Francisco Ribalta, Saint Francis Embracing the Crucified Christ (about 1620) Valencia, Museo de Bellas Artes (208 x 167 cm)

Saint Francis' desire to be united with Christ is depicted in this painting as a mystical communion. In a moment of ecstasy Francis embraces the crucified Christ and brings his lips to the wound in order to taste the blood which is issuing from it. Accepting Francis' sensual yearning Christ removes his own crown of thorns and is about to place it on that of the saint. The impending consummation of Francis' erotic-mystical communion is further evidence of the importance of pain in the culture of the Baroque. Analogous to Bernini's depiction of Saint Teresa's impending perforation by Christ's (or Eros') arrow of love, Francis indulgently suffers the pleasure-pain paradox of the martyrdom of love.




Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio, St Paul's Conversion (1601) Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome (230x170 cm)

Caravaggio's interpretation of St. Paul's Conversion has often been considered highly provocative. Almost all of the canvas is dominated by a horse one of whose flanks and its crupper are illuminated by a light, the divine source of which is not indicated. At the bottom of the picture, St Paul is lying on his back, spreadeagled, still enraptured by the epiphany, which a groom next to the horse seems to be completely unaware of.
Not only the saint's conspicuous gesture of surrender, but also his strikingly crimson Roman tunic give more than a hint that St Paul's conversion is - like Caravaggio's version of St Matthew's encounter with an angel (destroyed 1945) - an experience of intense homoerotic passion.



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