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Restored and Newly Attributed Caravaggesque Masterwork unveiled in Barcelona

July 17, 2012

Experts at the Museum have been able to identify The Conversion of Saint Paul as one of the few surviving works by Maíno.

A dramatic Conversion of Saint Paul newly attributed to the 16th/17th century Caravaggesque Spanish painter Juan Bautista Maíno is now on view at Barcelona’s Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya following an extensive restoration. According to ArtDaily:

After a long process of restoration carried out thanks to sponsorship by BNP Paribas and its Foundation, The Conversion of Saint Paul, painted by Juan Bautista Maíno (Pastrana, 1581 – Madrid, 1649), is being exhibited in the exhibition rooms of the MNAC’s permanent collection from 5 July to the end of September 2012.

Experts at the Museum have been able to identify The Conversion of Saint Paul as one of the few surviving works by Maíno, one of the painters who introduced the figurative art of Caravaggio and the circle of painters active in Rome in the early 17th century into Spain.

This canvas, which was badly damaged in 1985 in a fire in the municipal premises where it was kept, has formed part of the Museum’s collection since 1952, though it was attributed to the Valencian painter José Vergara. This new attribution makes an important addition to the catalogue of a key artist for understanding 17th-century Spanish painting and one who has left very few works, no more than 44. As well as The Conversion of Saint Paul, the MNAC also keeps the Portrait of Fray Alonso de Santo Tomás (1648-1649) in its collections, one of the Dominican painter’s last works.

Preliminary version of Conversion of Saint Paul.

To cast light on the work’s genesis and attribution and explain the complex and delicate process of restoration its has undergone, The Conversion of Saint Paul is now being exhibited in a room of its own, along with a preliminary painting from a private collection, an X-ray showing the state it was in before work started, as well as a video explaining the process by which the canvas was restored.

For more than six months, the MNAC’s experts, restorers and curators have worked together to recover this work, document it and now to exhibit it to the public.

The restoration of The Conversion of Saint Paul, which has been possible thanks to sponsorship by PNB Paribas and its Foundation, is part of the BNP Paribas for Arts programme launched by the BNP Paribas Foundation in 1994. This programme has made it possible to restore more than 200 works of art kept in museums all over the world.

The Conversion of Saint Paul – A new attribution

The painting of The Conversion of Saint Paul, entered the former Museu d’Art de Catalunya following its acquisition in 1952. It immediately drew the attention of Joan Ainaud de Lasarte (1919-1995), who at that time was General Director of art museums in Barcelona and who from the outset considered the possibility that the work was by an Italian painter. Since then the authorship of the painting has gradually become clearer, and it has now been possible to attribute it to Juan Bautista Maíno.

The Conversion of Saint Paul is a highly representative example of the work of Maíno. It brings to mind the Altarpiece of the Cuatro Pascuas (1612-1614), painted for the church of San Pedro Mártir in Toledo and now kept in the Museo del Prado and considered one of the most important works of 17th-century Spanish painting.

In view of the obvious stylistic, compositional and figurative similarities between the MNAC’s work and the paintings mentioned, it seems reasonable to set a date for it after 1614, the year in which the altarpiece was finished.

In this work we can make out the main representative features that define the painter’s graphic repertory and his language, which is characterised by vigorous draughtsmanship with painstakingly descriptive line, solid, well-sculpted figures built up with contrasting light, and vivid colours. The Conversion of Saint Paul shows Maíno’s debt to Italian painting and, in particular, to the stimulating atmosphere of Rome, a city where the painter’s presence is documented between 1605 and 1610.

Installation of Conversion of Saint Paul.

Maíno’s language also points to the the influence of Caravaggio (1571-1610), which in The Conversion of Saint Paul is also especially visible in the modelling of the hair on the angels and in the harsh look on Jesus’s face. The latter shows striking similarities in style with the one on the canvas of The Trinity (1612-1620) belonging to the altarpiece on the same subject that Maíno painted for the convent of Nuestra Señora de la Concepción in Pastrana, his home-town.

The small number of works by Maíno adds to the importance of a work which, in the context of the MNAC’s collection of Baroque art, also helps to diversify the different paths by which what is known as 17th-century naturalism entered the Iberian Peninsula.

There were already two naturalist trends present in the MNAC, the Seville trend, represented by a work from the youth of Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) –a picture of Saint Paul done in about 1618-1620–, and the Valencian trend, represented by two compositions by the Ribalta family –the Portrait of Ramon Llull, a composition by Francesc Ribalta (1565-1628) dated circa 1618, and a Saint Jerome (1618) by his son, Juan Ribalta (1596/1597-1628). To these, Maíno adds a third way, that of the Castilian painting of the 17th century, which until now was not visible in the collection and which completes the picture of the Spanish art of the time.

Unlike the other two trends, Maíno’s work shows a new and unusual aspect as a result of the years he lived in Rome. When he returned, Maíno did not just mimetically transpose the figurative models he had been able to see there, but managed to reinterpret these sources with a renovating drive. The fact that he imported these novelties by way of an artistic journey is what differentiates Maíno’s style from that of his contemporaries.

Conversion of Saint Paul installation prior to opening.


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