Painted wood sculpture from Spain in the 1600s involved a team of artisans working under a lead sculptor. The sculptor first carved numerous pieces of wood in complex forms. So the paint would stick properly, these fragments were delicately covered in gesso (a combination of white chalk and glue made from animal collagen), preserving the subtle woodcarving underneath. The rough surface of the saint's face—reflecting his age and hardships—came from texturing the gesso with a brush. The glass eyes, probably imported from Venice, were inserted from behind the face before the wood pieces were attached. Finally, the eyelashes were added for a further touch of realism. A painter created the appearance of coarse sackcloth in a distinctive style, with yellow strokes rising off the surface. Smoother brushstrokes form the flesh tones, even revealing the saint's five-o'clock shadow. Unlike other kinds of painting, sculpture from southern Spain at this time was usually not covered in varnish; sculptors prized the unvarnished paint for its realistic effect, although it makes the surface exceptionally delicate and susceptible to dust and dirt, which more easily sticks to the surface.

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  • Title: Saint Peter of Alcántara
  • Creator: Pedro de Mena (Spanish, 1628-1688), Workshop
  • Date Created: c. 1663-1670
  • Physical Dimensions: Overall: 72.2 x 32 x 32 cm (28 7/16 x 12 5/8 x 12 5/8 in.)
  • Provenance: By repute Alameda de Osuña Palace, Spain, Bauer Collection, Spain, Ignacio Zuloaga (1870-1945), Madrid, Spain, sold or gifted to a Private Collector, Spanish Private Collector, through inheritance passed down generations, sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Rights: CC0
  • External Link: https://clevelandart.org/art/2009.81
  • Medium: painted wood, with ivory and glass
  • Fun Fact: Peter of Alcantara was so dedicated to his work he slept only 90 minutes a night--he's the patron saint of night watchmen!
  • Department: European Painting and Sculpture
  • Culture: Spain, 17th century
  • Credit Line: Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund
  • Collection: Sculpture
  • Accession Number: 2009.81

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