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“Saint Francis in the Desert” by Giovanni Bellini

Giovanni Bellini - Saint Francis in the Desert - Google Art Project

“Saint Francis in the Desert” by Giovanni Bellini portrays Saint Francis of Assisi stepping out in the sun from his cave. Francis lived under poor conditions in the beginning and used to participate in isolated spiritual retreats at monasteries. The overall composition is thought to be a meditation of St. Francis and although it has been cut down in size, the signature of  IOANNES BELLINVS on a small, creased tag is visible in the lower left corner.

Depicting Francis in a religious ecstasy, whether receiving the stigmata or praying and singing his Canticle of the Sun. This composition is a non-traditional and does not follow any of the established iconographic motifs. However, the painting is full of symbolism.  In the distance rises the still-empty Heavenly Jerusalem. The donkey can be interpreted as a symbol of humility and patience. The skull on the reading table represents mortality. The cave may relate Francis to Saint Jerome, who also lived in a cave. The saint has left his shoes behind and stands barefoot like Moses. This picture reflects Saint Francis’s love for nature, landscape and animals.

Giovanni Bellini was a Renaissance painter, who revolutionised Venetian painting, making it more sensuous and rich colours. Bellini created deep, rich tints and detailed shadings and his atmospheric landscapes had a great effect on the Venetian painters, especially on his pupils Giorgione and Titian.

Essential Facts:


  • Name:            Giovanni Bellini
  • Born:              c. 1430 – Venice
  • Died:              1516 – Venice
  • Movement:   Renaissance
  • Nationality:   Italian
  • Notable work:


“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Leonardo da Vinci



Photo Credit 1) Giovanni Bellini [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons