St. Joseph with the Christ Child
(Jose Montes de Oca)


Lorenzo Alonso de la Sierra Fernández considered Jose Montes de Oca to be ‘one of the most attractive personalities of eighteenth-century Seville, fundamentally because of his ability to maintain a distinctive artistic personality that was based on aesthetic models from a century earlier’. Despite his clear debt to the work of Martínez Montañés and Mesa, Jose Montes de Oca achieved a true sense of the original in his work since he did not produce mere copies. According to Antonio Torrejón Díaz, Jose Montes de Oca instead used these earlier Sevillian models as ‘simple starting points that [Jose Montes de Oca] subsequently transforms by combining evidently eighteenth-century criteria. It is through this synthesis that he achieved the exquisite and refined sense of form, the linear command and technical virtuosity of scale in which the monumental is never allowed to overshadow the purity of line and calm simplicity of the visual language that is so characteristic of seventeenth-century sculpture’.

The study of Jose Montes de Oca is challenged largely by the scant documentary evidence for his life and works. However, the monograph by Torrejón Díaz records around thirty documented works that were commissioned between 1719 and 1745, and it is this study that provides us with the most knowledgeable stylistic analysis of the work by Jose Montes de Oca. The emphasis on clearly defined forms, which marks this sculptor’s style – to paraphrase what the author terms the ‘grafismos’ of Jose Montes de Oca – is an important aspect of the present work. In fact, Torrejón’s Díaz’s stylistic analysis, read line for line, could almost serve to describe our sculpture: Sculptures by this artist achieve a sense of repose and stasis […] The elegant appearance of his figures is accentuated by a soft contrapposto with the weight-bearing leg slightly advanced, the other remaining relaxed and free […] Usually, the drapery is smooth, with few folds, or only spare channel folds, which emphasizes the stillness of the image, but on occasion [appearing heavy] the faces [have] distinct features; the nose is usually straight or slightly curved, the eyes and their sockets bulge slightly, and often have lowered or slightly drooping lids, and are framed by accurately drawn eyebrows, either straight or slightly bent […] The cheeks appear slightly sunken, the philtrum pronounced, the half-opened lips occasionally reveal carved teeth or even the tongue […] The hands […] display a realistic treatment that describes the bones and veins in detail […] the hair is usually worked very thoroughly, in the proto-Baroque style.

There are other, secondary, stylistic traits present in this work that argue in favour of its attribution to Jose Montes de Oca, specifically the inclusion of inset eyes made of glass paste, which is a trait frequently found in his sculpture. In fact, the contract for Jose Montes de Oca’s commission to make a Saint Joseph for the Parish Church of San Isidoro in Seville clearly stipulated that the artist should make ‘an effigy of the Glorious Patriarch [Saint] Joseph, life size with the Infant seated in his arms, his eyes also of glass’.
Regarding the polychromy, we know that Jose Montes de Oca combined two traditional techniques in the estofado decoration of his figures. First, he incised the patterns with a burin, and then added the floral motifs with the point of the brush, affording particular care and attention to the latter process. The result is a multitude of variations in line and tonality in the motifs that extend all over the uniform base colour of the drapery. Jose Montes de Oca has here employed the same technique as in the Inmaculada (1719), now in the Church of the Conversion of Saint Paul in Cadiz and the Saint Joseph and the Child in the parish church of Nuestra Señor de la Asunción de Bormujos, Seville. This latter work also shares with the present sculpture, the manner in which the feet are placed on the base: lightly lifted and pointing towards the viewer. Furthermore, it is probable that during the years Jose Montes de Oca was working in Cadiz he established contact with Italian artisans and merchants who were working there, and this could explain both the origin of the present sculpture and its iconography, both of which are distinctly Italianate.

82 x 39 x 29 cm
Carved and painted wood
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Religious: New Testament
Price band
$150,000 - $250,000