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Zurbaran, Francisco de
Spanish, 1598-1664
Francisco de Zurbarán
The Vision of St. Anthony of Padua
ca. 1630
Oil on canvas
71 x 44 1/2 inches

Francisco de Zurbarán, Diego Valesquez, and Esteban Murillo, are hailed as the masters of Spanish seventeenth century art. Zurbarán painted "The Vision of St. Anthony" for a monastic audience to transport them from the mundane world into the sacred. Using his favored motif of a solitary figure in rapt meditation, he captured the intense religious emotion that distinguishes the masterpieces of the Spanish Baroque. According to popular legend, Anthony found a quiet room in which to pray during a long journey. As he prayed, the Christ Child revealed himself to Anthony and Anthony’s host, passing by the room, witnessed the miracle of the Saint cradling the Child in his arms. Zurbarán depicts the moment before that embrace, showing the quietly ecstatic gaze of Anthony as he envisions the Christ Child, suffused in Heavenly light. He has gained this vision through purity and constancy, symbolized here by white lilies and a vellum-bound Bible.

After the 1835 Secularization Act released art from the Spanish monasteries, the “Vision” was sold to the family of Lord Wraxall of Somerset, England. MSU art history professor Martin Soria brought the painting to the attention of the Kresge Museum’s administration and, in 1959, the year of the Museum’s founding, the painting was acquired as a result of contributions from local supporters.

Over the centuries the painting suffered various damages, including the painting out of the Christ Child. During conservation treatment undertaken by the Detroit Institute of Arts for the Museum in 1990, conservators carefully removed extensive dark brown overpaint and varnishes that obscured the texture and beauty of the original brush strokes. A pentimento of Zurbarán’s own reworking of Anthony’s left hand is visible beneath the top paint layer, which has become translucent with time.

MSU purchase, funded by the MSU Development Fund; Motor Wheel Corp.; Michigan National Bank; J.W. Knapp Co.; Gladys Olds Anderson; Mr. and Mrs. James F. Anderton; Mr. and Mrs. Harold F. Gross; Mr. and Mrs. Robert C. Lindell; Mr. and Mrs. Howard Stoddard; Mr. and Mrs. Clarence S. Roe