Spanish Old Master Drawings

The Apparition of the Virgin and Child to Saint Francis and the Vision of the Cross

Juan Niño de Guevara

(Madrid, 1632-Malaga, 1698)

  • Date: c. 1652-1660
  • Pen, sepia ink and grey-brown wash on paper
  • 212 x 153 mm
  • Provenance: Madrid, private collection
  • Literature: Véliz, Zahira: The Apelles Collection. Dibujos españoles del Siglo de Oro. Exhibition catalogue. Oviedo, Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, 2002, p. 189, fig. 5

Little documentary information is available on the painter Juan Niño de Guevara and art historians have thus had to make use of the biography of this Andalusian artist written by Antonio Palomino in the early 18th century. 1 According to that author, Niño de Guevara was born in Madrid in 1632, moving with his family to Malaga when still young as part of the retinue of his uncle, Bishop Antonio Enríquez de Porres. In Malaga he entered the studio of Miguel Manrique (doc. between 1637 and 1647), a painter of Flemish origins notably influenced by Rubens’s prints. In 1676 Niño de Guevara went to Cordoba to paint canvases for the cloister of the monastery of San Agustín. On his return to Malaga and until his death in 1698 he focused on the production of paintings for the city’s numerous religious houses and churches. Among his works are The Assumption of the Virgin and The Ascent of Christ for Malaga cathedral, and the series of canvases for the Hospital de San Julián in that city.

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Stylistically, Niño de Guevara’s work is closely linked to that of Alonso Cano (1601-1667) but there is little agreement on when contact between the two artists may have taken place. Antonio Palomino and Ceán Bermúdez note that they met during the time Niño de Guevara was at the court in Madrid around 1645. 2 If this were the case, his trip to Madrid would have coincided with Guevara’s uncle’s appointment as Viceroy of Aragon and he would have accompanied him to Zaragoza when he took up that position. Others delay the moment of contact until 1652 when Cano was commissioned to paint The Virgin of the Rosary for Malaga cathedral. Finally, the date of 1653 has also been proposed, when Niño de Guevara went to Granada to paint a series of canvases for the monastery of San Agustín. 3 Whatever the case, his surviving works reveal him as a faithful imitator of Cano, to the point where the attribution of some drawings, such as The Vision of Saint Augustine (London, Courtauld Galleries), continues to be debated between the two artists. 4

This affiliation is also evident in the present drawing, which depicts The Apparition of the Virgin and Child to Saint Francis and the Vision of the Cross, executed in pen and brown ink on laid paper of a warm brown tone. The entire composition is defined with the pen, with the subsequent use of wash to add volume to the figures and create effects of light and shadow. The artist uses the same brown ink across the entire work, applying it with a brush in washes of varying degrees of dilution in order to achieve different levels of luminosity in its tonality. This method of working, which is frequently to be found in drawings by Alonso Cano, 5 can be seen in other sketches by Niño de Guevara such as The Penitent Magdalen (London, Courtauld Galleries) and his two versions of The Virgin and Child (Museo Nacional del Prado and Apelles Collection). 6 The composition also seems to be based on various works by Cano, particularly drawings such as The Apparition of the Virgin to Saint Félix of Cantalicio (Museo del Prado) of 1653-1657, a date close to the time that the two artists met. The physical types of the figures also recall Cano, both in the figure of the Virgin who appears in so many of his works and those of the angels, to be found, for example, in Angels with flaming Swords pursuing Heretics (Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado) from the series on the life of Saint Dominic painted for the Real Convento de Santa Cruz in Granada (ca.1652-1657). These same angels are to be found in paintings by Niño de Guevara such as The Allegory of Faith and The Allegory of Charity in the Hospital de San Julián. 7

The iconography of the present drawing is interesting in the way it combines two major episodes from the saint’s life into a single image. Both these moments in Saint Francis’s life took place before his retreat from public life to devote himself to the service of God. The first to take place was the apparition of the cross, which, according to old sources took place in the church of Saint Damian in Foligno (Italy), followed by the apparition of the Virgin. No painting on this subject by the artist has survived, although its Franciscan theme may allow it to be related to some of the works mentioned by Ceán Bermúdez in 1800 as being on the high altar and in the chapel of the Third Order of Franciscans in the monastery of San Francisco in Malaga. 8


  1. Palomino (1715-1724/1947), pp. 1074-1077.
  2. Ceán Bermúdez (1800), vol. III, p. 233.
  3. On this subject, see Pérez Sánchez (1996), p. 276; Clavijo García (1974), pp. 76-77; Apelles Collection (2002), pp. 187-188; and Semblantes (2011), p. 92.
  4. On this subject, see Apelles Collection (2002), pp. 188-189 and Véliz (2011), p. 202, cat. no. 67.
  5. Pérez Sánchez (1986), p. 303. Ceán Bermúdez’s comments should also be borne in mind here as they reflect the extent to which Niño de Guevara was familiar with Cano’s technique at first hand: “[…]. It was all done by Cano, as he went to Malaga and executed for him the drawings for the works that he painted in the cloister of the Augustinians in Granada, and for other works.” Ceán Bermúdez (1800), vol. III, p. 234.
  6. On these works see, respectively, Véliz (2011), p. 205, cat. no. 68; Legado Villaescusa (1993), p. 117, cat. no. 23; and Apelles Collection (2002), pp. 186-189, cat. no. 42.
  7. Reproduced in Clavijo García (1974), pp. 78 and 80, respectively
  8. Ceán Bermúdez (1800), vol. III, p. 235.