A woman with flowers in her hair has rows of blackbirds behind her and a white dove flying past.

Saint Francis of Assisi.

In Latest, Zoe Cameron Blog by Zoe Cameron

A woman with flowers in her hair has rows of blackbirds behind her and a white dove flying past.
A message from St Francis, Florence.Acrylic and gold leaf. Marking the new Pope Francis 2013 .

St Francis, who died in 1226 is still inspiring artists and exhibition curators. The National Gallery has opened a new show dedicated to this forward thinking , kind and environmentally aware man.

A painting of a man in a hat red overdress and apron greets the birds.
St Francis. Oil on canvas. 1985.

Over the years , like many artists, I have been inspired by his kind heart, and the love and respect he had for all living things.

In the 1990’s I was lucky enough to spend time with some lovely staff and students from Exeter University as a practising artist in Italy, where they were researching art history and making fresco’s . My visit to Assisi, and the Basilica of San Francisco was one I will never forget, the beauty of its interior paintings by Giotto took my breath away, his wonderful painted stories covered the walls , and the lapis lazuli blue of the ceiling with gold stars felt as near as one might get to heaven in pure colour .

Painting of a man standing with birds on his outstretched arms and a girl below reading.
St Francis. Oil on board. 1987. (Inspired by a Staffordshire figure I owned)

In Florence I sat with a friend in a piazza, and later painted the memory of us sitting outside a cafe, resting our tired feet while local pigeons bobbed about hoping for some of our lunch. Behind us was the Basilica of Santa Croce .

Painting of a woman at a table in front of the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence.
Santa Croce Basilica, Florence. In the Piazza. Oil on board. 15 x21″. 1994.

I was drawn to the Basilica because it has such unusual stone work outside , but inside it holds mesmerising architecture and artwork at every turn. One unusual item is the religious relic of a robe said to have belonged to St Francis, another neck cricking, jaw dropping sight are Giotto’s seven narrative fresco’s in the Bardi Chapel, which illustrate the life of St Francis.

The National Gallery show is on until July I believe, I find it heartening to see a man of faith so ahead of his time celebrated and remembered.

Painting of a seated figure holding a dead rook, in the landscape.
Figure with dead bird. Oil on board.1990.

I stood below a beech
And said to stillness, teach
Tranquility. I told
Dumb patient earth to hold
My unquiet mind from speech.
A cole tit in the tree
Pecked, flitted, marked by me
Around whom nothing stirred
But this food-finding bird.
The moments passed; and I
No self-concernment knew
But one small-purposed thing
Which from my presence flew
on deft unstartled wing...
And I was tranquil too.
"An Example" by
Siegfried Sassoon.