Artibus et Historiae no. 54 (XXVII)

2006, ISSN 0391-9064

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IZABELLA GALICKA, HANNA SYGIETYŃSKA - An Unknown Painting of St. Francis in Ecstasy by El Greco in Poland

In 1964 our work on an inventory of monuments of the Podlasie region (Eastern Poland) led to the discovery - in the church of the village Kosów Lacki - of a painting by El Greco showing St. Francis in Ecstasy. The much dirtied and partly overpainted canvas has been subjected in 1974 to an extensive restoration which uncovered the original signature of the artist ("Domenikos Theotocop...") and some pentimenti. The results of the technological investigations confirmed the attribution of the painting to El Greco formulated by the authors in 1964. Owing to problems of Church and State relations, the painting remained in virtual seclusion until October 2004, when it was put on view in the newly opened Diocesan Museum in Siedlce (Masovia). The nearest analogy to the painting from Kosów Lacki is provided by El Greco's Stigmatisation of St. Francis in the Madrid Abello collection (formerly Pidal collection) painted around 1580.

In our analysis we have shown that in the Kosów Lacki painting the painter did initiate - though in a hesitant way - an iconographic formula of the Stigmatisation of St. Francis that was later developed fully in his depiction of the theme in the Abello collection. Thus the painting from Kosów Lacki provided also a model for most paintings in El Greco's St. Francis series, which is now dispersed all over the world. Both the Abello and the Kosów Lacki versions are undoubtedly autograph works; they were repeated in numerous variants or copies (a dozen or so) produced by his workshop or by his copyists.

We also would like to put forward the hypothesis that El Greco had been the first artist to introduce - probably under the influence of the writings of St. Peter of Alcantara - into the scene of St. Francis's ecstasy and stigmatisation the motif of the skull.

As a date for the Polish painting from Kosów Lacki we propose the end of the 1570s.

It is not known how and when El Greco's St. Francis in Ecstasy reached Poland. It seems that before its apparition in Kosów Lacki (around 1927) it did pass through the art trade.

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