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Valdés Leal, Juan de

Sevilla, 1622 - Sevilla, 1690

This Spanish painter and engraver was an exact contemporary of Murillo as well as his greatest rival as a painter in Seville at that time. The two have often been compared on the rather artificial basis of their works' respective characters: while Murillo's were seen as the very embodiment of sweetness and tranquility; Valdés Leal's were practically the opposite: harsh and dramatic, and in his best-known works -the "Vanitas" at the church of La Caridad in Seville, for example- extremely gruesome. However, notwithstanding the difficult character attributed to his works by numerous authors, Valdes Leal's production is quite varied and not unlike most of the painting being made around him. We do not know exactly when he moved to Cordoba, although he must have already received his early training in art in his home town. Some specialists believe contact with Herrera the Elder's workshop, and with the art of Antonio del Castillo -also from Cordoba- influenced his first known signed and dated work: the Saint Andrew at the church of San Francisco de Córdoba, from 1647. There, he quite successfully merges the monumentality of the saint's figure with a naturalist approach. He settled in Seville in 1656, and most of his career took place there. In 1660 he helped found the Academy of Drawing, and three years later, in 1663, he became its president. According to Palomino he traveled to Madrid and to El Escorial the following year, and that trip can still be considered a part of his training, as it reflects his desire to view and learn from the masterworks in the Royal Collections. In 1667, he entered the Brotherhood of La Caridad in Seville, a religious organization founded by nobleman Miguel de Mañara, the visionary author of an eschatological work titled "Discurso de la Verdad." Valdés Leal remained a member for the rest of his life. In 1671, he had the opportunity to design the temporary decorations installed at Seville Cathedral to celebrate the canonization of Saint Ferdinand. That work led Palomino to define him as "a great draftsman, [expert in] perspective and architect." He also made two engravings of his decorations for the cathedral, which appear in Fernando Torres Farfán's book celebrating that event. This allows us to discover his work as an architect. These engravings are his most important prints. Others include an image of the cathedral's monstrance, a self-portrait and a posthumous likeness of Miguel de Mañara. A stay in Cordoba in 1672 allowed Palomino to meet him in person, and this reinforces that writer's affirmation about Valdés Leal's literary interests. According to Palomino, he possessed "cultivation in all of the belles lettres, including poetry." Shortly before his death, he suffered an illness that prevented him from working. As a result, he passed his commissions to his son, a painter at his workshop. Among his notable early works is "The Retreat of the Saracens" (1652-1653), a battle scene that constitutes one of his first displays of overflowing vitality. This composition is marked by the exuberant movement, luminosity and wealth of colors characterisitc of the Baroque. He worked continuously in Seville and despite that city's widespread crisis during the second half of the 17th century, he never lacked commissions from its religious orders and churches. His work was somewhat irregular, but he proved very versatile in both his use of color and his application of vividly contrasted light, sometimes with skillfully rapid, paint laden brushstrokes. Using a technique very close to that of other artist from his generation -especially Herrera the Younger, from whom he learned a considerable amount- he crafted vibrant images filled with movement and dynamism, often set in sumptuous architectural surroundings. His best-known works were made for the church of La Santa Caridad in Seville, and they were already famous in his lifetime. The "Exaltation of the Cross", a monumental canvas painted between 1684 and 1685, is an authentic and efficacious unfolding of the most exalted Baroque oratory for religious purposes. But some of Valdés Leal's most intense works are from the previous decade. Around 1671-1672, he painted the two superb "Aftermaths" through which Mañara passionately preached the abandonment of earthly possesions. The richly detailed depiction of the objects in these works in no way detracts from their macabre violence; instead, it reinforces and emphasizes it. The Museo del Prado has twelve canvases related to Valdés Leal, almost all obtained through acquisitions or donations. Only "Saint Ferdinand Kneeling", an attribution, comes from the Royal Collections, and it entered the Museo del Prado from the monastery of El Escorial. The museum also has one of his most interesting works -"Jesus Debating with the Elders"- which is his last known signed and dated painting (1686). This late work presents a painter in full possession of his skills, without a hint of decline, and capable of creating a large theatrical setting with imposing architecture that reflects his special sensitivity in obtaining the richest nuances of color (García López, D. en E.M.N.P., 2006, tomo VI, pp. 2135-2136).

Artworks (18)

San Miguel Arcángel
Oil on canvas, Ca. 1656
Valdés Leal, Juan de
San Fernando arrodillado
Oil on canvas, Second half of the XVII century
Valdés Leal, Juan de (Attributed to)
Jesucristo camino del Calvario y la Verónica
Oil on canvas, Ca. 1660
Valdés Leal, Juan de
Saint Jerome
Oil on canvas, 1656 - 1657
Valdés Leal, Juan de
Christ on the way to Calvary
Oil on canvas, Ca. 1661
Valdés Leal, Juan de
Mártir de la Orden de San Jerónimo
Oil on canvas, 1657
Valdés Leal, Juan de
Saint John the Baptist
Oil on canvas, 1659 - 1660
Valdés Leal, Juan de
La consagración de San Ambrosio como arzobispo
Oil on canvas, Ca. 1673
Valdés Leal, Juan de
Saint Ambrose absolves the Emperor Theodosius
Oil on canvas, Ca. 1673
Valdés Leal, Juan de

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