The Burial of Saint Lawrence in the Catacombs in Rome, by Alejo Vera. Oil on canvas, 224 x 233 cm. 1862. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Entitled Sacred Stories. Religious Paintings by Spanish Artists in Rome (1852-1864), this display features five of the finest canvases of this type, all recently restored, by Madrazo, Rosales, Alejo Vera and Domingo Valdivieso. These artists achieved enormous fame in their own day, steering genre painting from a refined late Romanticism derived from Nazarene painting towards the new pictorial realism.

Among the paintings on display in this gallery, the triumph of academic purism is evident in the work by Luis de Madrazo, The Burial of Saint Cecilia in the Catacombs in Rome, which reflects the enormous enthusiasm aroused by the recent discovery of the famous archaeological remains referred to above and which is the first painting of its type in this new genre. Madrazo’s canvas led on to other, increasingly realist compositions of an academic type such as Alejo Vera’s delicate composition The Burial of Saint Lawrence in the Catacombs in Rome, which takes Madrazo’s painting as its starting point but deploys a greater degree of realism. This evolution culminates in Domingo Valdivieso’s moving painting of The Descent from the Cross, with its powerful echoes of Italian sources. In his two, early religious paintings executed in Italy, Tobias and the Angel and Saint Catherine of Siena receives the Stigmata, the Madrid artist Eduardo Rosales represents the end of purist painting and points the way towards the formulation of a realist style in Spain that essentially looks back to Velázquez.

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