Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 68

On a new Dead Christ on the Cross
by Alonso Cano
Fig. 1 / Alonso Cano,
Dead Christ on the
Cross, oil on canvas,
203.7 x 126.2 cm,
Private Collection.
Alonso Cano’s Christian name derives from his baptism
in the parish church of San Ildefonso in Granada on
the feast day of Saint Joseph in 1601.1 In 1658, as
witness to the concession to Diego Velázquez of the
ceremonial habit of the Order of Santiago, Cano
declared that he had known Velázquez for 44 years.2
This, along with the last documented mention of his
father in Granada in 1613, indicates that Cano had
already moved to Seville by 1614.3 Velázquez was
at that time coming to the end of his apprenticeship
with the painter Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644). This
apprenticeship had lasted six years starting from 1
December 1610, according to the contract signed by
the young artist’s father on 17 November 1611 and
by the master himself ten days later. 4 On 17 August
1616 – only a few months after Velázquez’s departure
– Alonso’s father, Miguel (an ensamblador or architect of
retables, who was by that time a resident of Seville) also
signed a letter of apprenticeship, this time entrusting
his own son to Pacheco for five years. 5 Lázaro Díaz
del Valle and Antonio Palomino noted that Alonso
was only with the master for eight months,6 Palomino
adding that he then went on to the studio of Juan del
Castillo and also trained with Francisco de Herrera
the Elder.7 This seems unlikely, given that Cano took
a few years longer than usual to sit the exam and gain
approval as a maestro pintor de imaginería – title given to
figure painters – not doing so until 12 April 1626.8 It
is noteworthy that he signed and dated a painting in
1624,9 and married the widow María de Figueroa in
January of that year: the former act defied the rules of
the Sevillian painters’ guild; the latter was unusual prior
to an artist’s attainment of the title of “master”.
It is also certain that in addition to his formal
apprenticeship, Cano worked with his father as an
ensamblador and probably studied the art of sculpture as
well, inspired by Juan Martínez Montañés.
These biographical details highlight two principal
facts relevant to the analysis of the work studied here,
a recently discovered Dead Christ on the Cross, acquired
from Colnaghi by a Private Collector in 2016 (fig. 1).
Cano studied with Pacheco, as did Velázquez. If we
are to believe Cano, they met before Velázquez left
Pacheco’s workshop and Cano entered it, although in
any case they would have overlapped there for four
months in 1616. Their relationship did not, however,
end with the completion of Velázquez’s training: his
wedding in 1618 to Pacheco’s daughter, Juana, explains
why neither the painter’s ties to his master, nor those to
Cano who was apprenticed to him, were ever severed.
Nor did the friendship between the young painters
come to an end when Velázquez moved to court in
Madrid in 1623. Cano was still in Seville on 13 July
1638, but the first notice of his arrival in Madrid
occurs on 16 August of the following year, when he
was made godfather to Inés Manuela, the daughter
of Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo and Francisca,
the daughter of Velázquez.10 These two facts – the
apprenticeship with Pacheco and the friendship with
Velázquez – are important, as we shall see, in the
analysis and evaluation of the Dead Christ studied here.
One of the iconographical questions which has over
the past few decades received considerable attention
from scholars of Spanish painting of the first half of


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