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Christ the Saviour blessing
Zurbarán, Francisco de
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Zurbarán, Francisco de

Fuente de Cantos, Badajoz (Spain), 1598 - Madrid (Spain), 1664

Zurbarán, Francisco de See author's file

Christ the Saviour blessing

1638. Oil on canvas.
Room 010A

This is the only example known to have been painted by Zurbarán of the medieval iconography of Jesus as savior, making this canvas especially interesting to historians of art. Similar examples had decorated the title pages of New Testaments in early illustrated Bibles from the Middle Ages through the sixteenth century, but were rare by the time Zurbarán painted his version of the same subject. The most direct precedent is a Flemish print by the Wierix brothers, to which Zurbarán must have had access. (Religious prints by these Flemish artists were very popular in Spain, and were collected, and often used as models, by painters.) Taking that composition as point of departure, Zurbarán chose to enlarge the motifs of the globe and the cross, perhaps in order to emphasize the painting’s theological and doctrinal content.

Depictions of Jesus blessing with his right hand while holding an orb topped with a cross with the left are clearly symbolic, not matching any particular moment in the narrative of the Gospels. The orb stands for the universe, while the cross alludes to the Christian idea of redemption; therefore, the iconography visually represents the roles of Jesus as ruler and savior of humanity. At the same time, this iconography may have had a Eucharistic connotation, given that although perhaps not evident at first glance to us today, the position of Jesus’ hands would have reminded Zurbarán’s contemporaries of the gestures that priests celebrating Mass made during the Consecration, the same attitude in which Jesus is often depicted in representations of the Last Supper.

Although the iconography is relatively unusual, the depiction of Jesus follows highly conservative conventions. He is shown as a young adult, dressed in a red tunic (the coat without seam mentioned in John 19:23) and blue mantle. There is an interesting contrast between Jesus’ hands and face: the fingernails and skin, somewhat weathered, have a natural, lifelike appearance, as though they had been observed from life, while the face and neck have an idealized, formulaic beauty and are painted in much paler tones.

The beard and hair (which Zurbarán has painted with great care) and the facial features derive from Byzantine icons as well as from relics such as the shrouds kept in the cathedrals of Oviedo and Jaén, among others, which were said to be direct imprints of Jesus’ true likeness and therefore treated with great respect by painters. As is usual in Zurbarán, a strong directed light brings into sharp focus the precisely-drawn contours of shapes and their plain, pale colors and casts strong shadows over them. The background of the painting consists of a dark, empty space, so that the viewer is presented with no distractions. This strategy helps concentrate the viewer’s gaze on the figure, while at the same time the golden glow around Jesus’ head accentuates the supernatural character of the representation and makes the experience of looking at it more akin to a vision than the contemplation of a painting. For all these reasons, this painting would have been appropriate for an individual’s private contemplation, or for similar use in a monastic setting. This type of meditation, in which the devout man or woman concentrated on a painted image as a visual aid that might help stimulate an emotional response, was one of the many ways in which Spaniards of the seventeenth century interacted with religious images (Pérez d´Ors, P.: El Greco to Goya. Masterpieces from the Prado Museum, Museo de Arte de Ponce, 2012, pp. 116-117).


Technical data

Inventory number
Zurbarán, Francisco de
Christ the Saviour blessing
Height: 100 cm; Width: 72 cm
Acquired for the Prado Museum, 1980

Bibliography +

La obra pictorica completa de Zurbarán, Noguer, Barcelona, 1976.

Pita Andrade, José Manuel (1922-), Museo del Prado : adquisiciones de 1978 a 1981 : Casón del B..., Ministerio de Cultura, Dirección, Madrid, 1981.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 792-793.

Browm, J., Zurbaran., The Metropolitan Museum, Nueva York, 1987.

Guinard, Paul., Zurbarán et les peintres espagnols de la vie monastique /, Les Editions du Temps, París, 1988, pp. 223.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Ministerio de Educación y Cultura, Madrid, 1996, pp. 459.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, III, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1996.

Simposio Internacional Zurbarán y su época1998Fuente de Cant, Actas del Simposium Internacional Zurbarán y su época: Fuent, Junta de Extremadura, Consejería de Cultura y Patr, Badajoz, 1998, pp. 56.

Zurbarán, IV Centenario, Junta de Andalucia, Gestión de Programas Culturale, Sevilla, 1998, pp. 140.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Pintura barroca española: guía, Museo Nacional del PradoAldeasa, Madrid, 2001, pp. 112.

The Heart of Spain : A Rare Exhibition of Spain's Religious, Alexandria Museum of Art, Lousiana, 2003, pp. 25.

Ishikawa, Chiyo, Spain in the Age of Exploration, 1492-1819, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, 2004.

De Tiziano a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado., Tokio - Osaka, 2006.

Delenda, Odile, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1598 - 1664: catálogo razonado y crítico, Fundación Arte Hispánico, 2009, pp. 380.

Del Greco a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado, Museo de Arte de Ponce. MNP. AC/E, 2012, pp. 40-41.

Teresa de Jesús. La prueba de mi verdad, Biblioteca Nacional de España - Acción Cultural Española, Madrid, 2015, pp. 89,186 n.85.

Portús Pérez, Javier, Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: The Golden Age in the Museo del Prado, The Yomiuri Shimbun: The National Museum of Western Art, Tokio, 2018, pp. n.56.

Locker, Jesse, 'La suavidad de Artemisa' reflexiones sobre la recepción de Artemisia Gentileschi en España, Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXXVIII, 2022, pp. 68-84 [75].

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1985. Núm. 6074.

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 1958.
Zurbaran / 1958. Cristo bendiciendo / L. 0,99 x 0,71 / Cat nº 6074 / Adquirido en 1980

Inscriptions +

franco. de zur baran / facieuat. 1638·
Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

Velázquez and the Golden Age
16.11.2018 - 03.03.2019

Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: the Golden Age in the Museo del Prado
13.06.2018 - 14.10.2018

Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: the Golden Age in the Museo del Prado
24.02.2018 - 27.05.2018

Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: the Golden Age in the Museo del Prado
20.02.2018 - 27.05.2018

Teresa de Jesús. La prueba de mi verdad
11.03.2015 - 31.05.2015

From El Greco to Goya: Masterpieces from the Museo del Prado
Ponce, Puerto Rico
25.03.2012 - 16.07.2012

De Tiziano a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado
14.07.2006 - 15.10.2006

De Tiziano a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado
24.03.2006 - 02.07.2006

Spain and the Age of Exploration 1492 - 1819
West Palm Beach FL
02.02.2005 - 02.05.2005

Spain and the Age of Exploration 1492 - 1819
Seattle WA
16.10.2004 - 02.01.2005

El corazón de España. Arte y símbolo religioso - The Heart of Spain
Alexandria LA
03.09.2003 - 30.11.2003

Francisco de Zurbarán
15.12.1998 - 31.01.1999

Francisco de Zurbarán
09.10.1998 - 08.12.1998

Francisco Zurbarán
03.05.1988 - 31.07.1988

Francisco Zurbarán
14.01.1988 - 11.04.1988

Francisco Zurbarán
Nueva York NY
16.09.1987 - 14.12.1987

Location +

Room 010A (On Display)


Displayed objects +


Orb / Sphere

Update date: 08-12-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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