Joaquin Palacios Cardenas, Seville, by 1923
Guillermo Bernstein, Madrid
Sala Pares, Barcelona, 1966
Seville, 'Exposicion de Valdes Leal de arte retrospectivo', 1922, no. 27
Seville, 'Exposicion Ibero-Americana, Seccion de de Arte Antiguo', 12 October 1928 – 4 March 1929, no. 892
Barcelona, Sala Pares, 'Pinturas Espanolas siglos XVI-XVII', 1966
J. Gestoso y Pérez, Biografia del pintor sevillano: Juan de Valdés Leal (Oficina tipografica de Juan P. Girones, Sevilla, 1916), p. 195
G. Kubler and M. S. Soria, Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and their American Dominions: 1500 –1800 (Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1959), p. 294
D. T. Kinkead, Valdés Leal (1622-1690): His Life and Work (Garland Publishing, New York, 1978), p. 127, no. 67, fig. 63
E. Valdivieso, Juan de Valdés Leal (Ediciones Guadalquivir, Sevilla, 1988), p. 239, no. 58
Juan de Valdés Leal was a prominent Sevillian painter whose very individual technique and style set him apart from other artists in Andalusia. His style developed quickly from the almost crude early paintings to the more mature works that appear between 1654 and 1658. These pictures display a strong and bold use of colour as well as a vivacity and naturalness not seen in his later paintings. His primary concern was always to achieve maximum dramatic effect never shying from the more gruesome and violent aspects of the Bible or lives of the Saints.
Born in Seville on 4 May 1622, Valdés Leal is next documented in Córdoba in 1647, where he remained until his return to his native city in 1650. His early work from his Cordoban period is characterised by a dark palette and rigidity to the figures, consistent with painting in the city at that time. On his arrival in Seville however he was strongly influenced by the work of Francisco de Herrera the Elder and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (who was five years his elder), as demonstrated in his painting of The Death of Saint Clare, signed and dated 1653, painted as the last of a series of scenes illustrating the life of the Saint for the Franciscan convent in Carmona, which derives from a composition by Murillo (now in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden), but in handling is more indebted to the work of Herrera. Valdés Leal returned to Córdoba in 1654, where the following year he was commissioned to paint the high altar of the church of the Carmelitas Descalzas, his only retablo still remaining in its original setting today. He is believed to have visited Madrid in preparation for this commission, and his absorption of the work of Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens and leading Spanish painters of the day, lead to the development of the artist's mature style, evident in his painting of the central canvas of the retablo, representing The Ascension of Elijah. By 1656 the artist had returned to Sevillle where he would largely stay for the remainder of his life. He was one of the founding members of the drawing academy in Seville and became its head in 1665, having been elected the head of the S. Juan guild in 1660. Perhaps his finest works are the Allegories painted for the Caridad hospital in Seville. It was after 1672 that his work began to decline, probably due to the stroke he had suffered, and it is likely that his son began to help him after this date. His unique and individual style sets him apart from the main canon of Spanish art of the 17th century.
Valdés Leal was half Portuguese, the son of a goldsmith named Fernando de Nisa, but he took the name of his mother, who was from Andalusia. He lived with his wife Isabella Carasquilla, his son Lucas Valdes and his two daughters (who were all painters) in the parish of San Andrés.
This powerful and expressive treatment of Ecce Homo was painted with a pendant of La Virgen Dolorosa. The latter, although published by Valdivieso (op. cit.) and Kinkead (op. cit.) as whereabouts unknown, has recently resurfaced in a private collection in Madrid. Second versions of both works, although clearly of lesser quality, exist and are listed by Valdivieso and Kinkead as being in the collection of Vicente Tortajada (op. cit., p. 129, nos. 59, 61, figs. 66-67). The deliberately confrontational composition is meant to provoke an intense feeling of piety and repentance. Valdés Leal’s feverish technique (so reminiscent of the Venetian masters) only reinforces the mournful sight of Christ at his most humiliating moment. The thick dark red impasto used for the rivulets of blood, which pool in globulous drops remains in remarkable condition – to such an extent that you can feel them if you run your finger softly over the surface. Paintings such as the present work were heavily indebted to the polychrome sculptures of the time and recall in dramatic intensity the pasos – carved and painted ensembles of religious figures paraded through the streets of Spanish cities during the week leading to Easter.
The last two digits of the date of the present work are indistinct, but it seems likely that the painting was executed towards the end of the 1650s, at around the same time as The Sacrifice of Isaac (sold at Sotheby's, London, 9 December 2004, lot 339). Valdivieso dates both paintings to circa 1657 –1659, soon after the artist's return to Seville from Madrid where, as noted, he was strongly influenced by the work of Titian, Tintoretto and Rubens. Indeed, this work echoes Titian's famous treatments of the subject, two of which were in the Spanish Royal Collection at the time.