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Saint Peter of Alcántara

Saint Peter of Alcántara

c. 1663-1670

Pedro de Mena and Workshop

(Spanish, 1628-1688)

Painted wood, with ivory and glass

Overall: 72.2 x 32 x 32 cm (28 7/16 x 12 5/8 x 12 5/8 in.)

Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 2009.81

Fun Fact

Peter of Alcantara was so dedicated to his work he slept only 90 minutes a night--he's the patron saint of night watchmen!

Description

Painted wood sculpture from Spain in the 1600s involved a team of artisans working under a lead sculptor. The sculptor first carved numerous pieces of wood in complex forms. So the paint would stick properly, these fragments were delicately covered in gesso (a combination of white chalk and glue made from animal collagen), preserving the subtle woodcarving underneath. The rough surface of the saint's face—reflecting his age and hardships—came from texturing the gesso with a brush. The glass eyes, probably imported from Venice, were inserted from behind the face before the wood pieces were attached. Finally, the eyelashes were added for a further touch of realism. A painter created the appearance of coarse sackcloth in a distinctive style, with yellow strokes rising off the surface. Smoother brushstrokes form the flesh tones, even revealing the saint's five-o'clock shadow. Unlike other kinds of painting, sculpture from southern Spain at this time was usually not covered in varnish; sculptors prized the unvarnished paint for its realistic effect, although it makes the surface exceptionally delicate and susceptible to dust and dirt, which more easily sticks to the surface.

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