14 September 2013 to 6 January 2014 – Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti
This exhibition dedicated to Zurbarán (1598 – 1664) is an opportunity to admire for the first time in Italy the masterpieces of one of the greatest interpreters of Baroque and religious counter-reformation art.
Rigorously selected works coming from museums and private collections in Europe and America retrace the key stages in Zurbarán career. Beginning with the early works with which the artist established his reputation in Seville (which was one of the centres of art in Spain, as was Florence in Italy), such as The Vision of St Peter Nolasco (1629, Madrid, Museo del Prado) or the later St Francis of Assisi in his tomb (1630-34, Milwaukee Art Museum), with their dramatic luminosity and contrasts inspired by the solemn works of Caravaggio and Ribera, to the sober lyricism of his later works dating from his Madrid period and his contact with Velázquez. In these, a lighter atmosphere prevails, and glimpses of cheerful landscapes and domestic details are revealed, as in the Immaculate Conception with St Joachim and Saint Anne (c. 1638-40, Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery) or the Virgin and Child with the Infant St John (1662, Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes).
What most advances formal renewal is without doubt the still lifes and depictions of allegorical themes, such as A Cup of Water and a Rose (c. 1630, London, The National Gallery) and Agnus Dei (c. 1634-40, San Diego Museum of Art). The poetic refinement of these paintings, in which the objects are set in a rarefied and silent atmosphere, is left to the simplicity of the composition, to the purity of the forms, and the way he uses the lighting. In these small pictures, as in the many still lifes to be found within various paintings, Zurbarán renders the forms as though purified by the light, in a crystalline vision of great detail and quiet monumentality.
Among the artist most original inventions are the great figures of the saints. These sophisticated portraits were immensely popular and were made in series especially for the New World. The sequences reunited in this exhibition include notable works such as Saint Casilda (c. 1635, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza), Benjamin (c. 1640-45, Private collection) and Saint Ursula (Genua, Palazzo Bianco), showing the artist ability to depict sacred episodes with charm and elegance, thanks to the poses, the masterly way the draperies are rendered and the brilliant palette. These majestic figures, turned towards the viewer like protagonist of a portrait, now as then, exercise a magnetic charm.