Luis de Morales
Spanish painter, b. at Badajoz in Estremadura about 1509; d. at Badajoz, 1586. His life was spent in painting devotional subjects for churches and oratories. Painting was for him not merely a means of charming the sense of vision: he strove by his brush to express the religious enthusiasm which characterized his age. Critics have detected two styles in the long artistic career of Morales. In his earlier style, the influence of the Florentine school is more marked: he executed various studies and exercises after works of Michelangelo ; notably, he copied at Evora a picture representing Christ on the Cross, with the Blessed Virgin and St. John. To this, not easily definable, period is referred a "Circumcision", now in the Prado Museum at Madrid, and six panels for the high altar of the church of La Higuera of Fregenal. In his second style Morales lessens the number of figures in his compositions, which seldom contain more than two or three, often in bust or in half-length. His favourite themes, frequently reproduced without any change, are "Ecce Homo", "Christ at the Column", and "The Blessed Virgin holding the Dead Christ". The drawing is clean and firm, the anatomy correct, the figures, which recall primitive German and Flemish work by their slenderness, are not wanting in grace, and at times are characterized by a certain air of melancholy. The colouring is delicate and as brilliant as enamel. Morales excels in the faculty of making his modelling stand out by the skilfully graduated employment of half-tones; like the early Northern painters, he exercises minute care in the reproduction of the beard and hair, and makes a point of rendering faithfully the drops of blood falling from the thorn-crowned brow of Christ, and the tears flowing from the eyes of the afflicted Mother.
No artist of his time knew better than he how to appeal to the ardent faith of his countrymen, because no one else in that day knew so well how to impart to his sacred characters so intense and infectious emotion. As an example of this we may take the "Christ at the Column" in the Church of San Isidro el Real at Madrid ; here the painter pathetically places the disciple who has denied Him face to face with the Divine Master at the flagellation. The resignation of Jesus, His loving look directed towards Peter and fraught with forgiveness, the deep penitence of the apostle, are so vividly rendered that one shares the enthusiasm of Morales's countrymen, and can understand why they called him El Divino . Naturally, his reputation spread rapidly through Spain ; Philip II, however, whose preference was for the Italian painters, does not seem to have shared the general enthusiasm: he gave Morales but one commission, for the "Christ going up to Calvary", which he presented to the Jeronymite church at Madrid. The king afterwards, in 1581, granted a pension to the artist, who had become destitute in his old age. Many imitators of Morales exaggerated his style into mannerism and caricature. His son Cristobal accomplished little beyond mediocre reproductions of his works, but one of his pupils, Juan Labrador, became distinguished as a painter of still life. To the works of Morales already mentioned we may add: at Badajoz (Church of the Conception), "Virgin and Child playing with a bird ", "Christ carrying the Cross", "St. Joachim and St. Anne "; at Madrid, "Ecce Homo", "Our Lady of Sorrows", "Mary caressing the Divine Child", "The Presentation in the Temple ", a "Head of Christ" (Prado Museum), "Ecce Homo" (Church of San Felipe), "Virgin with the Dead Christ" (Academy of San Fernando); at Seville (in the chalice-room of the cathedral ), "Ecce Homo", with the "Blessed Virgin and St. John" on the panels; at Toledo (in the Provincial Museum), a "Head of Christ", "Our Lady of Solitude"; at Basle (in the Museum), "Christ carrying the Cross", "Our Lady and St. John"; at Dresden (in the Museum), "Christ carrying the Cross", "Ecce Homo"; at Dublin (in the National Gallery), "St. Jerome in the Desert ", at New York (in the Historical Society ), "Ecce Homo"; at Paris (in the Louvre), "Christ carrying the Cross"; at St. Petersburg (in the Hermitage), "Our Lady of Sorrows"; at Stuttgart (in the Museum), "Ecce Homo".
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