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Francisco Zurbaran

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Born in the suburb of Fuente de Cantos in Estramadure, on the boundaries of Andalusia, Nov., 1598; died probably at Madrid about 1662. From his early years he showed great aptitude for drawing. His parents, honest peasants, placed no obstacle to his artistic tastes. While a young boy he frequented the studio of Juan de las Roclas, of whom he became a favourite pupil. It has been claimed that he made the pilgrimage to Italy, but there is no evidence of his having done so. In 1616, at the age of eighteen, he signed an Immaculate Conception. This is the only picture of his youth; but it has not been preserved, and we do not find another work of his until 1625. The Marquess de Malagan commissioned him to decorate the retable of San Pedro in the Cathedral at Seville ; even in this early work the painter brilliantly displays his powerful and very individual manner. After the retable of San Pedro he painted for the convent of the Mercenarious Descalozos, which was then recently built at Seville, five or six of the twelve pictures which recount the life of St. Peter Nolasco, founder of the Order of Mercy. The others are by his pupil Juan Martinez de Gradillas. The museum of the Prado at Madrid contains two of Zurbaran's pictures: the Vision of St. Peter Nolasco and the Apparition of the crucified Prince of the Apostles to St. Peter Nolasco. These two canvases are remarkable for their serenity, strength, and nobility. Zurbaran's vigorous manner, which aimed at fidelity of expression, appear here in bold relief. The success of these pictures at the convent of the Mercenarios was such that the ayutamiento of Seville begged the artist to fix his residence in the capital of Andalusia. It is said that Alonso Cano and the other painters protested, demanding that Zurbaran should be subjected to a preliminary examination according to custom. The latter haughtily retorted by requesting the municipality to declare that the unanimous approval of his works was sufficient evidence of his capacity. Commissions flowed in from all sides. About 1625 he painted several canvases in honour of St. Bonaventure in the church dedicated to the saint at Seville: St. Bonaventure presiding at the chapter of the Friars Minor ; the Burial of St. Bonaventure (now at the Louvre); St. Bonaventure visited by an Angel (Dresden); and St. Bonaventure showing the crucifix to St. Thomas Aquinas (Berlin). About the same period he began to paint the Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas for the chapel of the college which bore his name. This is the finest of his most beautiful works, and it is certainly one of the highest and noblest productions of the Spanish school. It was finished in 1636; it is now at the provincial museum of Seville. In the same year Zurbaran produced another masterpiece, Bl. Alonso Rodriguez (Academy of San Fernando, Seville). Between 1633 and 1638 he executed for the Carthusian monastery at Xeres a large number of pictures drawn from the Gospels and the life of St. Bruno, which formed a splendid assemblage; they are now scattered (Provincial Museum of Cadiz, has St. Bruno at prayer, St. Hugh , Bishop of Grenoble, etc.; the Departmental Museum of Grenoble, possesses the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Adoration of the Magi ). In the centre of a chain of mountains covered with oaks and chestnuts which separate Estramadura from Castile, on a peak less sharp than its neighbours, rises the monastery of Guadalupe. Belonging to the Order of Hieronymites this monastery was for a long time the centre of a much frequented pilgrimage, whither people came to venerate a miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mary which St. Leander, Archbishop of Seville, had brought from Rome. In the church of this convent, almost inaccessible is hidden what is "perhaps Zurbaran's most important work" (Lafond, "Ribera et Zurbaran", 100). It consists of thirteen pictures. Two, representing St. Ildefonso and St. Nicholas of Bari , adorn the side altars at the entrance to the choir. The others relate to the life of St. Jerome. The pictures of Guadalupe mark the culminating point of Zurbaran's career. Thenceforth his activity slackened, but still produced masterpieces. About 1650 the Marquess de Campo Alanza commissioned him to paint for the Capuchin convent at Castellon the series of great founders of religious orders from Elias to St. Ignatius Loyola. These pictures are still in the same place. Zurbaran also composed a very beautiful collection of full length portraits of Hieronymite monks ; these are now scattered (San Fernando Academy, Museum of Pau, Stafford House, residence of the Duke of Sutherland, London ). Besides these pictures Zurbaran painted a great many pictures of monks at prayer ; one of the most striking is the "Kneeling Monk " at the National Gallery. At the instance of Velazquez, who had been Zurbaran's comrade at Seville, Philip IV invited Zurbaran to Madrid in 1650 and commissioned him to take part in the decorations of the hall of Buen Ratio. His share consisted in representing the "labours of Hercules" in ten pictures; his thoroughly religious talent was but little adapted to mythological conceptions, and after having painted three or four canvases he merely sketched the others, which were completed by his pupils (1658). However, these naked figures are remarkable for correctness of drawing and powerful appearance. In 1659 he painted St. Francis of Assisi kneeling (property of Don A. de Beruete). The museum at Buda-Pesth has an Immaculate Conception painted in 1661, a year before his death. Mention may be made of many other of his works, e.g. Christ crowning St. Joseph (Seville), the Portiuncula (Cadiz), the Blessed Virgin and St. John on Calvary (Munich), a St. Francis of Assisi (Dresden), a St. Lawrence (St. Petersburg), an Adoration of the Shepherds (National Gallery), long attributed to Velazquez, but now commonly restored to Zurbaran.

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