This St Francis kneeling in prayer before the crucifix, leaning on a rock amid a landscape in evening light, is another version of the painting now held by the Szépmúvészeti Múzeum in Budapest. When we published our monograph on Antonio del Castillo, we considered the Budapest painting to be the work from the Pereire collection which was engraved by Charles Blanc. However, the discovery of this new version and, above all, the absolutely plausible detail of the Pereire provenance in old-fashioned handwriting in pencil on the stretcher suggests that the work Blanc engraved in his "Histoire des peintres de toutes les Ecoles" is in fact the present painting. When we studied the Budapest painting, we pointed out that, in Blanc’s engraving, the head of St Francis was shown full-face and gazing at the crucifix, in a pose that differed from that shown in the Budapest painting. In this new work, the position of the head exactly matches Blanc’s engraving, which leads us to think that the painting engraved in 1869 was in fact the canvas shown here.
When Blanc made his engraving, the painting was believed to be by Luis Tristán, since it appears to have been signed, as stated the previous year in the catalogue of the Pereire sale. It is no coincidence that part of the description provided in the sale catalogue was copied in pencil on the painting’s stretcher. The apocryphal signature – if Luis Tristán’s signature was really added – must have disappeared at some point. When Sabine Jacob studied this painting – through the nineteenth-century print – she reproduced Blanc’s engraving and mentioned its compositional similarities to Cigoli’s depictions of the saint.
As has been stressed in the monograph on Luis Tristán, this composition in fact has nothing to do with the Toledan painter. When the first painting appeared on the Madrid market and was acquired by the Budapest museum, Eva Nyerges published an initial article attributing it to the Cordovan painter Antonio del Castillo. Indeed, both the landscape and the rendering of St Francis’s habit and face bear the unmistakable stamp of Antonio del Castillo, as we pointed out in our own monograph. Additionally, a drawing by Castillo held by the Biblioteca Nacional displays a similar composition. The greatest similarity in the style of execution, even in the face of this second version, is found in the "St Francis in Prayer" in the convent of Capuchin nuns of La Coruña in Oleiros.
The next issue to address is the quality of the two versions. Analysing the two works from photographs, we have reached the conclusion that the Budapest painting is fresher and more richly textured, whereas the present work is somewhat less detailed in certain parts; we therefore believe that it was painted by Castillo himself based on the Budapest work, which would have been the earlier version. To this circumstance should be added the conservation problems and areas where the paint surface is abraded. The differences in quality are seen chiefly in St Francis’s face and beard, the cut tree branch by the crucifix, and the quality of the books and the cilice. All these elements, like the lush background landscape, are much more accomplished in the Budapest work; however, the crucified Christ is much more corporeal and powerful in the Berlin version. The X-ray images made of the present version reveal the excellent underlying qualities. Careful restoration work has revealed new features of the original pigments, especially in the habit with its darns and sculptural folds, and a small loss of paint is visible in St Francis’s head when viewed under ultraviolet light. The leafy background landscape and the masses of trees are particularly significant in Antonio del Castillo’s oeuvre: the olive green, yellowish and earthy colours which are characteristic of the Budapest work reappear in the right-hand portion of this picture, though the branches of the tree in the upper right part have lost some of their leaves, and the foliage below the cilice too is denser in the Budapest version. The tilted skull on the books in the foreground is also a common feature of several of the artist’s works. A comparison of the skull in the Berlin and Budapest paintings reveals a slightly briefer style of execution in the present work, though this may possibly be due to the abovementioned abrasion. The greatest difference in quality is probably found in St Francis’s face, though the reflected light on the iris is identical.| Benito Navarrete Prieto