This painting formed part of a series by Zurbarán representing the thirteen founders of monastic orders, known today from copies in the Capuchin convent at Castellón de la Plana. During the 1630s, his workshop produced at least two other copies to serve evangelizing missions in the Americas: one series went to Lima and another to Mexico City. Saint Benedict is depicted holding a wine jar—notably a contemporary Spanish example made in the neighborhood of Triana in Seville—in reference to a legend that a jar of poisoned wine was fractured when blessed by the saint, thus saving him. Benedict reappears praying in the rocky landscape background.
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Artist:Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, Fuente de Cantos 1598–1664 Madrid)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:74 x 40 3/4 in. (188 x 103.5 cm)
Credit Line:Bequest of Harry G. Sperling, 1971
William à Court, 1st Baron Heytesbury, Heytesbury House, Wiltshire (probably by 1823–d. 1860; purchased in Madrid); his son, William Henry Ashe Holmes à Court, 2nd Baron Heytesbury, Heytesbury House (1860–d. 1891); his grandson, William Frederick Holmes-à Court, 3rd Baron Heytesbury, Heytesbury House (1891–d. 1903); his widow, Margaret Anna, Lady Heytesbury, Heytesbury House (1903–d. 1920; her estate, 1920–26; her estate sale, Hampton & Sons and Edens, Heytesbury, April 27, 1926, no. 1329, for £39.18); [Julius Böhler, Munich, and F. Steinmeyer, Lucerne, by 1927–50; sold to Kleinberger]; [Kleinberger, New York, 1950–75; bequeathed by Harry G. Sperling, last surviving partner of firm, to The Met]
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1875, no. 197 (lent by Lord Heytesbury).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1890, no. 130 (lent by Lord Heytesbury).
Buenos Aires. Galeria Müller. "Exposición de maestros antiguos," 1930, no. 4.
London. Tomás Harris. "Exhibition of Old Masters by Spanish Artists," 1931, no. 6.
Hamburg. Kunstverein. "Alte und neue spanische Kunst," August–September 1935, no. 26 (lent by Julius Böhler, Munich).
Corpus Christi, Tex. Art Museum of South Texas. "Spain and New Spain," February 15–April 30, 1979, no. 2.
Huntington, N.Y. Heckscher Museum. "Goya to Vicente: Tradition and Response," September 8–December 16, 2001, no catalogue.
Düsseldorf. Museum Kunstpalast. "Zurbarán: Meister der Details," October 10, 2015–January 31, 2016, no. 51.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain. London, 1857, p. 388, lists two Zurbarán saints in Lord Heytesbury's collection, "whole-length, life-size, with landscape background".
August L. Mayer. "Unbekannte Werke Zurbarans." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 61 (1927–28), pp. 289–90, ill., publishes this picture and a Saint Jerome, formerly in Lord Heytesbury's collection (now San Diego Museum of Art), and dates them 1635–40; observes that they appear originally to have been part of a larger cycle, and notes that a weaker version of the Saint Benedict is in the Church of the Capuchins, Castellón de la Plana.
Tancred Borenius. "Spanish Masters at Tomas Harris's." Burlington Magazine 59 (July 1931), p. 34, pl. B, as an unidentified saint by Zurbarán; states incorrectly that it passed from the collection of Louis Philippe to the Heytesbury collection.
Martin Soria. "Francisco de Zurbarán: A Study of His Style II." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 25 (March 1944), p. 166, notes that of Zurbarán's series of Ten Founders of Religious Orders from the 1640s, only Saints Jerome and Benedict remain; observes that the complete series is preserved in copies in the Capuchin monastery at Castellón de la Plana.
Paul Guinard. "Los conjuntos dispersos o desaparecidos de Zurbarán: Anotaciones a Ceán Bermúdez (III)." Archivo español de arte 22 (January–March 1949), pp. 33–34, pl. 14, suggests that the cycle may have included more than ten portraits of monastic founders.
Martin S. Soria. The Paintings of Zurbarán. London, 1953, pp. 179–80, no. 187, fig. 132, dates it 1640–45; observes that the small figure of Benedict in the background holds a crozier as a symbol of his bishopric.
Juan Antonio Gaya Nuño. La pintura española fuera de España. Madrid, 1958, p. 344, no. 3108, dates the series about 1640–45.
Paul Guinard. Zurbarán et les peintres espagnols de la vie monastique. Paris, 1960, p. 271, no. 521, pl. 74, dates the series to 1640–50; notes that the landscape derives from Sadeler's engravings; cites a copy in the Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes, Málaga.
Ramón Torres Martín. Zurbarán: El pintor gótico del siglo XVII. Seville, 1963, no. 235, ill.
Tiziana Frati. L'opera completa di Zurbarán. Milan, 1973, pp. 110–11, no. 337, ill., dates it 1640 or shortly thereafter.
José Gudiol in Julián Gállego and José Gudiol. Zurbarán, 1598–1664. New York, 1977, p. 105, no. 327, fig. 323, catalogue it with works probably painted between 1641 and May 1658.
Marcus B. Burke inSpain and New Spain: Mexican Colonial Arts in their European Context. Exh. cat., Art Museum of South Texas. Corpus Christi, Tex., 1979, pp. 64–65, no. 2, ill., dates it 1640–45; states there were three autograph series of monastic founders, one of which was sent to Lima and a second to Mexico.
Marcus B. Burke. Pintura y escultura en Nueva España: El barroco. Mexico, 1992, p. 42, ill. (color).
María Luisa Caturla. Francisco de Zurbarán. Paris, 1994, pp. 127, 168 n. 9, ill. p. 129, includes it with works painted 1635–40.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 158, ill.
Benito Navarrete Prieto et. al. Zurbarán y su obrador. Exh. cat., Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia. Valencia, 1998, pp. 42–45, ill. pp. 47–48, 92–95, ill., calls it the best of the three versions.
Peter Cherry. Arte y naturaleza: El bodegón español en el Siglo de Oro. Aranjuez, 1999, p. 253, states that the jug in this painting is a simpler version of one from Zurbarán's two paintings with four small vases (Prado, Madrid, and Museu d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona).
Gudrun Maurer. Spanish Paintings. Stockholm, 2001, p. 152, ill.
John Marciari. Italian, Spanish, and French Paintings Before 1850 in the San Diego Museum of Art. San Diego, 2015, pp. 222–23 n. 5, fig. 45.1 (color), proposes that Zurbarán himself may never have painted a complete set of monastic founders and that the San Diego and MMA paintings may have been made as part of an altarpiece or as independent paintings that served as models for his workshop.
Odile Delenda inZurbarán. Exh. cat., Museum Kunstpalast. Düsseldorf, 2015, pp. 166–67, no. 51, ill. (color), as by Zurbarán and Workshop.
Andrew Bolton. Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2018, vol. 2, ill. p. 248 (color).
When Saint Benedict was elected abbot of the monastery of Vicovaro, the monks, who hated him for his strictness, attempted to poison him. He was saved by making the sign of the cross over his cup, which then broke into pieces. This painting and a Saint Jerome (Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego) are the only pictures remaining from Zurbarán's series of ten founders of religious orders. The complete series, generally dated about 1640–45, is preserved in workshop copies in the Capuchin convent at Castellón de la Plana, Spain. A second copy of The Met's picture is in the Museo de Bellas Artes, Málaga.
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