Francisco de Zurbarán - St. Bonaventure at Prayer

by Alexandra Tuschka


From a dark background, typical of the painter, we recognize two people. On the right and in profile St. Bonaventure has folded his hands and looks up to the angel in the upper left corner of the picture. The angel comes through a broken wall of clouds into the rather undefined space. He points his finger out of the picture. Just below him on the table lies the tiara, the precious headdress of the cardinals. Bonaventure had been appointed cardinal bishop by Pope Gregory X. This scene, however, occurred in this way - or something similar - during the election of Gregory X in 1271. Since the cardinals, who can be seen here as a unit in the background, could not agree, they put Bonaventure in charge. The latter asked in prayer for an inspiration.

Everything about Bonaventure embodies humility. Not only his posture, but also the contrast with the tiara next to it points in this direction. Bonaventure lived in the 13th century and was one of the most important saints in 17th century Spain. It is handed down, it is supposed to have received communion in a vision - and then still felt himself unworthy.

This moment is depicted here by the painter. In contrast to this intimate scene and the vision, we see in the right part of the picture. The red of the tablecloth is taken up again on the right in the background by the group of cardinals. Inner and outer space thus stand equally for the inner vision and the outer world, which can be seen through an opening in the right part of the picture. Three other, much darker men act as a wall between these spheres.


Zubarán is considered one of the greatest Spanish painters, along with Velazquéz and Murillo. This work stands out for its impressive contrasts of light and dark and its clear composition , which manages to put Bonaventura's turn to the divine in a real context.


Francisco de Zurbarán - St. Bonaventure at Prayer

Oil on canvas, between 1628 and 1629, 23,9 x 22,2 cm, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden