- Museum number
Design for an altarpiece in a chapel: seven figurative panels, the central image of the Assumption of the Virgin flanked by a martyr saint to each side, with alternative decorative ornaments provided for the panels on the right side
Pen and brush, brown and black ink over black chalk, brown, grey, red and green wash. Upper right corner of paper replaced
- Production date
- 1650-1660 (circa)
Height: 517 millimetres
Width: 345 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Modified text from McDonald 2013
Herrera Barnuevo was very active as an architect throughout his career but it is as a draughtsman that he is best remembered. Many of his drawings are designs for paintings and structures that were destroyed during the Napoleonic invasion of Spain, and the repression of religious orders in the nineteenth century. As a consequence, little of Herrera’s architectural work survives, but this magnificent drawing for an altar demonstrates his ability in this area.
The drawing shows alternative designs. The upper left section depicts the completed arch with moulding and a torch-like motif with acanthus leaves set on an articulated projecting plinth, below which on the central register is blank surface. On the right is a very different foliage motif, a detail that has been drawn on a separate piece of paper and pasted down. The block directly below carries a cartouche that seems to have been added at the same time as the pasted sheet to continue its design. The addition of a separate piece of paper is unusual because alternative designs were normally presented on the same sheet. It is possible that the pasted design represents a third solution after the original right hand alternative was rejected. The cartouche beneath the pasted sheet includes an unidentified coat-of-arms. The armorial features are too cursory for the crest to be identified. Alternative designs continue down both sides: a sculpture on a plinth on the right, a framed painting on the left. The bottom register is symmetrical, both sides containing paintings flanking a larger central image.
The drawn architecture and it decoration is characteristic of Herrera’s hand, in particular the precise outlining in dark brown ink and careful shading to indicate relief. The colours indicate different types of materials to be used, green for example suggests Jasper. Herrera used the same red and green watercolour highlights for materials in his drawn design for the baldachin of the chapel of San Isidro en te church of San Andrés in Madrid from around 1645-55 ( Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid). The drawings of the paintings however seem not to be by Herrera. Herrera was an accomplished figurative draughtsman, but his bold pen style would have competed with the architectural design; the softer wash figures are much more complementary here. The three central scenes from top to bottom show the birth of the Virgin, the Immaculate Conception and the Visitation. Flanking the Virgin in the centre are two male saints. At lower left is St John the Baptist and at right the Penitent Magdalene.
It is not possible to identify the commission recorded through this drawing, but its iconography suggests that it was for an altar dedicated to the Virgin. It was the sort of work Herrera was competing for in the 1650s. Palomino describes work by him that does not survive: 'designs for the retable and decorations of the chapel of Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo … also the designs for the retable and sculptures of [the altar of] Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, which is in the church of the College of Santo Tomás in this court, … ' (A. Palomino, 'Lives of the Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors', trans. N. Ayala Mallory, Cambridge 1987, p.217). The frescoes in the chapel of Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo in the church of San Isidro, Madrid, were destroyed in 1936 and no photographic evidence remains but five drawings survive (H.E. Wethey, 'Sebastián de Herrera Barnuevo', Anales del Instituto de Arte Americano e Investigaciones Estéticas, II, 1958, p.24). He also decorated the chapel of the Virgin of Atocha in the early 1660s.
The structure shown in the drawing is broadly similar to the retablo in the church of San Isidro, Madrid (1650-55) one of the few works by him not to have been destroyed. The central painting flanked by decorated pilasters, the smaller painting above flanked by semi-volutes, and smaller scenes running along the bottom are points of similarity. Herrera’s design for cupola decoration (see 1895,0915.882) from about 1660-70 shows the influence of the illusionistic fresco techniques introduced to Spain by the Italians painters Angelo Michele Colonna and Agostino Mitelli who arrived in Madrid in 1658. The drawing incorporates motifs visible in his ceiling fresco in the church of San Isidro (H.E.Wethey, and A.S. Wethey, 'Herrera Barnuevo and his chapel in the Descalzas Reales', The Art Bulletin, XLVIII, 1966, fig.5).
P. Fuhring, 'Design into Art: Drawings for Architecture and Ornament. The Lodewijk Houthakker Collection', 1989, no. 281; M. P. McDonald, 'Renaissance to Goya: Prints and drawings from Spain', exh.cat., British Museum, London 2012, pp.104-6; 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.17.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1995-6 Nov-Apr, BM, `Recent Acquisitions` (no cat.)
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'
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number