Though little known today, Francisco Antonio Gijón was the last important sculptor of the seventeenth century in Seville. His works belonged to the grand tradition of ornate, expressive, and hyperrealistic religious sculpture that defined the Spanish baroque. In Seville he followed in the footsteps of José del Arce and Pedro Roldán.
Gijón was born in Utrera, near Seville, in September of 1653; he was the fourth son of a schoolmaster, Lucas Ruiz Gijón, and his wife, María de las Nieves. In 1660 the family moved to Seville, residing in the centrally located Calle de las Gradas—an indication that they must have been doing fairly well. In 1668 Francisco Antonio enrolled in the Academia del Dibujo of Seville, which was under the direction of Pedro Roldán. In doing so he followed in the footsteps of his elder brother, Juan Carlos, who became a minor painter. The following year Gijón turned to sculpture and was apprenticed to the Sevillian sculptor Andrés Cansino, a pupil of José del Arce. Cansino, however, died suddenly in October of 1670 before Gijón could complete his apprenticeship. Rather surprisingly, only two moths after his master’s death Gijón, aged seventeen, married Cansino’s thirty-two-year-old widow, Teresa de León, and took over the workshop. Accordingly the young artist finished Cansino’s extant commissions and soon earned contracts of his own, which show him to have been a precociously mature and talented artist with a sensitive, nervous temperament. Not surprisingly Gijón himself seems to have been conscious of his young age: in the June 1671 contract for his first recorded independent work, Nazareno (Penitent Christ) for Alcalá del Río, he declared himself to be between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five, when in fact he was only seventeen. By the time he received the commission for the National Gallery of Art’s Saint John of the Cross in 1675, Gijón was only twenty-one years old but had already been an independent master for four and a half years.
Gijón’s output, which is documented mostly in Seville, consisted almost exclusively of religious sculptures for churches, confraternities, and other religious institutions. His most important work is the life-size polychromed wood Crucifixion, popularly known as El Cachorro, which the sculptor made starting in 1682 for a Seville confraternity—the Hermandad de el Cachorro—that eventually took its name from the work. The highly expressive rendition of Christ’s last moments on earth remains one of Seville’s most famous and venerated works of art.
Gijón remained a highly esteemed and successful sculptor until 1693 when he seems to have fallen seriously ill, to the point of making a will. Though he survived the illness, his works after this date declined and show significant intervention by his workshop. The artist was documented sporadically until 1705, but his death is not documented. Early Sevillian writers report, rather obliquely, that he died in 1720. Whatever Gijón’s actual date of death, it is clear that by the turn of the eighteenth century his artistic activity was no longer significant. In all aspects of his work Gijón was a sculptor of the seventeenth century, steeped in the deep religiosity of the apogee of the Counter-Reformation.
Dávila-Armero del Arenal, Alvaro, José Carlos Pérez Morales, and Carlos Maria López-Fe y Figueroa. Francisco Antonio Ruiz Gijón. Vol. 5, Grandes Maestros Andaluces, ed. Enrique F. Pareja López. Seville, 2010: 160-165, 179, 183, repro.