Francisco de Zurbarán
Baptized 7 November 1598
|Died||27 August 1664 (aged 65)|
|Residence||Seville (1614-1658), Madrid (1658-1664)|
|Patron(s)||Philip IV of Spain |
Francisco de Zurbarán (baptized November 7, 1598 – August 27, 1664) was a Spanish painter. He is known primarily for his religious paintings depicting monks, nuns, and martyrs, and for his still-lifes. Zurbarán gained the nickname "Spanish Caravaggio," owing to the forceful, realistic use of chiaroscuro in which he excelled.
Zurbarán was born in 1598 in Fuente de Cantos, Extremadura; he was baptized on November 7 of that year. His parents were Luis de Zurbarán, a haberdasher, and his wife, Isabel Márquez. In childhood he set about imitating objects with charcoal. In 1614 his father sent him to Seville to apprentice for three years with Pedro Díaz de Villanueva, an artist of whom very little is known.
Zurbarán's first marriage, in 1617, was to María Paet who was nine years older. María died in 1624 after the birth of their third child. In 1625 he married again to wealthy widow Beatriz de Morales. On January 17, 1626, Zurbarán signed a contract with the prior of the Dominican monastery San Pablo el Real in Seville, agreeing to produce 21 paintings within eight months. Fourteen of the paintings depicted the life of Saint Dominic; the others represented Saint Bonaventura, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Dominic, and the four Doctors of the Church. This commission established Zurbarán as a painter. On August 29, 1628, Zurbarán was commissioned by the Mercedarians of Seville to produce 22 paintings for the cloister in their monastery. In 1629, the Elders of Seville invited Zurbarán to relocate permanently to the city, as his paintings had gained such high reputation that he would increase the reputation of Seville. He accepted the invitation and moved to Seville with his wife Beatriz de Morales, the three children from his first marriage, a relative called Isabel de Zurbarán and eight servants. In May 1639 his second wife, Beatriz de Morales, died.
Towards 1630 he was appointed painter to Philip IV, and there is a story that on one occasion the sovereign laid his hand on the artist's shoulder, saying "Painter to the king, king of painters". After 1640 his austere, harsh, hard-edged style was unfavorably compared to the sentimental religiosity of Murillo and Zurbarán's reputation declined. Beginning by the late 1630s, Zurbarán's workshop produced many paintings for export to South America.
On February 7, 1644, Zurbarán married a third time with another wealthy widow, Leonor de Torder. It was only in 1658, late in Zurbarán's life, that he moved to Madrid in search of work and renewed his contact with Velázquez. Popular myth has Zurbarán dying in poverty, but at his death the value of his estate was about 20,000 reales.
It is unknown whether Zurbarán had the opportunity to see the paintings of Caravaggio, only that his work features a similarly realistic use of chiaroscuro and tenebrism. The painter thought by some art historians to have had the greatest influence on his characteristically severe compositions was Juan Sánchez Cotán. Polychrome sculpture--which by the time of Zurbarán's apprenticeship had reached a level of sophistication in Seville that surpassed that of the local painters--provided another important stylistic model for the young artist; the work of Juan Martínez Montañés is especially close to Zurbarán's in spirit.
He painted his figures directly from nature, and he made great use of the lay-figure in the study of draperies, in which he was particularly proficient. He had a special gift for white draperies; as a consequence, the houses of the white-robed Carthusians are abundant in his paintings. To these rigid methods, Zurbarán is said to have adhered throughout his career, which was prosperous, wholly confined to Spain, and varied by few incidents beyond those of his daily labour. His subjects were mostly severe and ascetic religious vigils, the spirit chastising the flesh into subjection, the compositions often reduced to a single figure. The style is more reserved and chastened than Caravaggio's, the tone of color often quite bluish. Exceptional effects are attained by the precisely finished foregrounds, massed out largely in light and shade. Backgrounds are often featureless and dark. Zurbaran had difficulty painting deep space; when interior or exterior settings are represented, the effect is suggestive of theater backdrops on a shallow stage.
In 1631 he painted the great altarpiece of the Apothosis of St. Thomas Aquinas, now in the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville; it was executed for the church of the college of that saint. This is Zurbarán's largest composition, containing figures of Christ, the Madonna, various saints, Charles V with knights, and Archbishop Deza (founder of the college) with monks and servitors, all the principal personages being more than life-size. It had been preceded by numerous pictures for the retable of St. Peter in the cathedral of Seville.
Between 1628 and 1634 he painted four scenes from the life of St. Peter Nolasco for the Principal Monastery of the Calced Mercedarians in Seville. In Santa Maria de Guadalupe he painted various large pictures, eight of which relate to the history of St. Jerome; and in the church of Saint Paul, Seville, a famous figure of the Crucified Saviour, in grisaille, creating an illusion of marble. In 1639 he finished the paintings of the high altar of the Carthusians in Jerez. In the palace of Buenretiro, Madrid are four large canvases representing the Labours of Hercules, the only group of mythological subjects from the hand of Zurbarán. A fine example of his work is in the National Gallery, London: a whole-length, life-sized figure of a kneeling Saint Francis holding a skull.
Jacob and his twelve sons, a series depicting the patriarch Jacob and his 12 sons, is held at Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland. In 1835, paintings by Zurbarán were confiscated from monasteries and displayed in the new Museum of Cádiz.
Zurbarán was the subject of a major exhibition in 1987 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which traveled in 1988 to Galeries nationales du Grand Palais in Paris. In 2015 the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid presented Zurbarán. A New Perspective.
The Young Virgin, 1630, Metropolitan Museum of Art
A Doctor of Law, 1635, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Santa Isabel de Portugal, c. 1635, Museo del Prado
Saint Luke as a Painter before Christ on the Cross, c. 1635-1640, Museo del Prado
The Annunciation, 1637-1639, Museum of Grenoble, France
Saint Rufina, c. 1635-1640, Museo del Prado
Saint Francis, c. 1658-1664, Alte Pinakothek
Francisco de Zurbarán, The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, MNHA Luxembourg