top of page

The Miracles of Saint Francis Xavier
Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens_29.jpg

Like a monument, the protagonist stands in a dark robe with deep folds on the plinth-like projection of a wall. Francis Xavier dominates the scene as the “missionary to the Asian peoples”, his left hand pointing to Fides, the personification of faith, his right hand extended towards the toppling idols, and his gaze turned to the listeners and supplicants. Rubens has used dramatic lighting – the Jesuit is back-lit – to stage the group of listeners and observers, who, keeping a respectful distance, are bathed in bright light. Standing in the shadows the armoured soldier creates an optical turningpoint in the composition, leading the gaze of the viewer to the actual miracle depicted: in the left foreground deathly pale figures are rising from their graves. The blind man on the right, whose striking posture is based on a work by Raphael, provides counterbalance in the composition. His outstretched arms also strengthen the compositional effect of the “plinth” on which Francis Xavier is standing.It was hoped that placing the work on the high altar of the new church in 1618 would hasten the canonisation of Francis Xavier, and indeed both he and the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, were canonised in 1622. In additionto the modello (KHM, GG 528), the altarpiece was preceded by a large number of drawings of the individual elements. Most of the execution of the monumental altarpiece, which was designed to be viewed from a distance and create maximum effect in the church, was carried out by members of Rubens’s studio with the great painter himself only reworking important features. But the concept and thus the most important aspect of the work was entirely by Rubens. For the previous history of the painting cf. KHM GG 528. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010

bottom of page