Oct 27, 2016

Baroque Masters in the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville

Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla

Baroque is a perspective on life and is, at the same time, its expression through art. The Seville school of this period is renowned for the genius of its artists, including Velázquez, Zurbarán and Murillo, who all feature highly in the museum.

Roelas and The Sevillian Baroque
Thanks to Juan de Roelas (1560-1625), who settled in the city in the early 17th century, new techniques and a new aesthetic would leave a profound legacy there. His links with Venetian painting influenced his personal style, based on strong, vibrant colors applied with thick brush strokes. His innovative method of painting would dramatically transform the local art scene.

As is typical in Venetian painting, Roelas also liked to work on large canvases. Tintoretto's influence is clear, particularly in The Crucifixion of the Scuola di San Rocco.

In addition to the warm coloring dominated by shades of red and yellow, the use of innovative iconography is striking. But even more novel is the attention given to secondary objects, such as animals.

Francisco de Herrera el Viejo (Seville, c.1590 – Madrid, c.1654) followed Roelas' techniques of using loose brush strokes and undefined lines which, in his case, he transferred onto paper.

Large and complex compositions arranged in layers characterized the Seville school, as we can see with Herrera. These set designs, typical of the theatre, were adopted for painting.

Naturalism: Velázquez and Cano
The teachings of Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644) were also fundamental to the formation of the Seville school of Baroque painting. His most celebrated pupils were Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) and Alonso Cano (1601-1667). A different concept of painting, based on accurate drawing and reference to the real world, laid the foundations for these artists, then in Madrid, to develop their true artistic potential.

Produced by the young Velázquez, based on a drawing by Pacheco, the painting was placed above the tomb of the kneeling figure, who is pointing towards the main altar of the church.

Completed in 1624, this early work by Cano is influenced by Italian "chiaroscuro." Distinctly austere in its use of color, it portrays the saint remembering his conversion and reflecting on the transience of life.

As a noble courtier, Charles V made him custodian of the body of his dead wife, the beautiful Empress Isabella, on the journey to Granada. After seeing her, he declared, "I swear never again to serve a master who may die."

Francisco de Zurbarán
The painter of Fuente de Cantos (1598-1664) received a number of commissions from convents in Seville after 1626. In them, he paid close attention to materials, whether rich cloths or simple objects, lending them all a poetic spirituality.

Painted for the sacristy in the old San Pablo convent, the saint takes on a sculptural air in the way that he is constructed of light and shadow, revealing the detail of his rich garments at the same time.

In 1631, Zurbarán agreed the commission of this work with the Colegio de Santo Tomás de Aquino. Centered around the saint, who appears as the custodian of theology, the scene below shows the moment that the college was founded.

The lower scene is a masterful gallery of portraits in front of imagined buildings. Among the historical figures of Fray Diego de Deza and Charles V, some of the painter's contemporaries can be recognized.

After a spell in Madrid in 1634, where he collaborated with Velázquez to decorate the Salón de Reinos in the Buen Retiro Palace, Zurbarán lightened his palette, although without losing his inner mysticism.

The collection that Zurbarán produced for the sacristy in La Cartuja, Seville, is a seminal work portraying several of the Order's characteristics: austere living and prayer.

The ceramic jug, porcelain bowl, dishes of food and loaves of bread arranged on the white tablecloth are given a central role in the composition.

In line with the medieval model, the Carthusian monks are protected under the Virgin's cape. Prayers appear at her feet in the form of delicate flowers, and the vivid coloring in the work is remarkable.

Baroque Sculpture: Montañés and Mesa
Sculpture took on great importance throughout the Sevillian Baroque period. Churches adorned with altarpieces, or more intimate spaces, housed colourful sculptures of saints (founders or members of the Order) and representations of Christ or the Virgin, which often shared the same themes as the paintings.

Juan Martínez Montañés (1568-1649), trained in Granada and arrived in Seville around 1587. He remained faithful to classicism to a certain extent, as can be seen in the elegant and controlled balance of this carving of Saint Bruno.

Unlike his mentor, Juan de Mesa (1583-1627) cultivated expression and movement, as well as a richer use of colour, developed by applying the "estofado" technique, as seen in San Ramón Nonato.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Murillo (1617-1682) was a key influence on Baroque expression in Sevillian painting and has left a lasting legacy. The fact that his paintings were soon being exported from Spain led his work to be known for its religious themes and emotional sensitivity. Virgin de la Servilleta is an unsurpassed example of that. However, his masterful technique in handling the subject and in drawing show him to be an exceptionally gifted artist.

The series painted by Murillo for the Church of the Convento de Capuchinos in Seville represented a renovation in devotional painting. Abandoning complex compositions, he turned painting into an emotional means of contemplation, as the saint’s look reveals.

The representation of kind subjects, such as children or angels, made his art popular with collectors, particularly from the late 18th century, when the images appealed to Rococo (late Baroque) tastes.

The scene, crowned by angels, is constructed with delicate backlighting and centers on the Child, who is being contemplated by the Virgin, Joseph and two shepherds, while a mother tenderly explains to her son what is happening.

This artwork, of fluent technique and almost transparent, was painted for a side altar in the Church of Capuchinos. Above the Immaculate, the Eternal Father, and at the base of the composition the apocalyptic dragon appears.

This detail reveals a lighter colour palette and a quickening of the brush strokes. Nevertheless, the result is an accurate drawing that constructs the forms on the canvas with exceptional fluency.

La Dolorosa, a full-body painting of the Virgin, is an intimate composition, which is unusual in Murillo's work. The expressiveness of the face and hands contrasts with the dark background.

Full Baroque: Valdés Leal
Juan de Valdés Leal (1622-1690) was first active in Córdoba and soon moved to Seville, when Murillo was starting to become known. His art is characterized by an expressive dynamism, based on bold brush strokes and compositions with complex perspectives. His prolific production extended to church murals, drawings, and even sculptures.

Valdés’ masterpiece is the series of canvases carried out for the Convento de San Jerónimo in Seville, narrating scenes of the life of the Saint and his order. His Baroque style is full of expressive movement.

The saint rejects the visions of temptation that torment him during his penitence with a theatrical gesture. The tense movement of his arms contrasts with the spiral shape traced by the women's dresses.

The Virgin is raised by angels from the sepulchre towards heaven with a vigorous movement. The space, defined at the bottom by the group of cherubs, dissolves showing almost transparent figures.

The use of color in the figures shows the group gathered around the Virgin to be defined by thick, broad brush strokes, whilst the angelic musicians are painted with fine, almost monochrome lines.

Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla
Credits: Story

Baroque Masters in the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville

Organised by:
Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla
Consejería de Cultura de la Junta de Andalucía

Curation and texts: Ignacio Cano
Documentation: Department of Conservation and Research (Ignacio Hermoso Romero, Lourdes Rocio Izquierdo Moreno and Morales Paez)
Photography: Pepe Moron
Digital editing: Ignacio Cano

Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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