This exhibition carefully surveys the work of the ‘Divine’ Morales, who was called like this because, as painter and treatise writer Antonio Palomino wrote in the eighteenth century: He was named the Divine, because all he painted was sacred things, and because he made heads of Christ with such exquisiteness and subtlety in the hair, that it causes those interested in art want to blow on it so that it moves, because it appears as subtle as that which is real.
Luis de Morales was born in 1510 or 1511 and probably died in 1586, possibly in Alcántara (Cáceres), where he is known to have lived in 1585. It is not known where he was born, but he lived and painted in Extremadura. For more than fifty years he was the most prolific and important painter of that vast region, where he produced many altarpieces and religious paintings, broadening his clientele to Portugal, especially the towns of Évora and Elvas near Badajoz. He established himself in Badajoz in 1539, after working in Plasencia and the surrounding area, where the combination of artists and influences from Flanders and Castile explains an essential part of Luis de Morales’s painting. Knowledge of works by other artists, especially Alonso Berruguete and Sebastiano del Piombo, helped shape the style of this painter, who soon earned fame for his small religious panels. With a keen commercial sense, Morales adapted a painstakingly executed artistic and devotional product, based on a combination Flemish traditions of the late 1400s–early 1500s and Italianate elements and models, to suit his clientele of the period. Furthermore, he subtly conveyed the spiritual atmosphere of the period in these religious images. Simply composed and very familiar to believers, they were visually highly effective with an unmistakeable emotional charge.
Fifty four selected works are distributed in five sections, which begin with one of the most important paintings of Morales's work, Virgin of the Bird, dated in 1546. In this first section, under the name of Lasting Icons, it is showed the most known iconographic creations about the painter: Madonna with the Child, The Virgin Dolorosa, Ecce Homo, Christ carrying the Cross, Pietà o Quinta Angustia.
The diverse representations of the Virgin with the Child show the nicest face of the painting of Morales. In them he uses a composition very similar and little by little he introduces some modifications. The most out-standing images, gathered in the exhibition under the epigraph About the Virgin and the Child, like Virgin of the milk or Virgin with the Child writing. In all the cases Maria appears as a young woman of melancholy face, with soft facial features and unpolluted skin realized with the sfumato that characterizes the painter. One of the most significant tables comes from the cathedral of Salamanca, The Virgin with Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist.
The third one, named Complex Narrations: the altarpieces, it shows Morales in a very own aspect of his production typical of the art of his time. It has been recovered works of notable quality, which they are useful to discover his facet less known about him and that the conflicts happened in Extremadura between the XVIIth and XIXth century.
It is presented also in this section two only drawings attributed to the artist: Lamentation in front of dead Christ and Noli me tangere, both of the Museu Nacional of Art Antiga of Lisbon.
The paragraph dedicated to Painting for "closely together". Images of passion and redemption he focuses his attention in Christ's Passion, in his physical and spiritual suffering. It is a very explicit production centred on the head or the bust of Jesus, represented with a naturalist precision and a tactile character that it brings near to the sculptural thing. These images were ordered for private oratories, and with them it was trying to bring over to the believer to the suffering and the resignation of the Salvador.
The last space of the exhibition is dedicated to San Juan de Ribera and the spirituality of the Counter-reformation, process that the saint personified very particularly. His familiar origins, his intellectual formation and the spiritual environment in which he moved for years as bishop of the diocese of Badajoz (1562-68), do Ribera being forced to the comprehension of the pictorial work of Morales, whom it managed to consider a painter of chamber.
Exhibition catalogue (in Spanish)
To Know more: About the exhibition “The Divine Morales”