Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina was a key figure in laying the groundwork for Renaissance painting in Spain. The first certain notice of him is in September 1506, when, together with his contemporary Fernando Llanos (active 1506–16), he was advanced payment for work on an altarpiece (retablo) dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian for the cathedral of Valencia. The two artists collaborated on other projects, including the same cathedral’s main altarpiece (retablo mayor), in 1507–10. In 1515 Yáñez traveled briefly to Barcelona, returned to Valencia by 1516, and in 1518–21 was working in his native Almedina in southeastern Spain. Between 1525 and 1531 he worked in Cuenca, before returning to Almedina, where he is documented from 1532 until 1537. Yáñez clearly spent time in Italy prior to his highly successful career in Spain and he rather than Llanos is usually identified with the "Ferrando Spagnuolo" who in April and August of 1505 collected money for work with Leonardo da Vinci on a mural depicting the battle of Anghiari in the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence ("Ferrando Spagnolo, dipintore, per dipinguere con Lionardo da Vinci nella sala del consiglio florine 5 larghi e a Thomaso di Giovane Merini, su garzone per macinare e colori, florini 1 in oro"; see Benito et al., Los Hernandos, pintores hispanos del entorno de Leonardo
, Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia, 1998, p. 18). Besides Florence, he must also have spent time in northern Italy, where perhaps not coincidentally Leonardo was active prior to his return in Florence in February 1503. This remains highly speculative, however, and is based purely on the stylistic features of Yáñez’s documented work in Spain. The most thorough as well as convincing reconstruction of his early activity in Italy is that of Ibáñez Martínez (1999, pp. 221–40), who rejects earlier conjectures and attributions and considers The Met’s picture one of two done in Italy by the artist under the influence of Leonardo da Vinci.
The attribution of The Met’s picture to Yáñez was first proposed by Checa Cremades (1992), who noted that a painting in a private collection in Madrid showing Christ flanked by Saints Peter and John shows the same use of gold dots in the halo and an identical decoration of medallions with Christ’s monogram (IHS) and rinceaux; the beards in both pictures also have the same form. That work is a touchstone of Yáñez’s work at its finest. Since the inscriptions identifying the two apostles are written in Spanish, it was presumably either painted for a Spanish patron resident in Italy or, more likely, in Valencia.
The Met’s picture, which is painted on poplar, is less well preserved than the above-mentioned picture, especially in the beard. It also shows a greater degree of naturalism in its physiognomic description and intensity in the gaze. In this it is particularly indebted to the example of northern painting and suggests a parallel development to the work of Lorenzo Lotto, who was deeply influenced by Dürer’s two trips to Venice (1494–95 and 1505–7).
Bust-length depictions of Christ—both in painting and sculpture—were relatively common in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy and Spain. They relate to reputedly miraculous paintings derived from the image of Christ’s face that was said to have been imprinted on a cloth when a follower, Veronica, wiped his face on the way to Calvary, or a famous image, the Mandylion of Edessa, which was brought to France following the sack of Constantinople in 1204. A fine fourteenth-century depiction of Veronica’s veil, by the Florentine Master of the Orcagnesque Misericordia, is in The Metropolitan Museum (1981.365.2
). Christ was also shown bust-length, crowned with thorns: see the Museum’s paintings by Petrus Christus (60.71.1
) and Antonello da Messina (32.100.82
). In yet another variant he was shown holding an orb as the Salvator Mundi: see the Museum’s painting by Albrecht Dürer (32.100.64
). The latter type is especially relevant as Leonardo da Vinci painted just such an image (for which, see Luke Syson in Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan
, exh. cat., National Gallery, London, 2011, pp. 281–83). Images such as these were intended for private devotion and the intent gaze of Christ can be seen as an effective device to both address and engage the viewer. The Met’s picture has been dated to about 1505.
Keith Christiansen 2014