Back

Saint Francis of Paola
(Francisco Salzillo)

Description

FRANCISCO SALZILLO
(Murcia 1707 – 1783)
30. Saint Francis of Paola
c. 1750
Wood, polychromed and gilded
36 x 18 x 11.5 cm (approx. 14 ¼ x 7 x 4 ½ in.)
PROVENANCE: Juan Salas, Madrid; Enrique Pelta, Madrid
This small, but exquisitely realized sculpture by Francisco Salzillo depicts Saint Francis of
Paula standing, and dressed in the heavy black cassock, hood and knotted girdle that
comprise the habit of the Minims, the hermetic order founded by the Italian mendicant friar
in the second half of the fifteenth century. Originally, Salzillo included several iconographic
details – the quadruple-knotted girdle, the rough-hewn crook, and the small lamb at the Saint’s feet –
to allude to Francis’s profound humility, and refusal to eat meat. The lamb specifically refers to the
many humble miracles that were this saint’s calling card, one of which tells of his having resurrected a
lamb from the bones he found carelessly tossed in a lime kiln by soldiers who had killed and eaten it.1
The face, in particular, is carved with great sensitivity and attention to detail, capturing both a sense of
this saint’s pilgrim soul and his advanced age. The carved vestments retain their original black and gold
estofado decorations. However, unfortunately now missing are the cord girdle (probably modelled in
glued fabric), and the small ostensorio, or scroll, which would have carried a charitable motto. The
latter would have been affixed to the chest or held in the right hand, and traces of the original inclusion
of these features can be detected at the waist.
Entirely frontal in pose, the sculpture was possibly meant to be displayed in a niche. Nevertheless, the
work is fully realized and throughout exhibits the highest level of detailing and craftsmanship, which
is one of the hallmarks of Salzillo’s sculpture. The delicacy of the carving in the drapery, which is
arranged in tidy folds, and the concordance of the beatific facial expression with the sensitive pose of
the hands are all recognized characteristics of this artist’s work. In addition, the sculpture’s excellent
condition affords us a rare opportunity to analyse Salzillo’s technique and approach to subject matter
unencumbered by re-paintings or later additions.
We know that Salzillo’s workshop employed the use of modelli, as both a didactic reference as well as
a formal tool. At this point, it should be clarified that in the Spanish Baroque period sculptors simply
did not believe that their reliance on, or formal adherence to, these models in any way limited their
artistic creativity. On the contrary, by providing them with the iconographic template that allowed them
to fulfil the dogmatic requirements demanded of their work, sculptors believed they had greater
freedom to exercise the expressive potential of their subjects. Equally, these models were, in some cases,
neither specific to a particular subject, nor strictly literal, and their adaptation to various sacris
personae illustrates the artistic continuity that existed amongst sculptors in eighteenth-century Seville.

Furthermore, it testifies to these artists’ versatility and their willingness to meet the changing needs of
the various religious orders, either by producing sculptures of entirely new subjects, or by reinterpreting
more traditional subjects.
Accordingly, this sculpture presents us with the opportunity to appreciate how an artist such as Salzillo,
the most prominent figure in eighteenth-century Spanish sculpture, used and reused models in his own
workshop, since this Saint Francis of Paola cannot be entirely divorced from its antecedents, nor
perhaps was it Salzillo’s intention to disguise his source material. Certain features of this work show a
sophisticated modification of subject iconography, for example, the slight elongation of the head to
allow it to fit within the deep cavity of the hood without obscuring any view of the face. Also, by
maintaining the frontal pose and slightly raising the head Salzillo managed to communicate both the
ethereal nature of Francis’s rather severe spirituality, but also his more down-to-earth entreaties
towards humility, obedience and generosity. While the face is the expressive focus in this work, Salzillo
nevertheless included nothing superfluous, neither in the face, nor the pose, decoration, or iconography;
nothing in fact that might be unnecessary and therefore detract from a pure communication of this
saint’s particular brand of faith.
In this sense, Salzillo appears in the present work to have learned from his previous successes, such as
his 1746 sculpture of Saint Anthony (Fig. 1) now in the Parroquia San Francisco Javier, Ermita de San
Antón, Murcia. This was one of the sculptor’s contributions to the greatest religious commissions of
turn-of-the-century Murcia, the high altarpiece for the church attached to the monastery hospital of San
Antón. Here, Salzillo worked in close collaboration with Nicolás de Rueda and Jacinto Perales,
altarpiece designers and innovators in the genre, who were well versed in the latest sculptural
techniques and trends, both at home and abroad.2 Salzillo, who by this date had taken over his father’s
workshop, was in fact their personal choice to produce sculptures for the altarpiece and this
collaboration is considered to mark Salzillo’s entrance into the Spanish artistic canon of his century.
Although all Salzillo’s altarpiece sculptures have disappeared, this single work has been preserved. The
sculpture was dated by Baquero Almansa to 1746, a date that has since been unanimously agreed by
scholars.3 In the work, Anthony, a hermit saint of fanatical devotion, is portrayed caught at the very
moment of killing the dragon coiled at his feet. This pose expresses both the saint’s inner turmoil and
his physical tension, with all the strength and energy required to deliver the mortal blow. Here, again,
Salzillo achieved a sense of harmony linking the gesture of the saint’s hands with the arching pose of
his body, and uses the saint’s lush beard to frame and emphasize his sagely determined face. This
particular bearded facial type was one that Salzillo explored repeatedly in a series of clay bocetos, or
studies, conserved in the Salzillo Museum in Murcia (Fig. 2).4
This series of bocetos illustrate a direct formal and stylistic link between Salzillo’s Saint Anthony and
the present sculpture of Saint Francis of Paola. Equally, the stylistic consistency of the bocetos and their
repeated experimentation in how to render expression in bearded faces point towards the influence of
Roman Baroque sculpture, which Salzillo could have seen via the many pieces that arrived in Seville
from Roman workshops during the eighteenth century.5 The striking similarities between Roman Baroque facial types and those realized by Salzillo in these bocetos also indicate that he may have seen
some of the Roman models that were circulated amongst workshops both as templates and learning
tools for sculptors.
At least two of these bocetos were made as versions of Saint Anthony’s head, and it is possible that
Salzillo may have made others that do not survive. One of these models shares the same elongated head
emphasized by a flowing beard as the present sculpture. This type, however, actually contrasts with the
other surviving model that is more rounded in form; this is the type that Salzillo tended to favour for
his depictions of the Apostles. In some aspects the use of clay – a media that demands (and benefits
from) swift and expressive manipulation – influenced the development of the iconography of saints. By
making their models from clay, sculptors were encouraged to explore new options for capturing those
poses and expressions demanded by the various hagiographies. Equally, just as sculptors were
compelled towards a freer plasticity, so might they have been drawn to ‘sketch’ in aspects of a saint’s
personality, thus rendering their sainthood distinct and therefore all the more convincing to the faithful,
who were, after all, just as any saint once was, only human.
With this abundance of formal experimentation sculptors could afford to abandon adhesion to an
original model in favour of elaborating new formulae that could communicate new ideas and applications. While Salzillo utilized tried and tested formulae for his Saint Francis of Paola, which
derived from experimentation in the earlier Saint Anthony, the resolute dynamism of Saint Anthony’s
pose is here replaced by a more serene composure for the founder of the Minims, who championed
humility and abnegation (even if Francis was, in fact, a counsellor of princes and kings). In the Saint
Francis of Paola the facial expression is more serene, the expression more ascetic, with its prominent
cheekbones, the sense of fatigue in the hooded eyes, the tender and sweet set of the mouth,
complemented by the lush beard, and in particular the manner in which the hair texture is deliberately
contrasted with the smoothness of the skin in colour and depth of carving. This sense of contrast makes
the beard the main motif of this saint’s images, and speaks to both Francis’s role as a solitary hermit
and to the calm beauty of his holiness.
An attribution of the present sculpture to Salzillo is supported not only by the work’s explicit references
to the boceto in Murcia, but also by the polychromy and estofado technique in the saint’s robes. The
habit of the Minims is rendered as black sackcloth, given weight and texture by thin stripes of gold
painted symmetrically. These create the chromatic contrast, which was so popular during the eighteenth
century, and set off the decorated borders of the hood, sleeves, scapular and hem of the cassock. Both
features connect our sculpture to another work made by Salzillo for the Minim Convent of the
Alcantarilla, near Murcia.
In the eighteenth century, Salzillo’s contemporary Luis Santiago Bado wrote the first biography of the
artist in which he cited three masterpieces as existing in Alcantrilla. These he listed as El Nazareno, La
Virgen de la Aurora, and San Francisco de Paolo.6 When Ceán Bermúdez quoted Bado’s text in the
reference for Salzillo included in his famous Diccionario, he again made note of ‘la buena estatua de
San Francisco de Paola’.7 Even Sánchez Moreno made note of this work in a brief overview of the artist
in which he cites Baquero Almansa.8 Unfortunately, this sculpture and its associated commissioning
documents have been lost, but the repeated reference to its existence confirms that there was a
connection between Salzillo and the Minims.9 Also noteworthy is the fact that none of these references
to the sculpture of Saint Francis of Paola in Alcantarilla mention the piece as being dressed, that is, an
imagen de vestir.
In the present Saint Francis of Paola the treatment of the saint’s habit – the skilful sense of proportion
in the drapery folds and the natural observation of how the sleeves fall in spherical folds – perfectly
complements the extraordinary head, illustrating the saint’s intense facial expression and ‘hundredyard’
gaze of spiritual contemplation. The face is, in fact, the focal point of the entire composition and
expresses those particular qualities of prayer, meditation and self-imposed solitude that identify this
saint. The pose and gesture of the soft, delicate, hands help to align the head in an axis that centres the
focus upon the face, allowing the facial expression to radiate from the central axis of the pose, an effect
that is enhanced by the gentle contrapposto of the standing figure.

1 L. RÈAU, Iconografía del arte cristiano. Iconografía de los
santos, Del Serbal, Barcelona 1997, tome 2, vol. III, pp.
564–567.
2 C. DE LA PEÑA VELASCO, El retablo barroco en la antigua
diócesis de Cartagena (1670–1785), Murcia 1992, pp.
278–279.
3 A. BAQUERO ALMANSA, Los profesores de las Bellas Artes
murcianas, Murcia 1913, pp. 216, 229; J. SÁNCHEZ
MORENO, Vida y obra de Francisco Salzillo: una escuela de
escultura en Murcia, Murcia 1983, p. 141. The latter author
transcribed an inscription on the now destroyed gilded
framing that indicated that the figure of the saint and its
surround had been completed by 1746.
4 C. BELDA NAVARRO, ‘Los bocetos de Salzillo y su
significación en la escultura barroca’, in Goya, no. 136,
January–February 1977, pp. 226–233.
5 C. BELDA NAVARRO, ‘Fuentes iconográficas y de inspiración
en la escultura de Francisco Salzillo’, in Imafronte, 2,
Murcia 1986, pp. 108–110. In A. E. BRICKMANN (Barock
Bozzetti, Frankfurt 1923–1924, vol. II, p. 112) there is a
head quite similar to Salzillo’s Saint Anthony, which is
described as ‘cabeza de santo’; by an unknown hand and
executed around 1735.
6 Archivo de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San
Fernando, ms. 62-8/5. In this text from the last quarter of
the eighteenth century, the author, Luis Santiago Bado, a
mathemetician from Murcia and a friend of Salzillo, records
the existence of a sculpture made ‘for the Minims of Saint
Francisco de Paola, which is a quite admirable statue’.
7 J. A. CEÁN BERMÚDEZ, Diccionario de los más ilustres
profesores de las Bellas Artes en España, Madrid 1800, vol.
VI, p. 32.
8 According to SÁNCHEZ MORENO (Vida y obra de Francisco
Salzillo cit., p. 148), ‘Baquero and Tormo [the latter an
allusion to E. Tormo y Monzo, author of a well-known
guide to the Levant, see Provincias valencianas y murcianas,
Madrid 1923] also noted an autograph sculpture of Saint
Francis de Paola, which was in all probabilities this
[sculpture] and another of Saint James, which was not
[autograph]’.
9 The Minims established themselves in Alcantarilla
(Murcia) in 1704. Towards the middle of the century they
invested considerable effort towards building their convent
and church, and it was probably at this time that Salzillo
made this sculpture of Saint Francis de Paola.

Measurements
36 x 18 x 11.5 cm (approx. 14 ¼ x 7 x 4 ½ in.)
Type
Wood, polychromed and gilded
Provenance

Juan Salas, Madrid; Enrique Pelta, Madrid

Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Subject
Religious: New Testament
School
Spanish
Catalogue
Price band
Sold or not available