Zurbarán, Francisco De (born Francisco de Zurbarán Márquez [or Salazar]; 1598–1664)

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ZURBARÁN, FRANCISCO DE (born Francisco de Zurbarán Márquez [or Salazar]; 15981664)

ZURBARÁN, FRANCISCO DE (born Francisco de Zurbarán Márquez [or Salazar]; 15981664), Spanish painter. Francisco de Zurbarán was born in Fuentedecantos (Extremadura), an agricultural village. At considerable expense, his father, a shopkeeper, sent him in 1614 to Seville, where he was an apprentice to Pedro Díaz Villanueva, an obscure artist. In 1617 he established a workshop in Llerena, a large Extremaduran market town; no paintings before 1627 have been located. By 1630 he was living in Seville.

In 1626 Zurbarán contracted with the Dominican monastery of San Pablo el Real, Seville, to produce twenty-one paintings for the relatively modest sum of 4,000 reales. Displayed in an oratory chapel of this monastery, Christ on the Cross (1627, Art Institute of Chicago), his earliest dated painting, made him famous. Against the dark background, strong illumination accentuates the sculptural qualities of the naturalistically rendered figure. The exceptional stillness of the body indicates death, but dramatic tension is introduced by its leftward sag, which causes Christ's head to fall against his shoulder. Zurbarán probably developed his distinctive style by studying the work of the Italian painter Caravaggio (born Michelangelo Merisi, 15731610) and the Spanish sculptor Juan Martínez Montañes (15681649).

From 1628 until approximately 1640, Zurbarán was regarded as the leading artist of Andalusia, and he received commissions from monasteries and convents throughout Spain. Apparently jealous of his success, officers of the painters' guild, led by Alonso Cano (16011667), ordered him on 23 May 1630 to take the examination for master painters in Seville. Zurbarán appealed to the city council, which denied the guild's authority on 8 June 1630.

Many of Zurbarán's major pictorial programs concern the lives of the most famous saints of the monastic orders that had commissioned them. Thus, for the Monastery of the Merced Calzada, Seville, he produced twenty-two paintings that illustrate the life of Saint Peter Nolasco, the founder of the order. Saint Peter Nolasco's Vision of the Crucified Saint Peter the Apostle (1628, Prado, Madrid) eloquently reveals his ability to make the supernatural seem believable. Zurbarán's eight paintings for the Sacristy of the Monastery of Saint Jerome, Guadalupe (16381639; still in situ), were unusual because they all depicted residents of that house, such as Bishop Gonzalo de Illescas. His commission for the Carthusian Monastery of Jerez de la Frontera included four large altarpieces depicting Christ's early life. In Adoration of the Magi (16391640, Musée du Peinture et de Sculpture, Grenoble), he created spectacular effects through the use of glowing colors and lavish still life details.

In 1634 Zurbarán went to Madrid in order to undertake a royal commission, which had been awarded to him through the intervention of Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velázquez (15991660). For the Hall of Realms in the Buen Retiro Palace, he painted ten pictures of the Labors of Hercules and a battle scene, The Defense of Cádiz against the English (all in the Prado, Madrid). In contrast to most seventeenth-century painters, Zurbarán did not base his images of Hercules on famous classical statues. Instead, he infused Hercules' Labors with an earthy vitality by depicting Hercules as a rugged, awkward man of exceptional strength.

In addition to large-scale programs, Zurbarán also produced many single paintings, including over forty images of Saint Francis of Assisi. As does Saint Francis in Meditation (c. 16351640, National Gallery, London, National Gallery), most prominently feature a skull, a symbol of penitence; upturned eyes and open mouth express the saint's mystical ecstasy. The "close-up" depiction of the isolated figure against a neutral background still makes a strong impact. In his few still life paintings, such as Still Life with Lemons, Oranges, and a Rose (1633, Norton Simon Foundation, Pasadena, Calif.), Zurbarán endowed humble objects with transcendent importance.

After 1640 Zurbarán's career underwent an irreversible decline. The collapse of the Spanish economy greatly limited the expenditures of Spanish monasteries and convents, his primary clients. Moreover, his austere style did not correspond with the increasing emphasis on tender piety in Spanish religious life. To compensate for the loss of clients in Spain, Zurbarán expanded his workshop's production of images for export to the Americas. Moreover, he responded to the changed spiritual mood by creating images such as Christ Carrying the Cross (1653, Cathedral at Orléans) that invokes the pity of its spectator. In 1658 Zurbarán moved to Madrid, where he imitated Velázquez's style in portraits such as Doctor of Laws (c. 16581660, Gardner Museum, Boston).

In 1838 the modern revival of interest in Zurbarán's work resulted from the display of eighty of his paintings in the Galerie Espagnole of the Louvre. His paintings were copied by Édouard Manet (18321883) and many other nineteenth-century artists.

See also Spain, Art in .


Baticle, Jeannine, ed. Zurbarán. New York, 1987. Catalogue of a major exhibition held 19871988 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; and Museo del Prado, Madrid; with scholarly studies by leading experts.

Brown, Jonathan. Francisco de Zurbarán. New York, 1974. A well-illustrated overview of the artist's career, intended for the general reader.

Soria, Martin S. Zurbarán. London, 1953. This catalogue of the artist's entire oeuvre is still useful.

Richard G. Mann