Francisco de Zurbarán

Art on This Day
Francisco de Zurbarán, a Baroque Spanish painter, died on this day, 7 November in 1664. He is most famous for his paintings of clergy members such as nuns and monks. Zurbarán was such a great painter that he has been nicknamed ‘the Spanish Caravaggio’. He was also a friend and contemporary of the famous Baroque Spanish painter, Diego de Velázquez.
Zurbarán was born in Fuente de Cantos, near Badajoz. In 1617, after training in Seville, he returned to Llerena in his native province. By 1629 he was back in Seville, where he became the city's official painter.
Between the departure of Velázquez to Madrid in 1623 and the rise to prominence of Murillo in the 1650s, Zurbarán was the leading painter in Seville. His pictures were mostly painted for Spanish religious orders. The distinctive style of Zurbarán was influenced by the realism of Caravaggio and his followers. His best work is both very direct and intensely spiritual. He freely uses the broad, dark shadow of the Caravaggians, but keeps it harmonious with his positive colour. He modulates his smooth surfaces so that they express every sort of texture. His art is both emphatic and reticent, entirely other-worldly even when it seems most specific.
Possibly the exquisite technician in Zurbaran is even more apparent in a few still lifes which recent research has restored to him. In representing the rows of metal and pottery vessels arranged in a long oblong, Zurbaran commands the spectral emphasis of our modern surrealists, while, unlike them, he suggests the varying textures reticently but completely. The work shows the pure painter liberated from religious pressure.