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Dolorosa
(Jose Risueno)

Description

JOSÉ RISUEÑO
(Granada 1665 – 1732)
9. Dolorosa
Wood, polychromed
118.5 cm (46 ¾ in.)
PROVENANCE: Private Collection, Madrid
Over the years, Baroque sculpture and sculptors have received increasing attention from
scholars and, in the case of José Risueño, we have Professor Domingo Sánchez-Mesa Martín
to thank for our knowledge of this artist’s biography, artistic technique, and even the social
and cultural milieu in which he developed his work.1
Thus, we know that his father, Manuel Risueño, was a ‘master carpenter’ and was well connected to
the cloth industry and its trade. José Risueño was raised in a family of woodworkers in the Sagrario
neighbourhood of Granada, an important centre for textile, silk and leather manufacturing, as well as
a centre for goldsmiths. This is a detail we will consider with some interest in our discussion of
Risueño’s studies and career, as they relate to the present Dolorosa.
He began his apprenticeship as a youth in his father’s workshop and was encouraged by his father to
go out and meet other artists working in Granada at the time. Risueño completed his training in the
workshop of José de Mora, and worked alongside Diego de Mora, in particular. It is because of the
evident influence that Mora exercised over Risueño’s formative style that he was often assessed as a
successor to Alonso Cano, Mora’s teacher, and it is true that Risueño drew from this inspiration and
integrated it into his work throughout his career. However, his preference for using live models and his
early predilection for working in clay provided his sculpture with a unique and very personal stamp.
He achieved equal fame as a painter, and, to a less degree, as an architect.2
While his artistic catalogue is ample, his documented works remain scarce. With respect to the present
Dolorosa the attribution to Risueño is supported by stylistic and technical analysis, in particular the
modelling and polychromy, as well as several details present in this work that are very specific to this
artist.
Sánchez-Mesa Martín divided Risueño’s career into three periods. We may ascribe the Dolorosa to the
artist’s third or late period, that is, between 1712 and 1732. We know that he sculpted in wood, clay,
stone and marble, but he apparently preferred pine for his wooden sculptures, such as in the present
work. The sculpture depicts Mary in her role as the Virgin of Sorrows, as she mourns the death of her
son, Jesus Christ, in the wake of his Passion and Crucifixion. This was a prominent subject in Baroque
sculpture, and one which demanded a high degree of pathos, even by the standards of the time. This
subject offered artists seemingly limitless opportunities for showcasing their talents for facial expression and pose and Risueño, in particular, achieved a variety and subtlety of expression in his versions of the
subject that, apart from those of Mora, were practically unparalleled in Granadine Baroque sculpture.
These works, most of which remain in Granada, express not only Mary’s suffering and loss as a mother,
but also her acceptance of her son’s fate, its true meaning, and the serenity eventually attained through
her love of mankind and hope for their salvation. This gamut of emotions can be seen in the half-length
Dolorosa in the Royal Chapel (Fig. 1), which is very similar to the version by José de Mora, and was
inspired by a canvas of the subject by Cano in Granada Cathedral. Another Dolorosa in the Casa de
los Pisa, belonging to the Confraternity of San Juan de Dios (Fig. 2), which is in polychromed
terracotta, was noted by Professor Emilio Orozco Díaz for having ‘overabundant drapery with
undulating folds, displaying a taste for the elaborate and dynamic’,3 a description that is particularly
applicable to the present work. Equally, in the Church of San Gil and Santa Ana is an imagen de vestir
in polychromed wood by Risueño, known as the ‘Virgen de la Esperanza’.
All of Risueño’s Dolorosas express intense sorrow and pathos in the faces, and the present work is no
exception, though here the sculptor has also employed the pose of the hands and arms to add emphasis.
In both the face and hands we find the slightly ochre, matt, flesh tones that are typical of the artist and
his naturalistic approach to the human form. In the raised right hand, the figure bears a dagger pointing
towards the chest, with the left hand spread in a gesture of supplication, as if reaching for an answer
to the grieving question behind the tear-filled eyes. Throughout the work this expressive intensity is
maintained through the assured application of refined technique in the carved and painted detail. This
is particularly evident in the eyes, which, while they appear inset, are actually painted with some traces
of attached eyelashes (possibly of horsehair) remaining on the right eye. Sánchez-Mesa Martín noted
that Risueño ‘rarely used [inset] glass eyes, since he achieves an equal, if not superior, effect with the
brush and usually painted [the eyes] to appear swollen with a penetrating effect […] He carves the
mouth to appear half-open revealing the white teeth, and to further symbolize her grief, he resorts to a
glass or crystal tear, to bring his figure to life and [therefore] make her suffering tangible.’4 These details
are all included in the present sculpture.
The figure is slightly smaller than life size – Risueño did not care for the monumental – and is dressed
in a red tunic, with a creamy white collar, which is covered by a thick dark blue mantle falling from the
forehead and over the left arm, leaving the right arm uncovered. The play of the mantle is of great
compositional effect, marking a deep arch over the head and shoulders, before tracing a strong diagonal
across the front of the figure, which frames the upper half of the Virgin’s body. This arrangement of the
mantle is also found in other painted and sculptural works by Risueño, and is an identifiable
characteristic of his style.5
The thick, exuberant drapery folds, the undulation of the cloth in the sleeves and the general sense of
striving for the elaborate in this work is reminiscent of several works by Risueño, particularly an Infant
Christ in a private collection in Granada; a Saint Theresa in the Church of San Matías, (Granada); and
the Virgin and Child with the Infant Baptist in the Gómez-Moreno Collection in Madrid.
The present Dolorosa is depicted standing, with a slight contrapposto, barely perceptible underneath
the heavy mantle folds, which reveal only the left foot advanced with the toes just beyond the edge of
the pedestal. Given the overall level of detail and refinement, this last feature is somewhat surprising.
However, Risueño used a similar position of the foot in his sculpture of Saint John of God in the
Church of San Matías. In general, Risueño did not reveal the feet in his images of female saints and
Virgins, where they are usually covered under a tunic or mantle. In the cases where they are visible, the
foot is depicted shod in a light sandal (as in the present work) or in a shoe covering the toes. In the case
of our Dolorosa, one might posit the theory that Risueño included such an evidently ‘naked’ detail in
his heavily draped depiction of the subject to further symbolize a sense of desolation and sorrow.
In this sculpture, as in several others by Risueño, the carving and painting of the forms are utterly
interdependent. Sánchez-Mesa Martín noted in his technical analysis of the artist that when making
the hair Risueño not only carves the texture of the hair, but also models the locks with the brush,
painting the transition from the face in fine strokes, to create delicate wisps issuing over the part of the
brow and even the neck. This is another characteristic feature of the present work (see colour detail
on p. 111).
Finally, the arrangement and design of the garments also provides us with a clear example of the
seamless integration of painting and sculptural techniques in seventeenth-century Granadine sculpture, a synthesis usually associated with Cano, who, from 1652, effectively dominated the market for both
genres. Here, Risueño was clearly asserting his deep connection with the textile industry. Moreover, as
we know from Sánchez-Mesa Martín that Risueño was also the polychromer of his sculptures, the
spectacular richness and variety of painted motifs in this Dolorosa illustrate how this artist was, like
Cano, as much a painter as he was a sculptor and how he was able to combine the two techniques in
a single work to symbiotic effect.
In the rich estofado decorations, particularly on the mantle, Risueño applied the motifs with the tip of
the brush. The ‘picado de lustre’ technique, achieving a scintillating effect by applying points of gold to
highlight all over, was one particularly cultivated by the artist. Risueño employed every available
painterly technique in the decoration and expression of his drapery, and especially a sumptuous variety
of floral motifs and other patterns. The variety and intensity of Risueño’s early eighteenth-century
palette results partly from the influence of Flemish painting, particularly the work of Van Dyck, and
possibly reflects the infiltration of French and Italian artistic currents and fashions into Granada.

Risueño’s profound knowledge of local textile manufacturing is further illustrated by the fact that the
Virgin’s mantle is decorated on both sides in two different patterns: the inner surface in a chevron
pattern of fine zigzagged lines of gold over dark blue, and bordered in a geometric pattern of diamonds
separated by ovals and circles; and the outside in a lushly dense estofado pattern of stylized leaves and
flowers. Visible on the front of the mantle amidst the gathered folds beneath the raised right arm is an
cipher below a leafy crown, formed by an ‘M’ over an ‘A’ and embellished with gold balls and lines to
form an anagram of ‘Maria’. Below this insignia is a motif of a filled vessel on a stepped pedestal
(possibly a coiled snake), a concise yet complex device that possibly alludes to Christ’s source and by
extension to the source of mankind’s redemption.
The white tunic is decorated all over in delicate gold fretwork centred by small stars, which possibly
also carry symbolic meaning associated with the Virgin’s role as Queen of Heaven. Given the evident
symbolism incorporated throughout the work, Risueño’s copious use of pomegranates amongst the
floriate estofado designs begs the question, ‘why pomegranates?’ There are two possible reasons; first,
this is a reference to Risueño and his family, who were natives of Granada (the Spanish word for the
fruit is granada), the city where the artist lived and worked for his entire career. Second, while Risueño
did not sign his work, perhaps he nevertheless wished to put his personal stamp on it, albeit in as
modestly subtle a way as possible. Moreover, the pomegranate has long been recognized in Christian
art as a symbol of the Virgin’s fruitfulness, and in classical mythology also related to death and the
afterlife.6 Later, the Roman Fathers of the Church compared the pomegranate to the mother Church,
‘which shields many under one faith, much as the fruit is comprised of seemingly infinite seeds that are
tightly joined under the protection of the pith and skin’.7 Finally, according to the sixteenth century
mystic Saint John of the Cross, the pomegranate symbolized Divine perfection, thus making this an
appropriate motif for an image which was intended for intense contemplation. The use of this motif to
decorate the garments of this Dolorosa, lends further credence to the attribution to Risueño, as this
artist not only made a hobby of signs and symbolism, but also had a keen sense of their decorative
impact in his work.

1 See D. SÁNCHEZ-MESA MARTÍN, José Risueño, escultor y
pintor granadino (1665–1732), Granada 1972.
2 ANTONIO GALLEGO BURÍN states in his study El barroco
granadino (Madrid 1956, p. 153) that Risueño was
documented as being ‘an architect of the first name’ in
Granada and was appointed to choose the design of the
flooring in the Church of Nuestra Señora de las Angustias in
Granada.
3 E. OROZCO DÍAZ, ‘Los barros de Risueño y la estética
granadina’, rev. in Goya, no. 14, Madrid 1956, p. 82.
4 D. SÁNCHEZ-MESA MARTÍN, Técnica de la Escultura
Policromada, Granada 1971, p. 218.
5 This detail can be seen in several of his sculptures, for
example the image of the Virgin in the relief of the
Annunciation that centres the facade of Granada Cathedral,
in the Santa Catalina, and the Virgin of the Rosary in the
Church of San Ildefonso in Granada, or in the Inmaculada
in the collection of Granada University.
6 F. REVILLA, Diccionario de Iconografía, Cátedra Arte,
Madrid 1990, p. 172.
7 Ibid.
ALLE_Matthiesen@43-300 12-10-2009 19:12 Pagina 112

Measurements
118.5 cm (46 ¾ in.)
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Subject
Religious: New Testament
School
Spanish
Catalogue
Price band
Sold or not available