1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Zurbaran, Francisco

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20361871911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 28 — Zurbaran, FranciscoWilliam Michael Rossetti

ZURBARAN, FRANCISCO (1598-1662), Spanish painter, was born at Fuente de Cantos in Estremadura on the 7th of November 1598. His father was Luis Zurbaran, a country labourer, his mother Isabel Marquet. In childhood he set about imitating objects with charcoal; and his father sent him, still young, to the school of Juan de Roelas in Seville. Francisco soon became the best pupil in the studio of Roelas, surpassing the master himself; and before leaving him he had achieved a solid reputation, full though Seville then was of able painters. He may have had here the opportunity of copying some of the paintings of Michelangelo da Caravaggio; at any rate he gained the name of "the Spanish Caravaggio," owing to the forcible realistic style in which he excelled. He constantly painted direct from nature, following but occasionally improving on his model; and he made great use of the lay-figure in the study of draperies, in which he was peculiarly proficient. He had a special gift for white draperies; and, as a consequence, Carthusian houses are abundant in his paintings. To these rigid methods Zurbaran is said to have adhered throughout his career, which was prosperous, wholly confined to Spain, and varied by few incidents beyond those of his daily labour. His subjects were mostly of a severe and ascetic kind—religious vigils, the flesh chastised into subjection to the spirit—the compositions seldom thronged, and often reduced to a single figure. The style is more reserved and chastened than Caravaggio's, the tone of colour often bluish to excess. Exceptional effects are attained by the precise finish of foregrounds, largely massed out in light and shade. Zurbaran married in Seville Leonor de Jordera, by whom he had several children. Towards 1630 he was appointed painter to Philip IV.; and there is a story that on one occasion the sovereign laid his hand on the artist's shoulder, saying, "Painter to the king, king of painters." It was only late in life that Zurbaran made a prolonged stay in Madrid, Seville being the chief scene of his operations. He died, probably in 1662, in Madrid.

In 1627 he painted the great altarpiece of St Thomas Aquinas, now in the Seville museum; it was executed for the church of the college of that saint there. This is Zurbaran's largest composition, containing figures of Christ and the Madonna, various saints, Charles V. with knights, and Archbishop Deza (founder of the college) with monks and servitors, all the principal personages being beyond the size of life. It had been preceded by the numerous pictures of the screen of St Peter Nolasco in the cathedral. In the church of Guadalupe he painted various large pictures, eight of which relate to the history of St Jerome, and in the church of St Paul, Seville, a famous figure of the Crucified Saviour, in grisaille, presenting an illusive effect of marble. In 1633 he finished the paintings of the high altar of the Carthusians in Jerez. In the palace of Buenretiro, Madrid, are four large canvases representing the Labours of Hercules, an unusual instance of non-Christian subjects from the hand of Zurbaran. A fine specimen is in the National Gallery, London, a whole-length, life-sized figure of a kneeling Franciscan holding a skull. It seems probable that another picture in the same gallery, the "Dead Roland," which used to be ascribed to Velasquez, is really by Zurbaran. His principal scholars, whose style has as much affinity to that of Ribera as to Caravaggio's, were Bernabe de Ayala and the brothers Polanco. (W. M. R.)