Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 118

Pedro Orrente and the Nine Worthies
Pedro Orrente and the Nine Worthies
Similarly, in Liège in 1444, the Prince-Bishop Jean
of Hinsberg was received on his return from a trip to
Italy by a troupe representing the Nine Worthies and
the Nine Worthy Women.10 In the early seventeenth
century, the persistence of this literary and iconographic
theme was evoked by Cervantes in Don Quixote whose
eponymous hero proclaimed:
I know that I may be, not only those I have
named, but all the Twelve Peers of France, and
even all the Nine Worthies, since my achievements
surpass all that they have done together and each
of them on his own account. (Vol I, chapter 5)
Fig. 2 / Pedro Orrente,
Alexander the Great, oil
on canvas, 150 x 114 cm,
(present location unknown).
Fig. 3 / Workshop of Pedro
Orrente, Alexander the Great,
oil on canvas, 153 x 116 cm,
Alginet (Valencia), Private
Within the context of Spanish painting in the first half
of the seventeenth century, an important depiction
of the Nine Worthies was executed in a series of
paintings by the itinerant painter Pedro Orrente.11
Orrente had trained in Venice with Leandro Bassano
and was active in Murcia, Toledo, and Valencia. The
artist is notable for his contribution to naturalism
in Spain, as well as for his outstanding narrative
skills. Orrente’s important series and pictorial groups
reflect his enormous creative and inventive abilities.
Furthermore, the artist’s work is characterized by a
rich interplay between literary and pictorial elements.
The written word features in the form of numerous
inscriptions, which are combined with an evocatively
dream-like quality in his forms and colours. This
combination of text and image occurs for example,
in the depictions of episodes from the story of Jacob
( Jacob’s Dream, The Blessing of Jacob, The Sale of the Firstborn Son, Jacob’s Departure with the Flocks, Jacob at the
Well, and Jacob Placing Branches before the Sheep); Noah
(The Construction of Noah’s Ark, The Animals Entering the
Ark, The Great Flood); Moses (Moses Crossing the Red Sea,
Moses and the Brazen Serpent, Moses Striking Water from
the Rock); and the patriarch Abraham (Abraham and Lot
Leave Harran, The Separation of Abraham and Lot, Abraham
Rejects King Solomon’s Gifts, Abraham and the Three Angels,
Abraham and Isaac on Route to the Sacrifice, The Rejection of
Hagar, Abraham Sends Elijah to look for a Wife for Isaac, and
Rebecca and Elijah at the Well). Inscriptions also occur in
depictions of New Testament subjects and parables:
among them Christ and the Magdalene in the House of Simon,
The Healing of the Paralytic, The Miracle of the Loaves and
Fishes, The Marriage at Cana, The Pilgrims at Emmaus, Dives
and Lazarus, and The Parable of the Tares. Subjects taken
from classical mythology, like Daphne and Apollo, and from
medieval literature, like The Nine Worthies, also presented
opportunities for the artist to pair text and image.
The present author has identified a painting of Hector
of Troy by Pedro Orrente in a private collection (fig. 1)
which can be linked to his series of The Nine Worthies.
In the sixteenth century, Hans Burgkmair 12 and
Lucas van Leyden executed engraved depictions of
the Nine Worthies in which the three pagan heroes
were grouped together.13 Within this trio, Hector is
the leader. One of the principal characters in Homer’s
Iliad, Hector was the son of the Trojan King Priam
and of Queen Hecuba. He defended the city of Troy
against Agamemnon’s warriors. However, after
mistakenly killing Patroclus instead of Achilles, he
fought with the latter and was killed. In medieval
Europe, Hector became an example of a heroic knight
in Benoît de Sainte Maure’s Roman de la Troie and
Guido delle Colonne’s Historia Destructionis.


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