Lot 59
  • 59

FRANCISCO DE ZURBARÁN | The Penitent Saint Peter

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Francisco de Zurbarán
  • The Penitent Saint Peter
  • oil on canvas
  • 155.5 x 108 cm.; 61 1/4  x 42 1/2  in.


Collection of Don Félix Fernández Valdés (d. 1975), Bilbao; Thence by descent to the present owner.


Seville, Museo de Bellas Artes, Zurbarán: IV Centenario, 8 October – 9 December 1998, no. 68.


B. Navarrete Prieto, ‘Algo más sobre Zurbarán’, in Goya, 1996, no. 251, p. 284; Zurbarán: IV Centenario, exhibition catalogue, 8 October – 9 December 1998, pp. 202–03, cat. no. 68, reproduced;

O. Delenda, Francisco de Zurbarán, Madrid 2009, pp. 602–03, cat. no. 214, reproduced.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Francisco de Zurbarán. The Penitent St Peter. This painting has had a recent relining and restoration. There had been tears along the top edge from the reduction of the painting in the distant past, perhaps due to damage, leaving retouching along the upper edge and at centre left in the background. At the top right edge the arm of Christ had once been slightly visible, but had been largely covered in an early repainting. An original seam across the middle has also been retouched, although with only minor damage to the hands. The dark drapery in the area beneath the seam has retouching covering old flaking across the lower centre. The base edge had once also suffered from old damage in the past and has some wider patches of retouching. Despite occasional minor retouched losses the head and hands are largely finely intact with impasted brushwork. The magnificent drapery in the lighter areas of the figure on the left have also been beautifully preserved in general.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

It was precisely for works such as this powerful tenebrist treatment of The Penitent Saint Peter that Francisco de Zurbarán acquired the nickname the ‘Spanish Caravaggio’. Painted in Seville during the artist’s full maturity, around 1650, the painting displays all the hallmarks of the Sevillian master’s work. The figure of Saint Peter is rendered with a heightened sense of realism created through the dramatic use of chiaroscuro and strong geometric forms, which combine to give the figure a powerful presence and sense of monumentality as he kneels to repent of his denial of Christ. Formerly belonging to the celebrated collector Don Félix Fernández Valdés, The Penitent Saint Peter is considered to be the prime version of a larger overall composition depicting The Penitent Saint Peter before Christ at the Column that is known through another version, today in the Archbishop’s Palace, Seville, datable circa 1650–55.1 During recent restoration of the present painting, the remains of Christ’s bent right arm was detected in the upper right corner, affirming that the picture presumably followed the same composition as that in the Archbishop’s Palace. In qualitative terms however, Odile Delenda considers the Valdés painting to be superior to the Seville version, noting: ‘en ésta que examinamos se advierte un mayor nivel artístico y una fuerza expresiva excepcional’.2

While the overall style of the painting reveals a clear debt to Caravaggio, the pose of the Saint appears to be inspired by a print representing The Penitent Saint Peter by Jusepe de Ribera, which dates from over two decades earlier (1621; fig. 1). In addition, in the use of heavy impasto and wet-in-wet handling for the head of Christ’s leading Apostle, Zurbarán appears to imitate the distinctive style of Ribera, whose works he would have known through their presence in important Spanish collections by this date.

Note on Provenance

The painting enjoys a distinguished provenance, belonging to the heirs of the great collector Don Félix Fernández Valdés (d. 1975) whose collection was displayed at his home in Gran Via, 15, Bilbao. A highly educated man, Don Félix inherited a fortune from his uncle Don Tomás Urquijo and operated a thriving timber business between his substantial holdings in Spanish Guinea and his factories in Bilbao. He was a passionate art collector and assembled one of the finest collections of Old Masters in Spain during the mid-twentieth century, including at least two other works by Francisco de Zurbarán: the artist’s masterpiece of Saint Anthony Abbot, today in the Fundación Villar Mir, Madrid; and his Ascension of the Virgin, in the collection of Don Plácido Arango. The collection included other important works from the Sevillian school, including Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s early Saint Joseph with the Christ Child, which was sold London, Sotheby’s, 4 December 2014, lot 13, for £580,000 hammer.

1 See Delenda 2009, pp. 636–37, no. 229, reproduced.

2 Delenda 2009, p. 603 (‘in this version we note a greater artistic quality and an exceptional power of expression’).