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Pantoja de la Cruz, Fourth Centenary

Madrid 6/3/2008 - 9/7/2008

The painter Juan Pantoja de la Cruz died in Madrid on October 26 th 1608. Pantoja was undoubtedly one of the most important artists during much of the reign of Philip III (1598- 1621). The present year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the artist, who is represented in the Museo del Prado by around 20 works, some of them on deposit with official bodies and other cultural institutions such as the Palacio de Pedralbes (Barcelona), the Monastery of El Escorial, the Museo Balaguer in Villanova i la Geltrú, and Cordoba Cathedral.

Pantoja was born in Valladolid around 1553. He trained in the workshop of Alonso Sánchez Coello (1531/32-1588), one of the artists who formulated the definitive model of the ‘court portrait’. Pantoja began to work for the King around the mid-1580s although he was not appointed Court Painter until 1596.Like his teacher Sánchez Coello, Pantoja retained the type of image developed in the mid-16th century for portraits of the monarch and his family by Titian (c. 1485-1576) and Antonis Mor (1519-1576). These were grave, somewhat rigid, distant and inexpressive presentations, presented in an imposing manner against a dark background that features elements symbolic of royalty such as a side table, a ‘friar’s’ chair or a column.

Pantoja evolved towards a type of tight, careful handling while his best portraits have a distinctive, sophisticated air, a geometrical abstraction and a theatrical lighting that give his work a unique appearance. Juan Pantoja de la Cruz also worked in other genres such as still life and possibly landscape although these works are now only known through documentary references. His religious paintings were undoubtedly more important. In them, he maintained a Tuscan Mannerism combined with various innovations that point towards the so-called naturalist trend such as an interest in a detailed representation of objects, contrasting lighting and a monumental conception of the human figure. In all his output Pantoja made use of a large workshop of assistants who later took over his activities. Of these, the most important were Bartolomé González (1564- 1627) and Rodrigo de Villandrando (c. 1588-1622).

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