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The Infant Baptist
(Francisco Antonio Ruiz Gijon)

Description

FRANCISCO ANTONIO RUIZ GIJÓN
(Utrera 1653 – 1720 Seville?)
15. The Infant Baptist
c. 1680 – 1690
Wood, polychromed, with glass eyes
46 cm (approx. 18 in.)
PROVENANCE: Private Collection, Córdoba
This exquisite medium-sized statue depicts Saint John the Baptist as a small child, standing
upon a rocky outcrop, the weight focused on the right leg, the left leg slightly elevated.
Bearing a cross in the left hand, the right points to the small lamb standing at the saint’s feet.
Draped in a camel skin, according to tradition, the figure exhibits a chubby plumpness,
typical of figures of putti or cherubs. The face is articulated with sweetly childlike features, including slightly parted lips, pink cheeks and wide almond-shaped eyes inset with glass and fringed with painted lashes. The somewhat oblong shape of the head with its rounded cheeks and high forehead is all framed by the hairstyle that is expressively arranged in short, choppy, windswept waves that, like the contrapposto pose, add an element of energy and dynamism to the composition. The polychromy in the encarnaciones combines ivory and flesh-pink tones and is very well preserved, as are the brown, ochre and ivory tones of the camel skin, which is decorated all over in a delicate foliate pattern of grapes and leaves incised to reveal the dark gold leaf beneath.
Even at first glance the work is clearly a product of the peak of the Andalusian Baroque in Seville. In pose, style and physiognomy it reflects the overwhelming Roldanesque aesthetic that permeates the entire second half of the seventeenth century. However, certain formal and stylistic features remain distinct and, indeed, point towards the attribution to Francisco Ruiz Gijón.
Continued research into the work and career of Francisco Ruiz Gijón has currently shed some light on certain aspects of this artist’s turbulent and eventful biography.1 In the process new works of a high degree of quality have come to light that can be connected to known contractual documents relating to projects for the Sevillian confraternities. Francisco Ruiz Gijón was a sculptor of his time and produced for these devotional orders small- to medium-sized works, such as the present example which wosintended for private contemplation. Francisco Ruiz Gijón was also one of the most successful sculptors working in the city to produce sacred processional images and the often elaborately sculpted litters upon which they were displayed in the Holy Week pasos.
The Sevillian religious confraternities provided Baroque artists with some of their most influential and lucrative patronage and the various works by Francisco Ruiz Gijón that survive from projects commissioned by these sororities and fraternities provide us with chronological milestones for his development of style and iconography. Teodoro Falcón Márquez has determined the artist’s first known infant figure to be the Christ Child in the Saint Joseph with the Child  in the Church of Saint Nicholas in Seville, which was commissioned by the brotherhood of the same name. This work, which is currently undergoing restoration at the Instituto Andaluz de Patrimonio Histórico, provides us with a prototypical example of this sculptor’s treatment of infant anatomy and shares several formal similarities with the present Infant Baptist.
In July 1680, the former Confraternity of Saint John the Evangelist (now called the Confraternity of the Seven Words) commissioned Francisco Ruiz Gijón to make its processional platform. This project included eight reliefs bristling with twenty-four sculptures of cherubim, with four angels at the corners. Apparently, however, the work was not completed until eight years later and in fact the brotherhood actually engaged Bernardo Simón de Pineda to construct the platform according to a finished drawing. By 1688, the angels had been completed  and possibly some of the cherubim. However, these were presumably similar to the cherubim incorporated into Francisco Ruiz Gijóns processional litter for the Confraternity del Gran Poder. This platform, completed between 1688 and 1692, was meant to carry the superb image of the Jesus of Nazareth by Juan de Mesa. It formed the model for other such processional litters commissioned by the various Sevillian confraternities. The Gran Poder contract does not list everything required of this commission and there were probably modifications and additions to the final work since its completion was delayed for four years. However, this platform does incorporate precisely twenty-four putti, which in style and form are startlingly similar to the present work. A year earlier, in 1687, Francisco Ruiz Gijón was hired to make the processional litter and sculptures for the Confraternity of San Isidoro. Recently found within the precepts of the brotherhood are two of the angels that were part of this commission. These also share
several formal features with the Infant Baptist, such as the modelling of the limbs, the hands, particularly the fingers, and the feet with their long toes, as well as the delightfully contradictory impression of weightlessness achieved in so stocky a figure.
Born in Utrera, as a child of seven, Francisco Ruiz Gijón became orphaned on the death of his father and moved to Seville. Here, at the age of fifteen he entered the academy at Lonja and probably studied with Pedro Roldán. Although we have no documentary evidence of this the stylistic similarities between the two artists are notable. The young Francisco Ruiz Gijón later joined Andrés Cansino’s workshop in 1669, but only trained there for a year and a few months as Cansino died in 1671. Still only a teenager Francisco Ruiz Gijón married Cansino’s widow and took over the care of his three children, as well as all of his outstanding jobs, eventually becoming in his own right a master sculptor. In 1678, now with a family of six children, Francisco Ruiz Gijón remarried and enjoyed a thriving career in Seville, a prolific time that Bernales describes as the artist’s ‘stable’ period’.2 He began to receive important commissions, which attest to his artistic success, but this period was cut short by illness. While Francisco Ruiz Gijón apparently recovered, his career does not appear to have regained its former momentum. Indeed, Bernales makes reference to Francisco Ruiz Gijón having entered a ‘dark ages’3 in his career that later so obscured understanding of his work that it was often confused with, or misattributed to, other sculptors including those by his own nephew Bernard Gijón,4 and even the exact date and details of his death remain unclear.5 By far the artist’s most famous image is the Christ Crucified nicknamed in the Sevillian vernacular the ‘Cachorro de Triana’ – made in 1682 for the Hermandad de Cachorro.6 This dramatic, highly realistic work measures nearly two metres and is of the highest technical quality. With its almost overwhelming sense of expression, superb anatomical detail and depiction of the drapery (the loincloth) that, while carved, appears to be actual linen and even to have movement, this sculpture is considered by many authors to be the most moving example of its period and subject matter.

Perhaps Francisco Ruiz Gijón’s second most renowned work is the Saint Simon Cyrene (1687) made for the Confraternity de las Tres Caídas that depicts the saint as an everyday man of the street. It has a startlingly naturalistic sense of movement and anatomical detail. Also among his most important works are the Christ at the Column, made between 1671 and 1672 for the parish church of Alcalá del Rio in Utrera, and the four Evangelists, made for the Confraternity of la Dulce Nombre de Jesús and now in the Museo des Bellas Artes, Seville. In this group, the figure of Matthew is depicted standing, lost in thought, whilst transcribing God’s word into a codex that is supported by a standing putto. The pose of this infant figure, with arms raised and heads bowed, the plump volumetric modelling, the anatomy and the stance with the right leg advanced is strongly evocative of our Infant Baptist. Despite the lack of documentary evidence these works can also be attributed to Francisco Ruiz Gijón, as skilfully argued by Gómez Piñol, who rightly points out that in some cases the artwork speaks for itself: One should avoid attributing artworks based solely on documentary evidence, and remain open to all written references, not just those confirming only problems of authorship […] specific conclusions devalue [our perception of] the artistic and the aesthetic nature [of artworks, which are] so often more substantial and deeper than mere questions of historical or sociological documentation. It is often forgotten that the documentary data is almost always partial, and has often been shaped by the corrective nature of other [scholars] whose nature [and motive] is often unknown and purely contingent. For many, however, such data claims the appearance of an inexorable reality and becomes a kind of de facto body of evidence […]
[this is] highly problematic in the field of human sciences, and even more so in the origins and
development of artworks.7

1 See particularly J. RODA PEÑA, ‘Un nuevo aprendiz de
Francisco Antonio Gijón’, in Laboratorio de arte: revista del
Departamento de Historia del Arte, no. 9, Secretariado de
Publicaciones de la Universidad de Sevilla, Seville 1996, pp.
341–343; J. GONZÁLEZ MORENO, ‘Sobre la familia del
imaginero Ruiz Gijón’, in Boletín de las cofradías de Sevilla,
no. 494, Consejo General de Hermandades y Cofradías de la
Ciudad de Sevilla, Seville 2000, p. 146; J. GONZÁLEZ
MORENO, ‘Los contratos de aprendizaje de Juan Antonio
Cardoso de Quirós con el maestro escultor Francisco
Antonio Gijón’, in Boletín de las cofradías de Sevilla, no.
591, Consejo General de Hermandades y Cofradías de la
Ciudad de Sevilla, Seville 2008, pp. 503–505.
2 J. BERNALES BALLESTEROS, Francisco Antonio Gijón,
Diputación Provincial de Sevilla, Seville 1982, p. 39.
3 Ibid., p. 43.
4 J. A. Ceán Bermúdez, Diccionario histórico de los más
ilustres profesores de las Bellas Artes en España, Real
Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid 1800,
vol. II, p. 199.
5 The most generally referenced biographies of this sculptor
are by C. GARCÍA ROSELL, ‘Francisco Antonio Gijón’, in De
Jerusalén a Sevilla. La Pasión de Jesús, Seville 2005, vol. III,
pp. 408–409; and J. RODA PEÑA, Francisco Antonio Ruiz
Gijón: escultor utrerano, Utrera 2003, pp. 27–33.
6 The full name of the confraternity is La Reale Illustre
Hermandad y Cofradía de Nazarenos del Santísimo Cristo
de la Expiración y Nuestra Madre y Señora del Patrocinio.
7 E. GÓMEZ PIÑOL, ‘Las atribuciones en el estudio de la
escultura: nuevas propuestas y reflexiones sobre obras de la
escuela sevillana de los siglos XVI y XVII’, in Nuevas
perspectivas críticas sobre historia de la escultura sevillana,
Seville 2007, p. 17.

Measurements
46 cm (approx. 18 in.)
Type
Wood, polychromed, with glass eyes
Provenance

Private Collection, Córdoba

Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Subject
Religious: New Testament
School
Spanish
Catalogue
Price band
$100,000 - $150,000