Sebastián de Llanos Valdés Probably Seville circa 1605 - 1677 Seville & Sevillian School mid-17th Century
- The Head of Saint John the Baptist;
The Head of Saint Paul
- The former signed and dated lower left: .....Llanos/ y valdes faciebat/Ano 1660
- Two, both oil on canvas
Valdés' oeuvre consists almost entirely of religious imagery, his style reflecting the artistic traditions of his day, most notably the work of Herrera el Viejo and Francisco de Zurbarán, as well as that of Murillo from around 1660 onwards. Many of the artist's paintings remain to this day in religious institutions within Seville, including, for example, his Virgin of the Rosary and the Pieta in Seville Cathedral.
Within Valdés' artistic production lies a group of severed heads of martyr saints, an artistic tradition that can be traced back to Spanish sculpture from the last quarter of the 16th century. The majority of the painted treatments of the subject, including the present works, have traditionally been erroneously attributed to the Sevillian master Juan de Valdés Leal, although it is clear that these images were produced by a number of leading Spanish (and especially Sevillian) artists. The earliest known painting of a severed martyr's head is a work by Ribera of around 1636, depicting The Head of Saint John the Baptist, today in the Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid. In Seville, Zurbarán painted a set of severed heads of saints for the main altar of the Iglesia de los Mercedarios Descalzos and in around 1650 Valdés' master Herrera el Viejo painted two heads of saints, one of which is today in the Prado Museum.
The majority of Valdés' works within the genre appear to date from the 1660s and 1670s and amongst the finest examples are paintings of the heads of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Paul, dated 1670, today in the Iglesia del Divino Salvador, Seville, workshop replicas of which are in the Hospital de La Caridad, Seville.1 The Head of Saint Paul shares much in common with the present work, with the head similarly placed upon a pewter dish (although partially turned towards the viewer), situated upon a stone ledge with the reeded cross of the Baptist in the right background. In both treatments the artist has depicted the dramatic heads of the Saint with intense realism, conveying the full horror of the Saint's martyrdom, the decapitated heads displaying a palpable sense of rigor mortis and the pewter dish splattered with blood from the severed neck.
Other fine examples of severed saint's heads by Valdés can be found in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, the Vatican Museums, Rome and the El Greco Museum, Toledo.
We are grateful to Prof. Enrique Valdivieso for endorsing the attribution for The Head of Saint John the Baptist to Llanos Valdés, on the basis of photographs. He believes The Head of Saint Paul to be by an anonymous artist working in Seville.
1. See E. Valdivieso, Pintura Barroca Sevillana, Seville 2003, pp. 313-14, figures 295 & 296 reproduced.