This painting is influenced by art from both the past and the present, which Davie saw while on a travelling scholarship in Italy in 1948. It was painted on paper, as this was cheap to buy and could be easily rolled up so the artist could carry it with him on his travels. Looking to the past, he drew inspiration from Byzantine mosaics and early Christian art, whilst also looking to contemporary and international art. The abstracted face of the figure and drapery over the knees are influenced by Henry Moore, while the broad and confident brushstrokes show that the artist was also looking overseas to the work of the American Abstract Expressionists.
'The Saint' was painted in Florence, while Davie was visiting Italy on a travelling scholarship in 1948. He was inspired by the passion and freedom in the work of the American Abstract Expressionists which he saw on show that year at the Venice Biennale. This prompted his move towards more vigorous and expressive brushstrokes in his work. The painting also shows the influence of Byzantine and early renaissance art, in the subject matter. Davie's early work frequently featured the use of heavy black lines.
Davie was born in Grangemouth, near Edinburgh and studied at Edinburgh College of Art. In 1948 he saw the work of the American Abstract Expressionists and was impressed by their intensity and freedom. Davie abandoned traditional methods of composition and subject matter and sought to free his art from premeditated decision-making. This approach owes much to the artist's interest in Zen Buddhism and there is also an analogy with jazz - Davie was a jazz saxophonist early on in his career. In the later 1950s and 1960s Davie's brushwork became more controlled and the imagery more legible. Mysterious symbols began to appear, found in sources as varied as American Indian pottery, maps, ancient rock-carvings and Aboriginal art.