Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 178



178
179
Pedro Orrente, the Spanish Bassano,
as a painter on copper
JOSÉ GÓMEZ FR EC H I NA
The recent discovery of two previously unpublished
works by Pedro Orrente, the Adoration of the Magi (fig. 1)
and Adoration of the Shepherds (fig. 2), represents a significant
contribution to our understanding of this artist’s corpus
and career. The paintings are exceptional in being the
first identified works by Orrente executed on copper.
They rank amongst very few extant examples of paintings
on this support in early seventeenth-century Spain and
are also of considerable size for works of this kind.
According to his contemporary, Jusepe Martínez, Orrente
spent an extended period training with Leandro Bassano
in Venice, where he is likely to have learnt the practice of
painting on copper. This practice was probably developed
by sixteenth-century Italian artists following the lead of
Sebastiano del Piombo in experimenting with supports
perceived to be more durable than wood or canvas.1
Several extant paintings relate to the newly discovered
Adorations, both by Orrente himself and by other artists
working in Valencia around the time of his settlement
there ca. 1630. These works indicate the success and
popularity of Orrente’s compositions.
Fig. 1 / Pedro
Orrente, Adoration
of the Magi, oil on
copper, 86 x 68.5
cm, acquired from
Colnaghi in 2017 by
a Private Collector.
Pedro Orrente, who was born in the city of Murcia
– where he was baptised in the church of Santa
Catalina on 18 April 1580 – contributed to the rise and
dissemination of naturalism in Castile and particularly
in Valencia.2 His initial training probably took place in
his native city, although the first documentary reference
to Orrente dates from 11 September 1600, when he
was contracted in Toledo to execute paintings for an
altarpiece for the small church of the Virgen del Saz in
the town of Guadarrama.3 According to various sources
he travelled to northern Italy to study with Leandro
Bassano. Both Palomino and Jusepe Martínez mention
this period of study in Venice. The latter, in his Discursos
practicables del Nobilísimo Arte de la Pintura, describes how
Orrente, presumably a fully formed artist by the time
of his arrival in Italy, assimilated some of Bassano’s
features, but not all: “while Bassano devoted himself
more to painting half-length figures, our Orrente used
a larger scale, in which he revealed his great spirit; and
while Bassano was so excellent and superior in painting
animals, our Pedro Orrente was no less so.”4
Orrente’s time in Italy came to define his artistic
legacy in the canon of Spanish art and is referred to
by several other contemporary and subsequent writers
on art. Pacheco, in a chapter entitled “De la pintura de
animales i aves, pescaderías i bodegones, i de la ingeniosa
invención de los Retratos del Natural,” in his Arte de la
Pintura (1649), praised Orrente’s ability as a painter of
animals, again comparing, but also differentiating, his
work from that of his Venetian master:
Although he differs from Bassano’s
manner and paints in his own way which is
celebrated, for being equally natural... it has
been of benefit not just to him but to many
Painters who live off copies of his work,
making use of fine landscapes in the Italian
manner and very natural...5
Likewise the painter and writer on art José García
Hidalgo (1645-1717) praised Orrente in his Principios
para estudiar el arte de la Pintura (1691), relating him to
the Venetian artist, calling him “a second Bassano

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