Thence by descent to the present owner.
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.
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’).
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