Monday, April 11, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Zurbarán

Francisco de Zurbarán was perhaps the greatest painter and interpreter of the Monastic life because he represented, with paint, the extreme piety of this life. That is, his paintings were so simple in terms of their color and many had the Caravaggesque, tenebrist contrast of dark and light. And particularly for the Spanish Geronomite Monastic order that commissioned him in the late 1630s, it represents perfectly what life was all about - black and white. One is either in God's light or in the shadows.
Zurbarán was a painter of saints and clergy, and was particularly known for his monastic portraits like St. Francis. He used a very sharp contrast of dark and light that seemed to heighten the mystical, spiritual nature of the scenes. This mysticism coupled with the realistic modeling of his figures made Zurbarán a quintessential figure in Spanish art of the 17th century.
Zurbarán was born in 1598, and worked under a minor Spanish artist as an apprentice. One of his earliest influences was Michelangelo, and later on in his career he gained some influence from Ribera and Murillo. So Murillo and Zurbarán were seemingly influenced by each other as Murillo would mimic the tenebrist, monastic portraits. Zurbarán in turn would paint versions of the Immaculate Conception, very similar to Murillo's famous images of this theme.
He lived in Seville for most of his career with the exception of a couple years spent as a court painter in Madrid for Philip IV. Zurbarán died in 1664. Some of his greatest pieces are the eight paintings commissioned by the Geronomite friars in 1637 that still hang in the space in which they were originally designed for. They are the dark portraits of members of the Spanish Geronomite order that are typical to Zurbarán's mysterious and haunting style.

Francisco de Zurbarán
St. Francis
oil on canvas
65 x 53 cm.
c. 1660

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