Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 42

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
As well as the paintings’ textual fidelity, it is important
to consider the intended impact of their style. Morales
and Ribalta both derived their versions of Christ
Carrying the Cross from those that had been painted by
Sebastiano del Piombo for Spanish clients, at least one
of which was available to Ribalta in Valencia. These
images of Christ Carrying his Cross were almost always
created as stand-alone images – or as Erwin Panofsky
characterized them, Andachtsbild. A comparison of
another by Sebastiano, of uncertain provenance and
now in the Prado (fig. 9), with Morales’s version reveals
the exaggerated piety of the latter. The original calm
and almost introspective piety of Sebastiano’s Christ
has been replaced in Morales by something far more
empathetic and emotive.
Morales has added not only the Crown of Thorns but
also great drops of blood from where the thorns have
gouged Christ’s scalp. Perhaps the most emblematic
example of the diffusion of Sebastiano del Piombo’s
type of Christ Carrying the Cross is a small painting
(fig. 10) now in the church of San Miguel, Valladolid,
which was painted by the Florentine emigré, Beneditto
Rabuyate.40 It is derived from a painting of the same
subject by Luis de Morales, who in turn was inspired by
one of the several paintings of this subject by Sebastiano
that were sent to Spain. This small devotional image
is an excellent example of the fluid cultural world that
existed across the Tyrhennian sea by the end of the
sixteenth century – and in which Francisco Ribalta too
became immersed.
Fig. 9 / Sebastiano del
Piombo, Christ Carrying the
Cross, ca. 1533-1536, oil
on slate, 104.5 x 74.5 cm,
Madrid, Museo Nacional del
Fig. 10 / Beneditto Rabuyate
(?), Christ Carrying the Cross,
after 1550, oil on panel, 55
x 43 cm, Valladolid, Parish
Church of San Miguel and
San Julián.
So, Father Simó’s vision of this subject was dramatic in
and of itself, but it was also a reflection of a particular
focus on the subject of Christ Carrying his Cross
during the period. One treatment of this subject by
Morales (fig. 8) remains part of the collections of the
Real Colegio Seminario del Corpus Christi – more
colloquially called the Colegio del Patriarca.38
This was the seminary founded by the archbishop
in Valencia in 1583; at that time it fell within the
boundaries of Jerónimo Simó’s parish of San
Andrés.39 The central patio of the Colegio was a
deliberate imitation of that of the Casa de Pilatos in
which Ribera had grown up. Building works continued
for eighteen years and to furnish the Colegio, Ribera
not only commissioned works of art and brought
artists from Italy in the manner of his father, but he
also turned to those closer to home.
In Ribalta’s painting (see fig. 1), Father Simó’s vision
of Christ Carrying the Cross is somewhat different.
Rather than an anachronic single image intended for
meditative devotion, Ribalta has followed the account
in one of the depositions before the commission of
inquiry deliberating Simó’s canonization, in a deliberate
attempt to create a hagiography appropiate for a saint.41
Ribalta also depicts a contemporary event for a pious
audience who, even if they had not experienced the
miracle itself, would probably have known the visionary
and venerable priest in question and the very streets in
which it took place. Indeed, the tower of the Palau de
la Generalitat, the government building situated at the
end of the Calle de los Caballeros, can just be glimpsed
in the background.
Otherwise, Ribalta’s altarpiece is as much a composite
of Sebastiano del Piombo as the Morales, and the
influence of Sebastiano on Ribalta has long been noted.
Richard Ford compared Ribalta to better-known Italian
masters when bringing his work to the attention of his
readers, describing the artist in 1845 as “the Spanish
Domenichino, and Sebastian del Piombo combined”,
while Sir William Stirling Maxwell in 1891 referred to
Ribalta as “successful in his imitation of Sebastiano
del Piombo.” 42 In terms of both men’s acute artistic
judgement it is important to note that at this early date
none of Sebastiano’s pictures had yet been connected
specifically and securely to Valencia or Ribalta.43
Only in 1995 was it revealed that, until 1646, a
number of Sebastiano’s paintings were in the private
collection at Valencia of the Vich – among the leading
families of the city and themselves patrons of Ribalta.
The head of the family between 1608 and 1624 was
Alvaro Vich who commissioned work from both
Ribalta and his son, Juan.44 In his city palace were a
now dispersed group of paintings by Sebastiano del
Piombo commissioned by his great-grandfather, Don
Jeronimo de Vich, when ambassador at Rome in the


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