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Updated: 14 April 2015
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Design for an altar wall dedicated to St John the Baptist in the church of San Juan de la Penetencia in Orihuela (near Valencia) c.1780
Pen and grey ink and grey wash
- 1780 (c.)
- Height: 524 millimetres
- Width: 356 millimetres
Inscription ContentInscribed across top: Diseño para el adorno de la Capilla mayor de La nueva Yglesia de el Monasterio de S.n Juan de / la Penitència Religiosas Clarisas sito en la cuidad di Orihuela [across the drawing] RELIGION / PENITENCIA / CASTIDAD/ OBEDENCIA / Johannes no / Gracia Divina / Forteleza
Modified text from McDonald 2013
The drawing depicts scenes from the life of St John the Baptist and a Franciscan allegory. It was made for a painting that once covered the entire back wall of the presbytery in the church of San Juan de la Penetencia, in Orihuela, in the province of Valencia. Having been destroyed in the Civil War, today only the top section of the painting representing the allegory remains.
The Franciscan church was dedicated to the sacrament of penitence through the figure of St John the Baptist. Set within a colonnade it depicts at lower left the naming of John the Baptist and at right his execution. An altar containing a monstrance separates the scenes, above which in a niche stands St John. Above the structure are seated allegorical figures of Religion at left and Penitence at right, flanked in the background by Chastity and Obedience. At the bottom rest Divine Grace and Fortitude. The upper allegory depicts the Holy Trinity and the Virgin surrounded by beatified Franciscans; including at left Sts Francis, Luis Obispo, Bernadino of Siena, Bonaventura, John Capistrano and a cardinal with a book, at the right occur St Claire and St Isabel queen of Portugal. The overall composition – especially the section depicting the Trinity – is remarkably close to the work of Corrado Giaquinto who achieved great renown in Spain through his works produced there between 1753 and 1762. Villanueva is not known to have visited Madrid where Giaquinto worked, but he probably knew of his style through prints and the work of followers.
Only two other drawings by Villanueva are known. The first, Two Girls on a Mule in the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, is carefully inscribed 'El R.o R.F. Antonio Villanueba lo imbento. I murio en le Año 1785' (Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid DIB/15/7/16). The technique of this work corresponds exactly with the London drawing. Wash is delicately applied over lightly drawn contours and the concentration of media in specific areas defines form and gives the figures a translucent quality. The second known drawing is a landscape in red chalk inscribed 'de villanueva' (L. Hernández Guardiola, L., Pintura decorativa barroca en la provincia de Alicante II: Antonio Villanueva (1714–1785), Alicante 1990, fig.66).
Marcos Antonio de Orellana refers to the many architects who carried out their work based on Villanueva’s drawings (M.A. de Orellana, Biografía pictórica valentina, o vida de los pintores, arquitectos, escultores y grabadores valencianos, ed. X. de Salas, Valencia 1930, p.458). The drawings to which Orellana was referring were no doubt architectural, and probably destroyed in the process of realising a design when they were used on site to guide the work. This drawing however, was not produced as a stage in the preparation or development of a work in another medium, but to show how the painting would ultimately appear. The careful lettering in the upper section, the clearly resolved composition, its equivalence to the surviving painted section, and the detailing of the frame suggest the design was an agreed solution to what must have been Villanueva's most important commission toward the end of his career.
M.P. McDonald, 'A presentation drawing by Antonio Villanueva', The Burlington Magazine, CXLVIII, 2006, pp. 192–4; M. P. McDonald, 'Renaissance to Goya: Prints and drawings from Spain', exh.cat., British Museum, London 2012, pp.231-32; M. P. McDonald, 'El trazo español en el British Museum: Dibujos del Renacimiento a Goya', exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid 2013, cat.no.57.
For information on Villanueva and San Juan de la Pentencia see A. de Sales Ferri Chulio, 'El monasterio de San Juan de la Penitencia de Orihuela 1493-1993', Orihuela 1993.
Phillipps MS. 34741. Not in Phillipps-Fenwick.
Spanish Imp XVIIIc
2012/13 Sept-Jan, London, British Museum, ‘Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain’
2013 March-June, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, ‘El trazo español en el British Museum …’
2013, Aug-Nov, Sydney, AGNSW, 'Renaissance to Goya'
2013-4, Dec-Mar, Santa Fe, New Mexico Museum of Modern Art, 'Renaissance to Goya'
- Associated with: Valencia
- (Europe,Spain,Valencia (region))
Prints & Drawings
Study for scenes from the Life of St John the Baptist; panel with the saint at centre, at left, a group of figures beneath a canopy including a woman holding a child, at right, a man slaying another while guards stand at right, figures including monks and bishops above. c.1780 Pen and grey ink and grey wash
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Object reference number: PDO196
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