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Saint John the Baptist
Morales, Luis de
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Morales, Luis de

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

See author's file

Saint John the Baptist

Ca. 1566. Oil on panel.
Not on display

It is not known when or how these two paintings -Saint John the Baptist and Saint Juan de Ribera (P947)- came to be the property of Luisa Enríquez, but their common provenance has never been seen as an indication of a link with the same group of art works. However, the technical study that was recently carried out on the two panels shows that they are directly and unequivocally related in the oak wood used for them (which came from the same tree), their width without the lateral additions (33 cm), and the type of construction of the support. This suggests they may have been paired in some way, and perhaps formed different pieces of the same set. They are not the front and back of the same panel, nor a single scene cut down the middle, but probably, given their narrow width, the wings of a small altarpiece with doors, of characteristics similar to those of the Triptych of Bishop Juan de Ribera at the Museo de Cádiz, where the same personage, Morales’s patron during his period as Bishop of Badajoz between 1562 and 1568, is also portrayed.

After that hypothetical altarpiece was dismembered at an unknown date, the two panels were manipulated in the same way so that they could be displayed as independent pictures. Their height was reduced and their breadth was increased by about 7 cm in both cases (in other words, around 23% of their original width) with two pinewood boards positioned on either side. Also hidden under repainting in the lower left corner of Saint John the Baptist is what was perhaps the saint’s right hand, which would have pointed to a small image of the lamb of God, as seen in the painting of the Baptist on the predella of the Arroyo de la Luz altarpiece, painted a few years earlier. The fact that only the upper part of the wrist is visible in the X-radiograph suggests that a few centimetres must have been cut away from the lower part of the panel. On the X-radiograph of the other panel, it also appears that the cuff of Juan de Ribera’s shirt is cut off at the lower edge of the picture. It is therefore possible that besides broadening the panels, it was also decided to reduce them in height, which would make sense in the context of an attempt to adapt the elongated wings of a triptych as independent works of art.

The establishment of links between the supports of the two paintings, their relation through the same problems of conservation, and the hypothesis that they might have formed part of the same triptych all raise a number of interesting questions that help to understand the complexity of Morales’s heterogeneous creative process. The two panels are clearly interrelated and their authorship is indisputable, but they present evident aesthetic differences and are distinct in terms of technique. It is rather as though the painter had borne in mind that on the one hand he was going to paint a portrait with heightened realism and little in the way of technical virtuosity, very much in keeping with the austere spirit of his sitter, while on the other hand his panel of Saint John the Baptist was to represent one of the most frequently depicted saints, and so his artistic contribution in this case was to rest principally on quality, with a free and rapid underdrawing but a surface finish of extraordinary finesse and attention to detail. There are also differences in the proportion and height of the heads, which would have been more evident in the narrower original format. Finally, there are differences too in the postures, since whereas the portrait was directly connected with the central panel of the supposed triptych, the pose and gaze of the Baptist are in closer relation with the viewer. Even so, it cannot be ruled out that his index finger was pointing at a central panel, perhaps an Ecce Homo or the Fifth Sorrow referred to in a bill of payment dated January 1567.

Where the figures are concerned, Saint John the Baptist has never raised problems of identification. Morales generally paints him with his face turned to the side, his gaze melancholic, and his threadbare hermit’s apparel simulating the camel hair he is shown as wearing in the traditional iconography (Text drawn from García-Máiquez, J. in: The Divine Morales, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2015, pp. 200-204).


Technical data

Inventory number
Morales, Luis de
Saint John the Baptist
Ca. 1566
Height: 47 cm; Width: 34 cm
Collection of Luisa Enríquez y Valdés, 1891-1896; entered the Museo del Prado as part of the bequest of Luisa Enríquez y Valdés, 1896.

Bibliography +

Berjano Escobar, Daniel, El Pintor Luis de Morales, El Divino, Mateu, Madrid, 1918, pp. 97, 114.

Juez Nieto, Antonio, Luis de Morales, el Divino. Homenaje de admiración y amor a su vida y obra, Badajoz, 1925.

Sánchez Cantón, Francisco Javier (1891-1971)), El Museo del Prado. Cuadros, Estatuas, Dibujos y Alhajas., Peninsular, Madrid, 1949.

Backsbacka, Ingjald, Luis de Morales, Helsingfords, Helsinki, 1962, pp. 162.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (III). Nuevas Adquisiciones. Museo Iconográfico. Tapices., Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1996.

Solis Rodriguez, Carmelo, Luis de Morales, Fundación Caja de Badajoz, Badajoz, 1999, pp. 204-5, n. 24.

Mateo Gómez, I., Flandes, Portugal y Toledo en la obra de Luis de Morales. Las Vírgenes gitanas o del sombrero, Archivo español de arte, 317, 2007, pp. 7-24.

García Maiquez, Jaime, 'Luis de Morales.San Juan Bautista' En:, El Divino Morales, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2015, pp. 200-204 n.59.

Jover de Celis, M. Alba, L. Gayo, M. García-Máiquez, J, 'En el taller de Luis de Morales' En:, Luis de Morales, Diputación de Badajoz,, 2018, pp. 97-113 [109].

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 1240.
Autor morales / 1240. Cabeza de san Juan Bautista (tabla) / Alto 0,47/ ancho 0,34.

Exhibitions +

El Divino Morales
16.06.2016 - 25.09.2016

El Divino Morales
09.02.2016 - 16.05.2016

El Divino Morales
06.10.2015 - 10.01.2016

The Divine Morales
01.10.2015 - 10.01.2016

Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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