This beguiling depiction of the virgin martyr Saint Dorothy, conceived by Francisco de Zurbarán with an exquisite charm and executed with such astonishing skill, is one of the most compelling works by the great Sevillian master left in private hands. Dorothea's enticing expression, her ample lips very slightly parted and her head tilted to one side, is offset by the sumptuously painted drapery that is bathed in a dramatic light and which emerges from the murky background to acquire an almost supernatural presence. The monumental figure, so fully formed and yet so simple in its design, flaunts the full force of Zurbarán's brush and achieves a modern sensibility that would be impossible from any other painter of the time.
Zurbarán painted numerous full-length figures, from virgin martyr saints, to kings, famous men and patriarchs. There was a huge demand for such works not only in Seville but also from the New World and, during the 1640s and after, Zurbarán's workshop produced a great deal for export to the Argentine and elsewhere; in 1647, for example, he received an order from the Abbess of the convent of La Encarnación in the city of Los Reyes (Lima), Peru, which included twenty-five life-size images of virgin saints.1 Guinard, in his 1960 monograph, lists no fewer than sixty-four female martyr saints from Zurbarán and his workshop, amongst which are five Saint Dorothys, four Saint Agathas, six Saint Agneses and four Saint Catherines.2
Zurbarán had begun painting full length female saints as early as circa 1635 (according to Odile Delenda); see, for example, his two depictions of Saint Casilda in the Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza (Fig. 2) and Museo del Prado, Madrid.3 His concentration on specific saints popular in the Iberian peninsula, such as Dorothy, Casilda, Justa, Rufina and Elizabeth of Portugal, above those more commonly used in Spanish painting at this time, would suggest that he was sensitive to the nationalistic concerns of his patrons and besides that, their attributes gave him the opportunity to show off his skills as a still life painter.
Although rooted in the tradition established by Zurbarán in the 1630s and very much in a similar vein to the aforementioned depictions of Saint Casilda, Odile Delenda considers the present work to date from a subsequent period of production, in the late 1640s. Other works from this period, to which it may be closely compared on a stylistic basis, are the Saint Rufina in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, and the St Margaret of Antioch in the National Gallery, London.4 A similarity, however, with a Saint Apollonia that Delenda dates to 1636-40 should also be noted, the facial type in particular being almost identical (Fig. 3);5 furthermore, the pose of Saint Dorothyalmost perfectly mirrors that of the Saint Agatha in Montpellier (Fig. 4),6 dated by Delenda to circa 1635-40, as well as that of the Thyssen Saint Casilda, although this latter is in the opposite sense.
Any attempt, however, to date or group these works on the basis of design alone is fruitless given that all Zurbarán's virgin martyr saints tend to follow very similar compositional lines; the figure, shown full-length, is turned three-quarters to the left or right. In most cases the foremost arm is bent at ninety degrees, the forearm providing a strong horizontal that somewhat divides the painting into two halves. At the end of the arm she holds her attribute, be it a basket of apples and flowers (Dorothy), a swag or roses (Casilda; Madrid, Museo del Prado and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza), a pair of eyeballs (Lucy; New York, Hispanic Society of America and Chartres, Musée des Beaux-Arts) or a pair of breasts (Agatha; Montpellier, Musée Fabre). High demand meant Zurbarán often painted the same saint many times over, and while, as the decades elapsed, he clearly felt no need to drastically alter or evolve his basic conception of these saints (described above) he does not seem to have made slavish copies and instead created a new image for each new representation of the same saint, dressing her in new clothing and decorating her with fresh details (the several versions of Casilda being a case in point). While there do not appear to be any other autograph depictions of Saint Dorothy, the example from the famous series in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville (given to Zurbarán's workshop) shows her in similar pose, but dressed very differently and her head is turned in profile. Other than their similar composition, pose and structure all of Zurbarán's female martyr saints share the similarly dominant and starkly lit heavy folds of drapery that are bathed in a supernatural light befitting the subject, an oval shape to the face and a particular focus on incidental details, exemplified here by the belt of golden discs and the jewels that decorate Dorothy's hair.
It is very likely that this and indeed all of the above-mentioned saints were conceived as part of a series of such works. Unfortunately no complete autograph series has survived intact, although there is a group of works in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville, attributed to Zurbarán's workshop, which have remained together probably since their inception. The purpose of such series remains unknown, although Maria Luisa Caturla has suggested that they were designed to be placed at intervals along a church nave, an idea derived from the religious or theatrical processions that were common in Seville at the time. Such processions were part of the ever-popular Corpus Christi festivals and were populated by actors playing the roles of saints, parading through the streets; they were theatrical presentations of 'Autos Sacramentales' and 'Comedias de Santos'.7 Other than such processions, the source of these pictures might be, as Delenda has suggested, the engravings of the Prudent virgins of Martin Schongauer (Fig. 1). Contrarily, Orozco Díaz has proposed that some of the virgin martyrs may be allegorical portraits of noblewomen and cites contemporary literary evidence to support this view. 8 Certainly they are not so far removed from the tradition of portraiture in Spain 'a lo divino'.
Given the immense demand from both Spain and the New World for Zurbarán's full-length female saints, it is necessary to consider the extent, if any, of workshop collaboration in any part of these works. Certainly there are examples (such as those in Seville) which are entirely by students, but whether Zurbarán is responsible for each and every brushstroke in all the autograph versions is another matter entirely. Although the present work was considered by Paul Guinard as 'une très bonne oeuvre d'atelier' he knew it only from an old photograph from the 1920s. When it first came back to light, at the 1998 Christie's sale, it was correctly re-ascribed to Zurbarán himself. Since then it has been published by both Benito Navarrete y Prieto and Odile Delenda, both of whom argue for some minor workshop assistance, as they do for the vast majority of these saints. Mme. Delenda considers the workshop participation to be limited to the execution of the flowers and/or fruit in the basket and possibly to some of the facial features. However there does not seem to be any notable difference in terms of quality between the bodegón here and that in any of the other virgin martyrs; indeed, the still life here appears of equal- if not even higher- quality than that of the Prado Saint Casilda, a work that Mme. Delenda considers the artist's masterpiece in this genre.9 Professor William B. Jordan, in private communication, endorses the attribution to Zurbarán, and advises caution in trying to evaluate the extent of workshop participation in even the artist's best works. In the context of such speculation, he points out that Zurbarán's workshop during part of this time included his own son Juan, who went on to become one of the greatest of Spanish still-life painters.
Saint Dorothy, a Christian saint and virgin martyr of Caesarea in Asia Minor, was condemned to death by Fabricius, the Roman governor, in about 303 AD for refusing to recant her belief. According to Voragine's Golden Legend she was mocked on the way to her execution by a scribe named Theophilus who challenged her to send him roses and apples from the garden of her heavenly bridegroom. After her execution a child appeared to Theophilus, presenting him with a basket of apples and roses and, because of this, he converted to Christianity.
1. Archivo de Protocolos, Seville, Oficio 14, cited in López Martínez, Desde Martinéz Montanes hasta Pedro Rolán, 1932, p. 224.
2. Guinard, op. cit., pp. 235-243, nos. 230-293.
3. Delenda, op. cit., pp. 316-19, cat. Nos. 94 & 95 respectively, both reproduced. The saint, in each case, has also been identified as Saint Elizabeth of Portugal.
4. Ibid., pp. 574-5, 586-8, cat. nos. 201 & 207 respectively, both reproduced.
5. Ibid., pp. 374-376, no. 117, reproduced.
6. Ibid., pp. 354-5, no. 109, reproduced.
7. M.L. Caturla in Exposición Zurbarán en el III centenario de su muerte, exhibition catalogue Madrid 1964-65, pp. 50-3.
8. E. Orozco Díaz, "El retrato a lo divino, su influencia, y unas obras de Risueño", in Goya, 120, May-June 1974, pp. 351-8.
9. Delenda, pp. 318-9, no. 95, reproduced.
Oil on canvas
Francisco de Zurbarán
71 by 40 in.; 180.2 by 101.5 cm.
A.G. Mayer, "Unbekannte Werke Zurbarans", in Zeitschrift fürbildende Kunst, 1927-28, vol. LXI, p. 292;
P. Guinard, Zurbarán, Paris 1960, p. 238, cat. no. 257 (as whereabouts unknown);
B. Navarrete Prieto, Zurbarán y su Obrador, exhibition catalogue, Madrid 1999, p. 153, reproduced p. 152, fig. 27.1;
O. Delenda, Francisco de Zurbarán 1598-1664, Madrid 2009, pp. 578-579, cat. no. 203, reproduced.
Acquired in Spain in the 1920s by a New York collector;
Thence by family descent until sold, New York, Christie's, 29 January 1998, lot 120, where acquired by the present owner.