Skip to Main Content

The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600–1700:
Artist Biographies

Alonso Cano (1601–1667)
Alonso Cano was a painter, sculptor, designer and architect, hence his nickname—the "Michelangelo of Spain." He was born in Granada and is said to have been trained by Juan Martínez Montañés. He entered Francisco Pacheco’s workshop in Seville in 1616 and obtained his diploma as a pintor de ymaginería (painter of religious images) in 1626. He worked as court painter in Madrid between 1638 and 1651, and returned to Granada as a clergyman at the cathedral in 1652. It was probably during this last period that he produced sculptures carved as well as painted by his own hand.

Gregorio Fernández (1576–1636)
Fernández was one of the most sought-after sculptors in Castille, working chiefly in Valladolid, where he is first recorded in 1605. He probably trained there with the sculptor Francisco de Rincón (about 1567–1608). He was also influenced by the work of an earlier Valladolid sculptor, Juan de Juni (about 1507–1577). Fernández worked mainly in wood, carving figures and reliefs for altarpieces as well as images for processional groups (pasos). Some of his iconographic types were widely imitated in the 17th century. Most of his works were made for churches in Castille and Valladolid and his Christ at the Column (c. 1619) is still carried through the streets of Valladolid every year on Good Friday.

Pedro de Mena (1628–1688)
Pedro de Mena y Medrano was born in Granada, the son of the sculptor Alonso de Mena. Trained by his father, he later worked with Alonso Cano. In 1658, he left Granada for Málaga where he was commissioned to make the choir stalls for the cathedral. This work brought him considerable fame and in 1663 he was made sculptor to Toledo Cathedral. However, he failed in his attempt to become court sculptor (escultor de cámara) in Madrid and continued to work mainly in Málaga. Pedro de Mena excelled in the portrayal of contemplative figures, and scenes and versions of his Christ as the Man of Sorrows sculpture were much in demand.

Juan de Mesa (1583–1627)
Originally from Cordoba, Juan de Mesa moved to Seville in 1606 and joined the workshop of Montañés, whose style greatly influenced him, although he soon developed his own natural and more expressive manner. He executed his figures with particular attention to anatomical accuracy, and it has been suggested that he visited hospitals to study cadavers. He specialized in processional sculpture and was probably more in tune with popular taste than Montañés. Before his early death in 1627 from tuberculosis he produced some of the most expressive sculptures of the period.

Juan Martínez Montañés (1568–1649)
Montañés was called "the god of wood" by his contemporaries, so great was his skill in carving. He trained in Seville and Granada, and by 1588 was established in Seville. In 1635 he was called to Madrid to model a portrait of Philip IV for a bronze equestrian statue of the king. While in Madrid, the artist Velázquez painted Montañés’ portrait. Montañés was a deeply religious man and his images conformed to the demands of the Counter-Reformation in their popular realism and didactic character. A number of versions exist of his most famous images, such as The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception.

Francisco Pacheco (1564–1644)
Scholar, painter, and theorist Pacheco was one of the leading figures in the Seville art world in the first part of the 17th century. Director of an artistic and literary academy, he was the teacher of Velázquez, who married his daughter in 1618. His Arte de la Pintura, written in 1638 and published posthumously in 1649, is one of the most important sources of information about the production of sculpture and painting in Seville. Pacheco painted many of the sculptures of Juan Martínez Montañés and collaborated with him on a number of life-size statues of religious figures. He was particularly interested in religious iconography, notably in that of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception and of the Crucifixion. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was propagated with great fervor in Seville and Pacheco’s painting of the subject was widely influential.

Francisco Ribalta (1565–1628)
Ribalta was born in Solsona, Catalonia, and is said to have trained in Italy but this remains unproven. He painted mainly religious pictures and was influenced by the Italians, whose work he saw at El Escorial, and also by Caravaggio and Sebastiano del Piombo. He settled in Valencia in 1599 and his early work there was eclectic, borrowing from all available sources, including prints by Dürer, but later he found a more sober style. The physicality of his painting of Christ embracing Saint Bernard may have been influenced by Gregorio Fernández’s sculptural representation of the subject. Ribalta visited Madrid in about 1620 and may have seen other polychrome sculptures by Fernández there.

Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652)
Ribera was born in the small town of Xátiva, near Valencia, and is thought to have first trained with Ribalta (see above), before moving to Italy, where he was known as Lo Spagnoletto, "the little Spaniard." He is documented as having worked in Parma in 1610–1611 and in Rome in 1612 before settling in Naples, which at that time was part of the Spanish dominions and ruled by a succession of Spanish viceroys. By the late 1620s Ribera had become the leading painter in Naples. Ribera died in Naples in 1652 without returning to Spain but many of his paintings were brought back by his Spanish patrons.

Francisco Antonio Ruiz Gijón (c. 1653–1721)
Gijón was born in Utrera but moved to Seville at a young age. When he was 15 he enrolled in the Sevillian academy La Lonja and continued to study there even after becoming an apprentice to the sculptor Andrés Cansino. Around this time he was also influenced by Pedro Roldán, whose baroque style he assimilated. By 1671 he was a master sculptor and by 1673 he had set up his own workshop. He was only 21 when he made Saint John of the Cross (c. 1675) for the Convent of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios in Seville. Little is known of his later career but during his lifetime he was renowned for the emotional quality and expressive style of his images.

Diego Velázquez (1599–1660)
Born in Seville, Velázquez trained under his future father-in-law, Francisco Pacheco. It is likely that he also received some training there as a painter of sculpture. He probably first met Montañes, whose portrait he later painted, in Pacheco’s studio and he may have helped the sculptor with the polychromy of some of his woodcarvings. The influence of sculpture on Velázquez’s paintings is apparent in his early The Immaculate Conception (1618–1619). Velázquez settled permanently in Madrid in 1623 and was made court painter to Philip IV, whose portrait he painted on a number of occasions. He visited Italy twice, in 1629—a visit of fundamental important for his development as an artist—and again in 1649.

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664)
Born in Extremadura, Zurbarán trained in Seville and established himself in that city in 1626, becoming the preferred artist of the city’s religious and civic institutions. Early in his career, before he moved to Seville, he had worked as a polychromer and in 1624 had been commissioned to carve and polychrome a life-size sculpture of the Crucifixion (now lost). One of the reasons for his success was his naturalistic style. Indeed, his painting of Christ on the Cross was so realistic that it could be mistaken for a three-dimensional work. Zurbarán was the perfect interpreter of the devout Seville of the Counter-Reformation and the painter par excellence of saints and the monastic life.