Jan van Eyck was the most celebrated painter in Northern Europe during the fifteenth century, widely hailed for his nearly miraculous ability to depict observed reality with a refinement verging on the microscopic. The effect of such intense realism was to create pictures that seemed at once very sharp yet very far away. Here Saint Francis is receiving on the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet the same wounds suffered by the crucified Christ, who appears as an image held aloft by an angel. The saint's stigmata would never heal and became for many the living proof of his holiness. Although Van Eyck's representation of this legend follows the original Franciscan text quite literally, his one departure from earlier, chiefly Italian depictions is the inclusion of a great, panoramic landscape with a distant view of a bustling city. The scene is thus presented as a miracle being witnessed within the context of the whole sweep of nature and human life, which may seem magically beautiful but is in fact quite oblivious to the sacred action in the foreground. Joseph J. Rishel, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 164
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