Peter Paul Rubens: The miracles of Saint Francis Xavier (1617-1618)

(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria)

 A painting by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). This large piece (535 x 395 cm) was commissioned for the new Saint Charles Borromeo Church in Antwerp, a Jesuit church. Together with the piece called "The miracles of Saint Ignatius of Loyola", also by Peter Paul Rubens, this set formed the altarpiece for the high altar of the church. Saint Francis Xavier (1506-1552) and Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) are founders of the society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. Saint Ignatius of Loyola was already beatified in 1609 and it was hoped that a large altarpiece dedicated to both saints would hasten the canonization of Francis Xavier, and indeed both he and the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, were canonized in 1622. Francis Xavier is standing here on the painting on a large plinth before a large crowd of listeners and observers, who, keeping a respectful distance, are bathing in bright light coming from behind the saint. The actual miracle depicted is in the left foreground: two deathly pale figures are rising from their graves. Francis Xavier is shown as the “missionary to the Asian peoples”. The left hand of the saint is pointing upwards towards Fides, the personification of faith, while his right hand extended towards the toppling idols in the left background. Painting from 1617-1618.