Details & Cataloguing

Old Master Paintings Evening Sale


Francisco de Zurbarán


Probably commissioned by the Colegio Mayor de San Salvador, Sigüenza;
Private collection, England.


Seville, Museo de Bellas Artes, Zurbarán: IV Centenario, 8 October - 9 December 1998, no. 50, reproduced p. 167.


J. Gállego and J. Gudiol, Zurbarán, Barcelona 1976, pp. 93-94, no. 210, reproduced fig. 226;
S. Alcolea, Zurbarán, Barcelona 1989, pp. 17, 126, reproduced fig. 56;
M.L. Caturla and O. Delenda, Francisco de Zurbarán, Paris 1994, pp. 211/213, 239, note 39, reproduced p. 212;
E. Valdivieso, Zurbarán IV centenario, exhibition catalogue, Seville 1998, pp. 166-67, reproduced;
G. Finaldi, El retrato español, del Greco a Picasso, exhibtion catalogue, Madrid 2004-05, pp. 149, 155.

Catalogue Note

This imposing portrait, discovered in 1969 by José Lopez-Rey and fist published by Gudiol in 1976, represents Doctor Juan Martínez Serrano, an ecclesiast and professor from Segovia. The sitter was identified from an inscription on the reverse of the original canvas (now obscured by the relining), and Lopez-Rey, who apparently saw the painting prior to cleaning, identified a coat-of-arms above Serrano's right shoulder, which had probably been added during the 18th century, as that of the university of Sigüenza.

The later addition of the coat-of-arms (subsequently removed in cleaning) seems only to confirm the identity of Serrano, who was made a professor at the university in Sigüenza, and a canon of the cathedral, in 1608. Few further details of his life are known, but he was born on 24th June 1578 in the village of Medel, close to Segovia. From 1627 until his death in 1653 he held the chair of theology at the Colegio Mayor de San Salvador in Sigüenza.

Since the painting's discovery in 1969 the majority of scholars have dated it to the 1630s.  Specifically, both José Gudiol and Santiago Alcolea (see Literature), have both dated the work to circa 1631-40, and more latterly Prof. Enrique Valdivieso, in the catalogue to the exhibition marking 400 years after Zurbaran's birth in Seville, dated it to circa 1640. María Luisa Caturla supposed that Zurbarán executed the portrait during his trip to Madrid in 1634 when, from June to November of that year, he decorated the Salón Grande del Nuevo Palacio in the Buen Retiro.1 Conversely, Lopez-Rey considered it a posthumous portrait of Serrano, commissioned by the Colegio in honour of their recently deceased professor, and dates it therefore to Zurbaran's final Madrid period (1658-64). Lopez-Rey considered it so similar to a portrait of an unknown doctor of law, also from Siguenza university (the so-called Doctor en Derecho in Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; fig. 1),2 that both he and Gudiol dated to 1658-64, as to consider it a likely pair. Given the extraordinary vibrancy of the face of the present sitter however, which could surely have only been painted from life, and in view of the fact that Serrano was probably not of such importance as to warrant a posthumous portrait commission from one of Spain's leading painters, Odile Delenda has convincingly argued against Lopez-Rey's hypothesis for both this and the Boston picture, seeing the present portrait as painted from life in the middle of the 1630s when the sitter would have been in his mid to late fifties, both portraits being therefore probably commissioned by the university at that time.

Similarities between both works seem self-evident. Both portraits may well have hung if not alongside each other, then probably in the same room. The portraits are of the same dimensions3 and both sitters wear the same costume, their different hats and stoles denoting their different fields of scholarship. Neither portrait is particularly flattering. The voluminous brown toga that hangs from Serrano's shoulders does nothing to hide his rotund figure, despite all attempts to by the exaggerated vertical folds. The format of these portraits recalls those of two other ecclesiasts, an anonymous Calced Mercedarian friar (fig. 2, detail) and Fray Jeronimo Perez, both in the Accademia de San Fernando, Madrid, and executed likewise in the 1630s.4  These canvases were commissioned by the principal monastery of the Mercedarian order in Seville, the monastery of Our Lady of Ransom, and a further nine life size portraits of its friars by Zurbaran hung together with them in the library, with more in the Print room. That such a commission was possible from a monastic order illustrates the immense wealth enjoyed by the church in the 17th century and renders modest the Siguenza university commission of just two (extant or known) portraits.

This painting will be included in first volume of Odile Delenda's forthcoming catalogue raisonné on Francisco de Zurbarán, to be published at the end of 2009. We are extremely grateful to Mme. Delenda for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.

1. See Gudiol, under Literature, pp. 83-4, nos. 92-106, all reproduced.
2. Idem., p. 120, cat. no. 533, reproduced fig. 471.
3. Gudiol gives measurements of 194 by 103 cm.
4. Idem., p. 91, nos. 181 & 182, reproduced figs. 203 & 204.

Old Master Paintings Evening Sale