Spanish Old Master Drawings

The Apparition of Christ to Saint Ignatius on the Road to Rome

Juan Valdés Leal

(Seville, 1622-1690)

  • Date: c. 1660
  • Black and red chalk on paper
  • 314 x 232 mm
  • Provenance: Madrid, private collection

“Our Valdés was then a great draughtsman, master of perspective, architect and an excellent sculptor.” 1 With these words Antonio Palomino in his Lives described one of the most important Andalusian artists of the second half of the 17th century. Born in Seville in 1622, Valdés Leal initially trained in the studio of Francisco Herrera the Elder before moving with his family to Cordoba where he encountered the work of the painter Antonio del Castillo, which notably influenced his early works. In 1656, after completing the altarpiece for the Carmelites, he decided to return to Seville where he remained for the rest of his life with only a few exceptions. In 1660 he was one of the founding members of the city’s Academy of painting, together with Herrera the Elder and Murillo, becoming its president soon afterwards.

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Palomino refers to a trip made by the artist to Madrid in 1664 with the intention of furthering his studies and of visiting the royal collections and in particular El Escorial. From that date onwards Valdés Leal enjoyed enormous professional success. In 1671 he supervised the temporary decorations for Seville cathedral installed to celebrate the canonisation of Saint Ferdinand, while in the same year he produced his famous Four Last Things for the Hospital de la Caridad. In the final years of his career he produced major commissions for religious houses in Seville as well as the decoration in fresco and tempera of the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes, which was completed by his son Lucas due to the artist’s declining health. Valdés Leal died in October 1690 after a prolific career.

Within his extensive oeuvre, between 1660 and 1664 Valdés Leal executed one of the most important series of paintings of his entire career, devoted to the life of Saint Ignatius Loyola for the courtyard of the Jesuit house in Seville, which is now the parish church of the Anunciación. 2 The series, comprising at least fifteen paintings, was funded through donations from the faithful, suggesting that the artist’s fee would not have been particularly high. Some experts have suggested that this is why the quality of the paintings, most of which are in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville, is extremely uneven, as the pragmatic Valdés Leal would not have put too much effort into them. 3

The previously unpublished work presented here can be directly related to the cycle for the Jesuits as it is a preparatory drawing for the painting of Christ appears to Saint Ignatius Loyola on the Road to Rome (Seville, Museo de Bellas Artes). As the title indicates, it depicts the miraculous appearance to Saint Ignatius of God the Father and Christ, who told him of the success of his forthcoming visit to the Pope to obtain confirmation of the rule of the Order that he had recently founded. For the composition, Valdés Leal based himself on the series of prints on The Life of Saint Ignatius Loyola by Jean Baptiste Barbé (Rome, 1609) after drawings by Rubens.

This drawing is of considerable importance as it is among the few sketches by the artist relating to one of his pictorial cycles to have survived to the present day. Also worth noting are its early date (1660-1664) and the quality of the execution, particularly the figure of Christ with the cross. The technique is black and red chalk, which Valdés Leal used for other drawings such as The Vision of Saint Anthony of Padua (Hamburg, Kunsthalle) and Warrior with a Sword in the Alcubierre Album. 4 The closeness between the drawing and the final painting has led some experts to suggest that works of this type are not preparatory drawings but subsequent ricordi made in the studio. 5 However, there are in fact almost imperceptible differences: for example, in the present drawing the most significant difference is the presence of the vertical beam of the cross, which is present in the canvas but not in the drawing, indicating that it was added subsequently. There are also slight changes to the angels in the upper part and to the small scene of the persecution of a Jesuit by a rider on horseback, which is much more compressed in the drawing than in the final work. Finally, both the drawing and related canvas differ notably from the canvas of the same subject painted in 1674 for the church of San Pedro in Lima. 6

  1. Palomino (1715-1724/1947), p. 1053.
  2. The first to refer to the existence of these paintings was Espinosa y Cárcel in the revised edition of the Anales Eclesiásticos by Ortiz de Zúñiga of 1796: “El claustro estaba adornado de pinturas de la vida de San Ignacio de Loyola, y son de Pablo de Céspedes, de Herrera el Viejo, de Cano, de Juan y Lucas Valdés, las que después de la expulsión de los Jesuitas se llevaron á un salón del Alcázar de esta ciudad, donde permanecen, con objeto de que sirvan para la instrucción pública”. Ortiz de Zúñiga (1677/1796), p. 48.
  3. On the cycle, see Kinkead (1978), pp. 433-443, cat. nos. 117-125; Valdivieso (1988), pp. 106-117 and 244-246, cat. nos. 83-94 and Valdés Leal (1991), p. 32. It comprised a minimum of the nine works in the Museo de Bellas Artes, another in the convent of Santa Isabel in Seville and five, now lost works that appear in the inventory of the Alcázar in Seville of 1810.
  4. On these drawings see, respectively, Dibujo español de los siglos de oro (1980), p. 110, cat. no. 248 and Pérez Sánchez and Navarrete Prieto (2009), pp.153-155, cat. no. 60. On Valdés Leal’s drawings, see also Pérez Sánchez (1986), pp. 286-290.
  5. This has been suggested in relation to drawings such as the above-mentioned Vision of Saint Anthony of Padua, although specialists such as Pérez Sánchez have rejected the idea. See Dibujo español de los siglos de oro (1980), p. 110, cat. no. 248.
  6. One of a series on the life of Saint Ignatius Loyola painted in 1674 by Valdés Leal for Lima in which he repeats many of the compositions painted for the Jesuits in Seville, albeit with modifications and using a horizontal format. For this series, see Kinkead (1978), pp. 433-443, cat. nos. 117-125.