Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Francisco de Zurbarán

Saint Serapion, 1628, Francisco De Zurbaran, one of his earliest
and most famous works.
St. Francis in Prayer,
1606, Caravaggio
In writing about Spanish art and in particular, Spanish Baroque art, I've sometimes mentioned the name of Francisco de Zurbaran, and not just in passing, but in some detail. However, for a man who has often been called the Caravaggio of Spain, it would appear that I've not given this painter the credit due him as one of Spain's big three--El Greco, Velazquez, and Zurbaran. Zurbaran was primarily a painter of religious subjects, fortunate enough to have been born in 1598, and thus coming of age as a painter in the 1620s, a time when the church, especially the Catholic church in Spain, was still spending gobs of money to decorate their ongoing "edifice complex." Zurbaran and Velazquez were roughly the same age (Velazquez was born in 1599) but was primarily a court painter of portraits. Zurbaran seldom painted portraits (except of saints). El Greco was Greek, of course, and the oldest of the three, born in 1541. And even though he lived and worked most of his life in Spain, being Greek meant he wasn't Spanish. However his influence on the other two was considerable.

Francisco de Zurbaran's many images of St. Francis of Assisi.
Whatever effect el Greco, or Velazquez for that matter, may have had upon Zurbaran's art, his strongest, nearly overwhelming, influence came not from Spain but Italy, that of the painting hurricane named Michelangelo Caravaggio. It takes only a single glance at Caravaggio's St. Francis in Prayer (above, left) from 1606, as compared to virtually every one of Zurbaran's St. Francis paintings (above) to realize the tremendous impact this Italian Baroque force of nature had upon Zurbaran, not to mention a host of other European painters to follow during the next century or two. Each in his own way took Caravaggio's trademark chiaroscuro and adapted it to their own vision and style.

Zurbaran paints his only self-portrait into a very personal crucifixion.
Zurbaran was among the earliest to adopt and adapt that with which Caravaggio shook up the Italian art world during the final years of the 16th-century. Zurbaran's work is a little darker and leaner than that of Caravaggio, but as his dramatic crucifixion/self-portrait (above) demonstrates, the groundbreaking Italian's style is ever present. There's no indication Zurbaran ever traveled to Italy or met Caravaggio, but those who did, carried back to Seville numerous Caravaggio's paintings for Zurbaran and other Spanish artists to study. Zurbaran spent most of his life living or traveling from Seville where he lived with his three wives (he was widowed twice) and had three children from his first marriage.

Apotheosis of Saint Thomas Aquinas, 1631, Francisco Zurbaran
In 1627 Zurbaran began the great Altarpiece of St. Thomas Aquinas (above), This is Zurbarán's largest composition, containing figures of Christ, the Madonna, various saints, as well as Charles V with knights, and Archbishop Deza (the founder of the college) along with monks and worshipers. All the main figures were more than life-size. Many critics consider it his best work. Zurbaran's Birth of the Virgin (below), painted during his most prolific period between 1625 and 1630, is from a period when the influence of Caravaggio had not yet had much of an impact on his style.

Birth of the Virgin, 1625-30, Francisco de Zurbaran
Around 1630 Zurbaran's reputation in Seville had risen to such heights he was appointed "Painter to the King," Spain's King Philip IV. Beginning in the late 1630s, Zurbarán's workshop produced many paintings for export to South America. After 1640 however, Zurbaran's austere, harsh, hard-edged style was unfavorably compared to the sentimental religiosity of Murillo, whereupon Zurbarán's reputation declined. In 1644, Zurbaran married a third time, a second wealthy widow. By 1658, Zurbaran's fortunes had declined to such a point that he and his third wife were forced to move to Madrid in search of work, hoping to renew his contact with Velázquez. Zurbaran died in 1664, the popular myth being that he died in poverty. However at his death, the value of his estate was about 20,000 reals.

Lamb of God, 1635-40, Francisco de Zurbaran

The Infant Christ,
Francisco de Zurbaran


No comments:

Post a Comment