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St Francis when young dreaming of fine clothes and armour 1973, dyed wool on cotton high-warp tapestry (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Reproduced with the permission of Bundanon Trust)

An exhibition of rarely-seen tapestries illustrating the life of St Francis of Assisi is on display at Adelaide’s David Roche Foundation House Museum until September 2. Source: The Southern Cross. 

Curated by Museum director Robert Reason, with work loaned from the National Gallery of Australia collection, the exhibition marks the first time that 12 of Arthur Boyd’s 20 tapestries have been displayed together.

Arthur Boyd: The Life of St Francis exhibition also includes drawings, pastels and lithographs from the series created by Boyd while in London between 1964 and 1965, after his earlier travels to Italy.

Encouraged by fellow artist John Olsen, Boyd had his pastels translated into tapestry cartoons in 1969-70 at the Tapeçarias de Portalegre atelier in Portugal, who then wove the St Francis suite under his direction between late 1970 and 1974.

Each tapestry, measuring 2.5m x 3m and with a density of 2500 stitches per square metre, explores the universal human conditions of love and pain, sacrifice, and compassion through the artist’s highly original interpretation of the legend of the medieval Italian saint.

Mr Reason said Boyd’s tapestry commission was one of Australia’s largest and most ambitious bodies of work.

“It is a remarkable contribution to Australian art and Franciscan history,” he said.

“Boyd delves into Francis’s psyche and through his work the monumental figure of the saint burns bright with spiritual light, at times hungry and devouring, while at others soft and dreamlike in the company of his followers.”



St Francis tapestries in Adelaide (By Jenny Brinkworth, The Southern Cross)