Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664)
Oil on canvas
171.5 x 105.5 cm
In the 1630s Francisco de Zurbarán dominated the market in Andalusia for large commissions of religious paintings. From this period comes the Hispanic Society painting of St. Rufina. Along with St. Justa, she is one of the two patron saints of Seville, and as such, images of the pair are common in that city (although they are infrequent elsewhere). The two saints may also appear in a series of female saints either in a retable or in a large decorative scheme for a religious order.
St. Rufina holds a book on which rests an object, identified as lumps of clay that she carries as a reminder of her work in a Sevillian pottery. Zurbarán depicts St. Rufina in an elaborate gown that bears no relation to the clothing of the artist's age. At one point such images were considered to be portraits of contemporary women dressed as saints, but this idea can no longer be maintained. Still, the sources for the costumes remain mysterious. Zurbaran may have been inspired by processions during Corpus Christi in which actors in theatrical garb paraded through the streets in the roles of saints or perhaps the painter invented freely wishing to evoke the splendors of a legendary past. Nonetheless, Zurbarán’s exceptional talent lends an almost sculptural reality and intense earnestness to his subjects so that even in her fanciful finery, St. Rufina remains an object worthy of devotion and prayer.
Text and images © Hispanic Society of America.