Lot 11
  • 11

Pedro de Mena y Medrano (1628-1688) Spanish, Malaga, circa 1660-1670

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  • The Virgin of Solitude
  • polychromed wood, set with glass eyes, on a polychromed wood base
  • Pedro de Mena y Medrano (1628-1688) Spanish, Malaga, circa 1660-1670


Don José Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid, by 1914



R. de Orueta y Duarte, La vida y la obra de Pedro de Mena y Medrano, Madrid, 1914, pp. 154-155, fig. 49

Catalogue Note

In the early 1670s Pedro de Mena first carved two of the most moving images known in European sculpture, his Ecce Homo and The Virgin of Solitude. In these busts he fully realised the potential of the mixed-media technique promoted by Juan Martínez Montañés half a century earlier. The idealised faces of Christ and Mary were not only enlivened by realistic polychromy; ivory teeth, glass eyes, tears made of droplets of glass and eyelashes of animal hair were all expertly fitted into the carved heads. To suggest cloth and attributes de Mena carved the wood paper-thin and appropriated real objects in a quest to approach reality as closely as possible. Christ and the Virgin's humanity and their palpable anguish caused rapturous responses in Southern Spain's churches and monasteries when they first appeared. Consequently, his busts and half-length figures set the standard for this type of imagery, prompting many further commissions for both his workshop and his followers.

Looking to convey the different emotions of the Virgin, de Mena sculpted The Virgin of Solitude in several compositions. Distinctly Baroque is the type, of which the most important examples are those in the Monastery of San Joaquín y Santa Ana in Valladolid and the Convent of the MM. Conceptionistas in Zamora. These figures are characterised by sweeping Baroque drapery and animated by their clasped hands and turn of the head (see Moreno, op.cit., nos. 7 and 9). The present carving shows a more subdued, contemplative Madonna referred to by Orozco (op.cit.) as the Virgin of Solitude. The omission of hands and inclusion of simple beautifully arranged drapery focus one’s attention completely on the anguish of the Virgin’s face. De Mena provided further versions of this type for the Church of San Luis, Basilica del Gran Poder, and the chapel of the Palace of San Telmo in Seville, the Museo Diocesano y Catedralico in Valladolid, and the Church of Saint Nicholas in Madrid, but he also sent examples as far afield as the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Vienna and the old Jesuit churches of Mexico City and Lima.

The present bust differs from all these examples in the downward gaze and somewhat more mature features of the Virgin. It is the only Virgin of Solitude type illustrated in the 1914 monograph on Pedro de Mena written by Ricardo de Orueta (op.cit.). The author saw it in the collection of the financier and publisher José Lázaro Galdiano and appropriately described it as: “a beautiful sculpture, conceived in a large size and of such serene majesty... The robe, perfectly observed, falls naturally and simply. It is a work of great artistic beauty.” The remainder of Lázaro Galdiano’s famous art collection is exhibited in the house he had built on the occasion of his wedding in 1903 in the centre of Madrid.

R. de Orueta y Duarte, La vida y la obra de Pedro de Mena y Medrano, Madrid, 1914; D. Angulo Iñiguez, “Dos Menas en Méjico. Esculturas sevillanas en América”, Archivo Español de Arte y Arqueología XI, 1935, pp. 132-136; E. Orozco Diaz, “Devoción y barroquismo en las Dolorosas de Pedro de Mena”, Goya 52, 1963, pp. 235-241; L.L. Moreno (ed.), Pedro de Mena y Castilla, exh. cat. Museo nacional de escultura, Valladolid, 1989, pp. 34-47; M. Trusted, The arts of Spain. Iberia and Latin America 1450-1700, London/ New York, 2007, no. 127

We would like to thank José Luis Romero Torres for his assistance in cataloguing this work.