . A frequent pendant to St. Francis is St. Dominic, who wears a white robe alright, but is not usually depicted with a tonsure. The TCI guide to Umbria affirms that this is St. Anthony of Padua, but he is normally brown-robed like any other Franciscan saint (for an example, see the Tempietto in Rimini). My very tentative guess is St. Bernard, but this would be an unusual pairing, and the founder of Clairvaux is not widely venerated in Umbria.

Pier Antonio Mezzastris — or Mezastris — (c. 1430‑1506) was an Umbrian painter from Foligno, about two hours N of this church (on foot): he is consequently a local artist. Except for two frescoes in Narni, his remaining work is all to be found within 15 km of his hometown.

Maybe that's why the best part of this painting is St. Francis. Hardly a portrait, since the saint had been dead for 250 years, but this man looks very much like St. Francis as painted by Giotto in the lower basilica at Assisi: I'd like to see an authentic tradition here, proudly reinforced by a fellow Umbrian.

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Page updated: 23 Mar 09