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Saint in Prayer
Sorolla y Bastida, Joaquín
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Sorolla y Bastida, Joaquín

Valencia (Spain), 1863 - Cercedilla, Madrid (Spain), 1923

Sorolla y Bastida, Joaquín See author's file

Saint in Prayer

1888 - 1889. Oil on canvas.
Not on display

For Sorolla and his wife, the time spent in Italy formed part of the years at the beginning of their relationship when they confronted their first difficulties together. As late as 1915, nearly thirty years after this trip, Sorolla noted in a letter to his wife that he had ‘ordered a little frame for the Virgin you gave me when I left Spain to study in Rome. I think it looks good on it and will make me less likely to lose an object which I keep with me at all times.’ Known as Praying Saint, this picture also bears the evocative title of Figure of an Italian Saint for its obvious connections with that period, and it must have been one of the memories the couple treasured from that time. This would explain why they always kept it in a special place in their house, as revealed by many of the photographs of the artist’s various studios and dwellings. Thus it was that in 1906, when Sorolla painted Señora de Sorolla (Clotilde García de Castillo) in Black, not only does it appear in the photograph in which the artist depicts his wife on the canvas, but it also occupies a prominent position in the portrait itself, from which it provides Sorolla with a background for Clotilde’s face. Aesthetically speaking, the work is steeped in a medievalism that was to prove a powerful driving force for Sorolla and one to which he gave free rein during the months after the resounding failure of The Burial of Christ , the major work he produced during his study period abroad. It was painted while Sorolla was living with his wife in the small Italian town of Assisi, where the Valencian artist produced many copies of old paintings revealing his interest in the Middle Ages. This passion echoed the feelings of the writer Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (1867– 1928), who also devoted some of his earliest pages to medieval stories, and with whom Sorolla would strike up a close friendship in later years—by that stage they were also to share, consciously, more mature aesthetic interests. Thus it was that in the mid-1880s, both men subscribed to a trend that to some extent flourished all over Europe and which was not only to bring back medieval elements into the repertoire of architectural eclecticism, but which, in the paintings of that time, would mark a rebirth in Gothic sentiment prior to Wagner’s symbolism. In their youth, both intellectuals and artists of their generation were to dabble with this aesthetic approach, although ultimately neither Sorolla nor Blasco went into it in any greater depth. Influential artists such as Domenico Morelli (1823– 1901), himself in contact with Sorolla, was also party to this, as witnessed by the use of gold in his backgrounds and by the search for mystical images of an undefined religious iconography, which are more a description of setting than an attempt to transmit piety. Sorolla himself was to move firmly in the same direction in his attractive work Nun at Prayer, where he depicts a girl prostrate on a prie-dieu inside a church, in a setting of extraordinary resemblance to the one shown in this Praying Saint, and whose profile shares certain similarities. In this regard, in the Prado work Sorolla pays such exquisite attention to the background that it acquires considerable prominence right across the surface of the canvas. The small, frail figure of the young saint is placed before a sumptuous geometrically decorated golden backdrop. Sorolla must have used templates to produce some of the decoration, particularly the small squares on the surface of the wall and the gold circles on the dress, although in other cases he uses his brush to achieve the same effect. Particularly attractive is the combination of different circular shapes: the gold halo, the circle around a border with plant and animal motifs, the little circles on the dress. All are inspired by decorative patterns typical of the High Middle Ages. The geometric style balances harmoniously with the figure; Sorolla had no qualms about turning the decorative reticule on the righthand side into a black border which runs two thirds of the length of the work to lighten the effect. To counter the rather flat impression of the gold, Sorolla introduced other much more plastic elements, including the white cloth of the saint’s dress, where the collar and hood are reminiscent of Emilio Sala (1850– 1910), or the frank realism of the irises that lie in the saint’s lap. Despite the use of small distinctive features to add individuality to the figure—such as the little cross on the saint’s chest, which rules out any association with the Virgin Mary, or the partially open book she holds in her right hand—it is impossible to identify the saint from the symbolic attributes represented in the work. However, if only for obvious sentimental reasons, it is tempting to think that this could be Saint Clotilde, whose life between the fifth and sixth centuries would coincide with the allusions to the sumptuous court decoration in the canvas. Born in the court of King Chilperic, her father, Saint Clotilde married Clovis, King of France, whom she converted to Christianity. Saint Gregory of Tours recalls her long and fervent meditations, adding that her people regarded her more for her piety than for queenly duties. (G. Navarro, C.: Joaquín Sorolla, Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2009, pp. 210-211)


Technical data

Inventory number
Sorolla y Bastida, Joaquín
Saint in Prayer
1888 - 1889
Height: 78 cm; Width: 61 cm
Juan Antonio García del Castillo; Jaime García Banús; Concepción Bermejo; Encarnación Ramos Bermejo; Sotheby’s, London, 1992; Acquired from Encarnación Ramos Bermejo for the Museo Nacional del Prado, 20-1-1993

Bibliography +

Museo del Prado, Últimas adquisiciones: 1982-1995, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1995.

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

Museo Nacional del Prado, Maestros de la pintura valenciana del siglo XIX en el Museo, Museo Nacional del Prado, Autoridad Portuaria, Madrid, 1997.

Joaquín Sorolla, 1863-1923, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2009, pp. 210-211.

Díez, J.L. (dir.), Pintura del Siglo XIX en el Museo del Prado. Catálogo general, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2015, pp. 551.

Martínez Requena, S, 'Santa en oración. Santa Clotilde?' En:, Sorolla: Tormento y devoción, Ediciones El Viso,, Madrid, 2021, pp. nº 15.

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 2334.
Autor: Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida / 2334. Titulo: Santa Italiana / Tipo de obra: Pintura / Tecnica/Soporte: óleo sobre lienzo / Medidas: 0,78 X 0,61 M. / Nº de catálogo:P-07652 / Observaciones: Etiqueta al dorso: "Concepción Bermejo / Sorolla/ sin catálogo". / Adquirido por el Estado a Dña. Encarna Ramos Bermejo, a través de Edmund Peel y Asociados, S.A., en 3.132.000 pts. O.M. de 20-I-1993. / Ingresó en el Museo en 17-V.1993.

Inscriptions +

Concepción Bermejo / Sorolla / sin catálogo [adherida al dorso]
Scrap of paper. Back

Exhibitions +

Sorolla. Tormento y devoción
12.07.2021 - 09.01.2022

Sorolla y la espiritualidad
19.04.2018 - 02.09.2018

Joaquín Sorolla
26.05.2009 - 06.09.2009

Displayed objects +


Update date: 13-01-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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