Thursday, June 23, 2011


Title: Saint Francis (Der heilige Franziskus)
Artist: Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
Medium: Woodcut print
Size: 71 x 55.1 cm
Date: 1919
Location: Various; Publisher Verlag Karl Lang, Darmstadt. Printer Fritz Voigt, Berlin. Edition: 50.


Saint Francis of Assisi (born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone; c. 1181 – October 1226) was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi, and he lived the high-spirited life typical of a wealthy young man. When about twenty, Francis went out with the townsmen to fight in one of the petty skirmishes so frequent at that time between the rival cities. While going off to war in 1204, he had a vision that directed him back to Assisi, where he lost his taste for his worldly life. On a pilgrimage to Rome, Francis begged with the beggars at St. Peter's. The experience moved him to live in poverty, and when Francis returned home, he began preaching on the streets, and soon amassed a following; his order was endorsed by the Pope in 1210. In 1224, while he was praying on the mountain of Verna during a forty-day fast in preparation for Michaelmas, Francis is said to have had a vision, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, a result of which he received the stigmata. Brother Leo, who had been with Francis at the time, left a clear and simple account of the event, the first definite account of the phenomenon of stigmata: "Suddenly he saw a vision of a seraph, a six-winged angel on a cross. This angel gave him the gift of the five wounds of Christ."

In this portrait of St Francis, Schmidt-Rottluff puts to good use the much harder and more angular style his woodcuts adopted from 1912 through 1920. The agony of the stigmata and the wizened suffering on St Francis’ face are graphically portrayed, his suffering not just spiritual, but physical, like Christ before him. And although the portrait almost becomes a caricature with its use of exprerssionism, it still seems to capture the description of Francis given by one of his first disciples, Thomas of Celano: “...frail in form, Francis had a long yet cheerful face and soft but strong voice, small brilliant black eyes, dark brown hair, and a sparse beard. His person was in no way imposing, yet there was about the saint a delicacy, grace, and distinction which made him most attractive.”

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (December 1884 –August 1976) was a German painter and printmaker. One of the main exponents of Expressionism, he was a founder of Die Brücke and one of its leading members. The gradual dissolution of Die Brücke, as its members moved one by one to Berlin in 1911, led to the group’s demise a few years later. From 1915 to the end of World War I, Schmidt-Rottluff served as a soldier on the eastern front, and these experiences were reflected indirectly in his art. He increasingly turned to introspective themes, as in 9 Holzschnitte (1918), a series of woodcuts based on the life of Christ published by Kurt Wolff Verlag in Munich. At the end of the war he became a member of the Arbeitsrat für kunst in Berlin, which saw itself as an anti-academic movement of German artists at a time of revolution.

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