Spain’s Golden Age, in the 16th and 17th centuries, produced some of the world’s greatest painters: Zurbaran, Murillo, Valdes Leal. They painted Virgins, saints, and other religious figures, feeding the demand for holy portraits for churches, convents, monasteries and hospitals, both in Spain and in the New World, with its rapidly expanding colonial cities such as Lima and Buenos Aires.
Seville’s Bellas Artes (Fine Arts) museum is considered one of the most important in Spain for Spanish art from this era. So it’s not unexpected that some of the Zurbaran’s paintings from the museum can be seen in an exhibition about the artist, being held in a new space nearby called Espacio Santa Clara. This renovated convent, reopened just a few months ago, is already attracting impressive crowds to its first major exhibition, Santas de Zurbaran: Devocion y Persuasion.
The clever difference with this show, is that it incorporates fashion into the mix: contemporary Spanish designers were asked to come up with their take on dressing the saints. Downstairs, you can see the 17 portraits of Rufina (patron saint of Seville), Barbara, Eufemia, Casilda, Catalina and the rest. Upstairs, there are 21 outfits which have been designed, inspired by the theatrical and extravagant clothes swathed around the figures in Zurbaran’s works – long, billowing silk capes and rich brocade skirts with gold edging, as well as decorative gemstones, all lit dramatically for maximum effect. Each saint in Zurbaran’s paintings carries their “attribute” – an obect with which they’re commonly associated, such as a sword or flowers – which refers to how they died, or a miracle during their lives. Some of these are incorporated into the fashion designs.
The centrepiece design in the upstairs gallery is by Elio Berhanyer, and depicts Santa Santa Casilda with an exquisite pink silk dress and metallic-grey cape. Flowers on her skirt refer to her miracle, when the bread she was taking to Christian prisoners – an act of mercy forbidden by her father, who caught her – turned to roses. I was intrigued to read that Berhanyer is 84 years old, hails from Cordoba, and has designed for Queen Sofia of Spain and Ava Gardner – he was a Sixties swinger, a contemporary of Balenciaga, who also has a gown in this exhibition.
You can see an interview (in Spanish) with Elio Berhanyer here.
Santas de Zurbaran: Devocion y Persuasion is at Espacio Santa Clara, calle Becas, until 20 July 2013. Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10am-3pm and 6-9pm; Sunday 10am-3pm. Free for Seville residents, 6 euros for others. Audioguide 1.20 euros (included in 6 euro ticket).