Lot 9
  • 9

Luis de Morales

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Luis de Morales
  • The Virgin and child with the infant St. John the Baptist
  • oil on panel, in a tabernacle frame
  • 34 by 25.5cm


Private collection, Madrid.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Luis de Morales. The Madonna and Child with St John. This painting is on a panel with a stable faint curve. A few minor chips have been lost from the extreme outer top edge but there is no trace of movement in the paint, past or present. The back of the panel was once primed but this has largely decayed. There have been one or two minor past incidents of worm damage, but the panel remains strong, structurally secure and unaffected. The exceptionally beautiful condition of the painting suggests a calm historical background with minimal intervention. The exquisite brushwork in the Christ Child, His veiling and the hands of the Madonna, as well as the lovely detail of the book in the foreground are virtually perfectly intact, with one past retouching on the Child's raised knee. St John is also splendidly unworn and complete. There are a few surface retouchings on the ledge in the foreground, a few tiny touches in the Madonna's pink drapery and a little recent surface strengthening along the left outline of her cheek, visible under ultra violet light, with narrow lines on her eyelids and eyebrows. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"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

This is an unusual depiction of the Virgin and Child by Morales, particularly so in its inclusion of the young St. John the Baptist in the background. St. John’s presence adds a narrative element to a scene that, for the most part, Morales almost always confines to a simple interaction between mother and child. Here however, creeping into view from behind, we see St. John making direct eye contact with us, cheekily imploring us to remain quiet for fear of awakening his young cousin who sleeps cradled against his mother’s bosom. His inclusion turns the painting from one of, and for, mere devotion into something familial; it adds a sense of domesticity and informality to an otherwise purely devotional depiction of the Virgin and Child.

There is a further version on the theme in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.1 In that version St. John is on the left and the Virgin is shown placing a veil over the Christ Child who lies asleep in front of her on a pillow.  

Morales’ epithet ‘el Divino’, applied to his name since at least the early 18th century, derives in part from the exclusively religious subjects of his oeuvre, but also finds resonance in the character of his paintings, which express the profound spirituality of the artist’s society. A native of Badajoz, in the remote province of Extremadura to the west of Madrid and close to the Portuguese border, Morales specialised in sacred images ranging from small, private devotional panels like the present work, to entire altarpieces, such as the 20 panels depicting the Life of Christ executed in the 1560s, which still make up the high altar of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in Arroyo de la Luz, Cáceres. His concentration on themes such as the Virgin and Child echoes the subjects of meditation promoted by contemporary Spanish mystic, Juan de Avila.

In picturing these emotive scenes, Morales pioneered his own highly distinctive style, amalgamating the sfumato modelling and forms of Leonardo with the meticulously precise brushwork associated with the early Netherlandish masters, most probably imparted to the artist through his Flemish-Italianate teacher Peeter de Kempeneer. Morales also had contact with the Portuguese painter Frei Carlos and the Évoran school.

This lot is accompanied by an expertise from Isabel Mateo dating the work to the final phase of Morales' activity.

1. See Todo el Prado, Madrid 1996, p. 53, no. 144, reproduced.