Juan de Mesa_Master of Passion - Page 12

Mesa, Martínez Montañés,
and the gods of Sevillian sculpture
Nicola Jennings
Amongst the artists who most influenced the visual arts during
the Spanish Golden Age are two sculptors little known outside of
Spain. Juan Martínez Montañés and Juan de Mesa both worked in
Seville at the turn of the seventeenth century, and the impact of
their work on the wider artistic community has been highlighted
by several recent exhibitions and publications.1 So beautiful were
Martínez Montañés’s Cristo de la Clemencia and other holy figures
that he came to be known as “el Dios de la Madera” (the God of
Wood). Juan de Mesa’s majestic Jesús del Gran Poder is revered to this
day as “El Señor de Sevilla” (the Lord of Seville)(fig. 1).
Montañés and Mesa were the leading lights in a group of Sevillian
sculptors whose work in polychromed wood was characterized
by an incipient naturalism that would become the defining
characteristic of later works by Diego Velázquez and Francisco
de Zurbarán. The current chapter starts by looking at the artistic
tradition from which this group emerged a few decades earlier, with
the arrival in the city of foreign and Spanish sculptors who found
in it a rich, steady stream of patronage from churches, convents,
confraternities, merchants, and noblemen. This overview is followed
by brief introduction of the work of Montañés and Mesa who
became his apprentice, noting stylistic parallels which can on
occasion make it difficult to distinguish one artist from the other.
With the Iberian peninsula wedged between North Africa
and Western Europe, its arts have always reflected the crossFig. 1 Juan de Mesa,
fertilization of Mediterranean and Atlantic cultures. In the
Jesús del Gran Poder,
fifteenth century a wave of northern European sculptors,
1620, polychromed
masons, and painters fleeing the Hundred Years War brought
wood, Seville, Basílica
to Spain the new interest in the natural world fostered by artists
del Gran Poder.
such as Jan van Eyck and Claus Sluter.2 Seeding the development


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