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Navarrete ''el Mudo'', Juan Fernández

Logroño, ca. 1538 - Toledo, 1579

Early death put an end to the career of this artist hired by Philip II to depict on canvas the Counterreformation's proposals for devotional images—a subject that greatly concerned the monarch during the decoration of the monastery at El Escorial. Friar José de Sigüenza, the Hieronymite Order's historian, had already noted Philip II's melancholy after Navarrete's death, as well as the posterior employment of Italian artists to decorate the monastery, with results that did not always satisfy the king. Navarrete, known as "The Mute"—an illness left him deaf at the age of three and he never learned to speak—was trained at the Hieronymite monastery of La Estrella in his native Logroño. There, he received his first artistic education from Vicente de Santo Domingo, one of the resident monks, who recognized the child's gift and probably encouraged his parents to send him to Italy. Sigüenza mentions Navarrete's passage through Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan and Naples and his stay at Titian's workshop, although this should be considered a post-facto explanation of the Spanish artist's assimilation of his style. His early paintings, however, are more clearly influenced by what he must have seen in Rome and Florence, and are actually quite close to the late Romanist style. His earliest known work, The Baptism of Christ (Museo del Prado), clearly recalls Michelangelo, with robust anatomies and refined colors. Apparently, it was a proof of skill intended to convince the king, who immediately hired him. Navarrete's ties to Philip II and El Escorial were almost certainly linked to his past contact with the Hieronymites. His own teacher, Friar Vicente, had moved to that royal seat in 1565, and the first evidence of Navarrete in El Escorial dates from the following year, when he is mentioned as the restorer of various canvases by Titian. In 1568, he was definitively appointed the king's painter. His restoration of Titian and the monarch's own proclivities for the work of that Venetian master have been used by specialists to explain Navarrete's stylistic shift from his early Baptism's Romanism towards his later Venetianism, although we should also keep in mind that he had actually been in Venice and thus obtained knowledge directly from the source. Over the following years, his work became increasingly involved with Venetian practices. Lighter and more fluid brushstrokes imbued his background landscapes with an admirable atmosphere and golden skies. Moreover, his sigular interest in the effects of light recalls not only Titian but also Bassano. Despite the fact that his position at court obliged him to remain at El Escorial, his delicate health led him to take occasional leaves of absence, and he is known to have spent time in Logroño, Madrid and Toledo. It was in this last city that he died while at the home of a friend, architect Nicolás de Vergara. While he was unable to carry out the paintings he had designed for the main altarpiece—they had been commissioned only a few months before his death—most of his relatively few works remain at the monastery in El Escorial. Fine examples include the first commissioned paintings of a Penitent Saint Jerome and The Martyrdom of Saint James, as well as an unfinished series of Apostles for the church. He also left various portraits at his death, and that facet of his painting is known through a small drawing with a self portrait at the Hispanic Society of America in New York. The Museo del Prado has another important drawing by Navarrete, a Lion Drinking drawn in preparation for Saint Jerome, as well as various copies of his Apostles for El Escorial and his Baptism of Christ. Sigüenza mentions this last work as hanging in the cell of the monastery's Prior and it appears in the 1574 inventory of El Escorial. It was later part of the Museo Josefino at the Academy of San Fernando before entering the Museo del Prado in 1827.

Artworks (2)

The Baptism of Christ
Oil on panel, Ca. 1567
Navarrete "el Mudo", Juan Fernández
León bebiendo
Black chalk on yellow laid paper, XVI century
Navarrete "el Mudo", Juan Fernández

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