Town Museum "Ala Ponzone"
The painting represents a St. Francis “who is desperately meditating on the crucifix” (Longhi 1943). The repentant saint is represented outdoor in a wild place, in order to increase the sense of loneliness which characterized the last years of the painter’s Roman stay.
The scene is connected to a part of the famous Legenda maior by Bonaventura da Bagnoregio in which it is explained how Francis, on the Verna Mountain in 1224, opened three times the Gospel at random meditating on the Passion and on his final destiny totally in line with the story of Jesus Christ and the stigmata, which are not represented here.
The deep divine revelation’s internalization, emphasized by the presence of the crucifix which seems to stop the Gospel’s pages imposing itself as the primary topic of meditation, reveals in this painting some personal elements connected to the Caravaggio himself. In fact, following the murder of Ranuccio Tomassoni (28th of May 1606), he was obsessed by a desire of penance for his sins.
This is even more evident now that is being reaffirmed that the painting was commissioned by Benedetto Ala from Cremona, Rome’s governor from 1604 to 1610. In several other moments Benedetto Ala played the role of Caravaggio’s protector and the painter probably hoped, through him, to save his life.
This thesis is confirmed by the saint’s face which resembles the painter in several characteristics. Probably, through this painting, he wanted to confess to his protector his mood and his resignation for his uncertain and hopeless future.
In the framework’s decoration it it possible to recognize the Ala coat of arms (a little rampant lion with a wing, in profile). Identifying the first owner it is possible to follow the story of the painting till its arrival in Cremona, where it is now.