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Prado, Blas de

Camarena, Toledo, ca. 1545 - Madrid, 1599

Little is known of this important artist's life. He must have been active primarily in Toledo, where some of his contracts for work around that city are known, and where contemporaneous sources speak of numerous pieces by him. He also worked at court and was much appreciated by Philip II, who sent him to the Sharif of Morocco in 1593, almost certainly to paint that North African ruler's portrait. While no signed still lifes by him are known, writer Francisco Pacheco considered him responsible for bringing that genre to Spain, and this is totally credible, given that he was recognized as the teacher of Juan Sánchez Cotán, the great Spanish creator in that genre. Sánchez Cotán mentions having received "a book of painting by Blas de Prado" from his teacher, and another with his drawings, which suggests that this may have been some sort of theoretical text by that artist from Camarena. Prado was also at El Escorial, where he appraised some works on various occasions and was thus in contact with the latest paintings brought from Italy by artists of that nationality who had come to decorate the monastery. This alone would be enough to explain the profound knowledge of Romanist classicism visible in his few extant paintings and drawings, but we cannot rule out a possible trip to Italy, either, as he seems to have been particularly influenced by Michelangelo. This is visible in his Descent from the Cross at Valencia Cathedral, as well as his drawing at the Uffizi. His only canvas at the Museo del Prado is an excellent example of the most monumental Italian classicism, combined with the naturalist representation of the person supposed to have commissioned it: Alonso de Villegas. This clergyman is best known for his six-volume religious text, Flos Sanctorum (1578-1594), and his likeness by Prado in that canvas demonstrates the artist's notable gift for portraiture. It also served as a model for posterior representations of that figure. The painting was that the Royal Palace in 1818, and from there, it entered the Museo del Prado.

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