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Pietà
Morales, Luis de
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Morales, Luis de

Badajoz (Spain), 1510 - Alcántara? (Spain), 1586

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Pietà

1565 - 1570. Oil on panel

Large-format versions of the Virgin holding the dead body of Christ, like those at Badajoz Cathedral and at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, gave way in Morales’s oeuvre to smaller compositions on the same subject, with half-length figures shown on a striking background of rigorous black. Against this, the two figures and the upright of the cross are contrasted with strong lighting. The pentimenti revealed by technical studies of the numerous versions in this new format, with changes in the figures, in their anatomical details and in the cloth of the Virgin’s mantle or headgear, indicate Morales’s obsessive interest in this composition, with subtle variations also introduced in the physiognomy of the mother and child, or in the expression of grief and death.

The dead Christ in the arms of the Virgin, an iconography known as the Pietà or the Fifth Sorrow, had already had a long history when it was taken up in the sixteenth century by Morales, influenced by the works of the fifteenth-century Flemish primitives like Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1399-1464) and Hans Memling (c. 1440-1494), or those of the Italians of the same period, above all the Venetian masters. The realism of Flemish Gothic, with its particularly expressive treatment of grief and of the blood pouring from the wounds of the flagellation or the crown of thorns, was now joined in the works of the Extremaduran master by a sense of order and dignity redolent of the approach of the Italian artists. The evidence does not point so much towards the Renaissance classicism of Michelangelo (1475-1564) and his Pietà in the Vatican, which Morales probably did not know, but towards the closer and more modern expressiveness of the Christ figures of Sebastiano del Piombo (c. 1485-1547), whose works were known in Spain, and some of which already formed part of the Royal Collection by the mid-sixteenth century.

Morales’s interpretation of the dead Christ held by his mother, which is established in his painting as a counterpoint to the Virgin with the Child in her arms, is outstanding above all for the delicacy of the models, incorporeal and almost fragile in appearance, their silent, latent expressiveness enhanced by the restricted gamut of colour, which ranges from the transparent pallor of the flesh to the luminous blue and white of the Virgin’s mantle and coif. The artist moreover employed a technique of rigorously geometric precision in the cloths and the wood of the cross, which stands out at the same time against the gentle sfumato of the faces and hands of the figures. In this way, Morales achieved what may be one of the most perfect images of the Pietà in a sixteenth-century Europe that was already divided between the Protestant north and the Catholic south. He devised a perfect equilibrium between extreme grief and serenity, between the realism of the material and the purely spiritual, through human types of exquisite and profoundly meditated beauty, recognisable as exclusively his own thanks to a personal style which created no school but did produce a manner of painting that was his alone.

The Museo del Prado holds a panel of the Pietà, in this case representing a mature Virgin inclined with restrained grief over her son. Its small format, its exquisite and delicate technique, its pale and sombre monochrome colouring and the stylisation of the figures, such as Christ’s bony torso and his haggard face, point to the period around 1565-70. The panel, of compact walnut wood with a fine surface, also presents certain changes in the development of the figures, along with the use of charcoal or black pencil for the lace of the white coif and its folds. The Virgin’s left hand, with long thin fingers, was at first situated at the height of Christ’s collar bone, and was finally modified in favour of Morales’s more habitual solution for this iconography, with the index finger and thumb, very far apart, framing and directing the gaze towards the face of Christ (Text drawn from Mena Marqués, M. in: The Divine Morales, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2015, pp. 160-168).

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Technical data

Inventory number
P002513
Author
Morales, Luis de
Title
Pietà
Date
1565 - 1570
Technique
Oil
Support
Panel
Dimension
Height: 42 cm.; Width: 30 cm.
Series
Colección León Adolfo Laffitte
Provenance
León Adolfo Laffitte Maurin (1809-1876); inherited by Xavier Laffitte y Charlesteguy; donated by the latter to the Museo del Prado, 1930.

Bibliography +

Backsbacka, Ingjald, Luis de Morales, Helsingfors, Helsinki, 1962, pp. 65, 153 / lám. 20.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, Nuevas tablas del Divino Morales y del Maestro del Portillo, Informes y trabajos del Instituto de Conservación y Restauración de Obras de Arte, Arqueología y Etnología, 7, 1968, pp. 17-24.

Noticias del Prado. Levantamiento de depósitos. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Casa Museo Colón, Boletín del Museo del Prado, 8, 1987, pp. 207.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, III, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1996, pp. n. 1541.

Solis Rodriguez, Carmelo, Luis de Morales, Fundacion Caja de Badajoz, Badajoz, 1999, pp. 198-99, n. 21.

Mena, Manuela, 'Luis de Morales. La Piedad' En:, El Divino Morales, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2015, pp. 160-168 n.42.

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 1541.
Autor: Morales. / 1541. Asunto: La Piedad / Tabla: 42 x 40 cm / nº catálogo: 2513. / Legado por d. Xavier Laffitte en 1930...

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1933. Núm. 2513.

Exhibitions +

El Divino Morales
Barcelona
16.06.2016 - 25.09.2016

El Divino Morales
Bilbao
09.02.2016 - 16.05.2016

Pintura de Reinos. Identidades compartidas en el mundo hispánico
México D.F.
02.03.2011 - 31.08.2011

Painting from the Viceroyalties. Shared Identities in the Hispanic World
Madrid
26.10.2010 - 30.01.2011

Update date: 03-05-2019 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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