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  • Rafael E. Tarragó

Francisco de Zurbarán’s ‘Lost Painting’ Acquired by Mia in 2023


The Venerable MiguelGerónimo Carmelo • 1628-1630 • Francisco de Zubarán Oil on canvas • Gift of Funds from Ruth and John Huss, Nancy and Rolf Engh, and Nivin MacMillan, and the John R. Van Derlip Fund • 2023.30


The October 2023 issue of the British art journal Apollo had an announcement about the acquisition by the Minneapolis Institute of Art of a lost work by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), The Venerable Miguel Gerónimo Carmelo. Earlier that year, in September, Mia had posted an announcement (new.artsmia.org/press/lost-painting-by-francisco-de-zurbaran-acquired-by-minneapolis-institute-of-art)

giving extensive information about how this painting — created in 1628 for the monastery of the Mercedarian Order in Seville known as Convento de la Merced Calzada — was taken from its place of origin during the occupation of Spain from 1808 to 1813 by Emperor Napoleon. The painting was transported to France along with thousands of other Spanish art works as loot by French officers such as Marshall Soult. But why would an international art magazine like Apollo find the acquisition of this painting by Mia worthy of note?


            The acquisition of a Zurbarán painting by a museum today is worth noting because he is one of the most important Spanish painters of the 17th century. Active in Seville during the first half of that century, a time when that city was one of the wealthiest merchant cities in the world and an important cultural center, Zurbarán became one of the most sought-after painters there. He painted portraits and still lifes, but the bulk of his work was paintings depicting scenes from the Bible and the lives of Catholic saints for the many churches, monasteries, and convents in Seville, including the Cathedral and the Convento de la Merced Calzada. In 1634 he was invited to the royal court in Madrid to participate in the decoration of the royal Palace of El Buen Retiro.


            Zurbarán’s training took place in Extremadura and in Seville, and during his sojourn in Madrid he expanded his artistic skills. There he worked alongside prominent Spanish painters such as Diego Velázquez and Juan Bautista Maino and had the opportunity to observe the rich paintings collection of King Philip IV (r. 1621-1665). Art historian Odile Delenda has remarked that after his time in Madrid, Zurbarán’s palette became much lighter, and his paintings became more luminous. Zurbarán’s style is characterized by long brushes in the depiction of religious habits and dresses, and by expressive faces that in paintings of groups seem to talk to each other.


            Mia’s painting The Venerable Miguel Gerónimo Carmelo, now on view in Gallery 341, depicts a friar in a flowing white vestment holding an open book with one hand and a quill with the other. This friar is experiencing a vision of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary as the Woman of the Apocalypse. The Venerable Miguel Gerónimo Carmelo was known for his writings supporting the belief that Mary was born without original sin, that is, immaculate of the stain of sin. In this painting his eyes face the small image of the Woman of the Apocalypse, and his half-parted lips seem to be talking to her. A scroll of words flowing from his lips and a small traditional representation of the Immaculate Conception confirm that assumption. The words say: “Tota pulchra est amica mea.” (“You are most clean [of sin] my darling.”)


            In the book Francisco de Zurbarán (Abrams, 1991), Jonathan Brown says that the paintings by Zurbarán that were looted by the French would never have been as important in art history if they had been left undisturbed in their original settings in Spain. What he means is that the 80 Zurbarán paintings owned by the French King Louis-Philippe and exhibited at the Gallerie Espagnole of the Louvre Museum n the 1830s were seen there by young French artists such as Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet, who found inspiring his unaffected style and simple and direct way of expressing feeling. Zurbarán’s paintings of saints and monks with their long brushes strokes unaffected faces were the antithesis of the finished elegance of the “classic” style that French painters of that generation were rejecting, and thus the old master had an important posthumous influence on modern painting.


            Our Zurbarán eventually found its way back to Spain. It was discovered in Barcelona in 2010, in the private collection of Antonio Ferre Paris (d. 1947), whose descendants entered it in the market. Mia acquired it in June 2023, after it was granted an export license by Spain in 2021.


            I want to thank the research assistance of Rachel McGarry, Chair of European Art and Curator of European Paintings and Works on Paper, and Mark Hvizdak, Senior Major and Planned Gifts Officer.

 

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