Design for an Altarpiece, Alonso Cano. Pen and brown ink, brown wash over black chalk, 309 x 232 mm, c. 1660 © The Trustees of the British Museum 1950,0211.16

During the early 1500s Seville became the commercial centre of the Spanish Empire. Like Cordoba and unlike Madrid, it had no court to focus artistic activity and commissions therefore came mainly from the church or private patrons.

It is difficult to form a clear picture of workshop practice in 16th-century Seville. In fact it was not until the 1600s that the city became a centre of artistic production with artists like Francisco de Zurbarán and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo rising to great prominence. In 1660 Murillo and Francisco Herrera the Younger established an academy of drawing in Seville. It operated for fourteen years and taught many students, reinforcing drawing as the basis of artistic practice.

Other masters trained in Seville and went on to have brilliant careers in the capital, such as Diego Velázquez, Herrera the Younger and Alonso Cano. Although these artists’ mobility make it difficult to identity a regional style, dominant figures such as Francisco Pacheco in Seville and Antonio del Castillo in Cordoba had a tremendous influence on those around them.

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