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A Zurbarán for Toulouse’s Bemberg Foundation

March 29, 2018

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664)
“Child of the Thorn in a Landscape”
Oil on linen: 43.25 x 31.5 inches
Click on image to enlarge.

The Bemberg Foundation in Toulouse, France, has purchased a painting by the great 17th century Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664).  The work, acquired at Madrid’s Abalarte auction house on February 28, 2018 for €400,000, depicts the Christ child seated in a landscape having just pricked his finger on a thorn on a crown of thorns.  The iconography refers to the Passion of Christ and his eventual crowning with thorns.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website about the artist:

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664) was, after Velázquez, the greatest painter of the Golden Age in Spain. He may also be considered the most representative artist of the period, since he did not, like Velázquez, work at the court in Madrid, but for ecclesiastical—primarily monastic—patrons in southern Spain.

Born in the small farming town of Fuente de Cantos in Extremadura, Zurbarán established a workshop in Llerena, some sixty miles to the north. Several pictures he painted for Sevillian monasteries brought him early recognition and an unprecedented invitation from the city government to live in Seville, which “would be honored … and favor him … since the art of painting is one of the major embellishments of the state.”

Zurbarán’s clientele, though restricted, was nevertheless representative of seventeenth-century Spain; his approach to spiritual subjects reflects the authority of tradition, the demands of doctrine, and the requirements of patrons and of a public for whom the story, not the style, was the essence of a work of art. The synthesis of tradition and innovation in Zurbarán’s art, of forms that are at once timeless and tangible, perfectly expresses the spirit of Counter-Reformation theology and of contemporary Spanish society, with its faith in both mystical and earthly reality.

The painting comes from the collection of the Duke of Sotomayor and dates to 1645-50 according to Odile Delenda, who confirmed the work’s authenticity and will include it in a supplement to the catalogue raisonne currently in preparation.  The painting is related to the Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla’s The Child of the Thorn and Cleveland Museum of Art’s Christ and the Virgin in the House at Nazareth (c. 1640).

Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598-1664)
Christ and the Virgin in the House at Nazareth (c. 1640)
Oil on canvas: 64 15/16 x 85 7/8 in.
Cleveland Museumo f Art
Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1960.117
Click on image to enlarge.

The Cleveland Museum’s painting was featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s superb 1987 monographic exhibition, the catalogue for which is available free to download as a PDF and/or to read online.  As the Cleveland Museum notes of their picture: “Stories of Christ’s childhood and adolescence became increasingly popular during the Counter-Reformation because they were easily understood by a broad public. Rather than taking a story from the Bible, Zurbarán appears to have invented this subject, in which Jesus pricks himself on a crown of thorns he is weaving, foretelling his later torment at the Crucifixion. Despite the grand scale and monumental figures, the work has remarkable intimacy and quietness, emphasizing such details as the Virgin’s tears.”


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