Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 38

Francisco Ribalta’s Vision of Father Simó: British taste and the legacy of Sebastiano del Piombo in Spanish painting
Francisco Ribalta’s Vision of Father Simó: British taste and the legacy of Sebastiano del Piombo in Spanish painting
are by two of the artists with whom he was to be most
closely associated – Luis de Morales and Juan Sariñena
respectively. Despite the difference in age, the long, skull
– like face and ascetic features of Ribera are instantly
recognizable in both.
Perhaps the most extraordinary image of Ribera
though is another painting, signed by Sariñena also in
the year 1612: Archbishop Juan Ribera Adoring the Eucharist
(fig. 6). Here, the prelate is on his knees, hands clasped
in prayer, before a monstrance raised upon an altar,
the simplicity of the depiction enhancing the solemnity
of the act. This painting emphasizes Ribera’s devotion
to the Blessed Sacrament, as he preached in a sermon
of 6 June 1577: “The Eucharist is the most principal
of all [Sacraments], and worthy of greater reverence
and admiration.”23 The painting is particularly relevant
to our argument here as from Ribera’s mouth issue
the words, Tu es Sacerdos, taken from Psalm 110, an
illustration of the importance he had placed upon the
role of parochial clergymen such as Jeronimo Simó.
in 1800 by the art critic, Juan Agustín Ceán Bermudéz,
in the convent of Santa Catalina at Saragossa:
Christ bearing the Cross Francisco/
Ribalta. This solemn specimen of the
great Spanish imitator of Sebastiano/
del Piombo was painted by him in 1612
for/the convent of Santa Catalina at
Zaragoza... It was/stolen from the convent
by the French. I bought it/at Valencia in
Sept. 1831 out of the ce/lebrated Gallery
of Pescuera; there is a/replica of it in
Magdalen College Oxford/ Rich. Ford.18
According to Ceán Bermudéz, the Saragossa
painting was, “A large painting which represents the
Lord carrying the Cross when he appeared to Saint
Ignatius of Loyola.”19 This vision was a frequent
subject for altarpieces at this time as it was a seminal
episode in the foundation myth of the Jesuits.20 The
second question concerns “the celebrated Gallery
of Pescuera,” which has never been satisfactorily
identified: there is no noble title of that name in
contemporary Valencia or in the Spanish peerage
Juan de Ribera had been born at Seville in 1532, the
illegitimate son of the future 1st Duke of Alcalá. Ribera
grew up amid the collections, and in the cultured
atmosphere, of the famous Casa de Pilatos that had
been the creation of his great-uncle, Fadrique Enríquez
de Ribera. The unusual name of the palace was a
result of the elder Ribera’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem in
1519.24 Ribera’s father, heir to the Casa, was a noted
collector when he served as viceroy from 1559-1571.
His early artistic experiences in Seville remained a point
of reference for Juan de Ribera ever after.25 He began
his studies at Salamanca at the age of 12, and the
connections of his family at court helped his youthful
elevation to the bishopric of Badajoz in 1562.
as a whole. One candidate is the Italian family, the
Marquesses of Pescara, but they do not appear to have
settled in Valencia until the late nineteenth century.
For now, this remains an open question, along with
what else the Gallery of Pescuera may have contained
that made it “celebrated” in Ford’s eyes.
Despite what Ford thought, as well as being a significant
commission for Ribalta in and of itself, the Vision of
Father Jeronimo Simó was intimately bound up with the
religious climate in Valencia in 1612. At that time,
Valencia was still among the three or four largest and
most important cities of Spain, although suffering from
ever-increasing economic decline.21 The patriarch,
Juan de Ribera – who had done so much during his
forty-three year archepiscopacy to foster a religious
climate consistent with the new norms of the Catholic
Reformation – had died the previous year, and the city
was under an ecclesiastical interregnum. Francisco
Ribalta’s altarpiece of the Vision of Father Jerónimo Simó
is among the last, and most striking, examples of a
particular genre of pietistic art that Ribera had fostered
in Valencia and which continued briefly after his death.
There is no other example of his genre in Britain.
Fig. 4 / Luis de Morales, Saint
Juan de Ribera, ca. 1566, oil on
oak panel, 52.3 x 40 cm, Madrid,
Museo Nacional del Prado.
Fig. 5 / Juan Sariñena, The
Patriarca Saint Juan de Ribera,
1607, oil on canvas, 76 x 53
cm, Valencia, Real Colegio
Seminario de Corpus Christi.
Fig. 6 / Juan Sariñena,
Archbishop Juan de Ribera
Adoring the Eucharist, 1612, oil
on canvas attached to panel,
199.5 x 137.4 cm, Valencia, Real
Colegio Seminario de Corpus
Ribera commissioned numerous works of art from the
artists he supported, first as Bishop of Badajoz and
then as Archbishop of Valencia, and he has therefore
been much discussed as a patron.22 His commissions
are perhaps the supreme expression of the intricate
and intimate nexus of art, religion, and society in Early
Modern Spain (at least within Spain itself) and reflect
the mentality and mission of the man himself. Through
works of art, Ribera was intent on constructing a
hagiography fit for the renewed spiritual climate that
he had inaugurated with his appointment to Valencia.
Two contrasting portraits of Ribera survive, one when
he was a young bishop in 1564 (fig. 4), and another,
post mortem, of 1611, still in Valencia (fig. 5). These
From Badajoz, he was swiftly promoted in 1568 to be
Archbishop of Valencia and titular Patriarch of Antioch.
Ribera also served as Viceroy of Valencia, occupying
the highest civil and ecclesiastical offices coterminously
between 1602 and 1604. He was one of the leading
prelates of the Spanish Church after the Council of
Trent and indeed a paradigm for the post-Tridentine
prelate; upon his promotion to Valencia in 1568, Ribera
was referred to, by Pope Pius V as lumen totius Hispaniae.26
Juan de Ribera was beatified in 1796 and eventually
canonized by Pope John XXIII in 1960. He is most (in)
famous today for his leading role in 1609 in the expulsion
of the Moriscos, Christianized Arabs, who at his accession
still inhabited large parts of the Kingdom of Valencia.27


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