Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664) painted things as well as anybody. One of the great artists of Spain’s Golden Age, he gave baskets, fruits, cups and plates rock-solid form. Cloth was his specialty. When Zurbarán’s “Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose” was exhibited at the Frick in 2009, the highlight of Masterpieces of European Painting from the Norton Simon Museum, his simple still life bewitched museumgoers, catching the viewer’s eye and not letting go.
Zurbarán’s “St. Serapion,” 1628, is also a masterful canvas. A highlight of the Wadsworth Atheneum’s permanent collection, the painting is currently on view in Heaven and Earth, an exhibition that displays a selection of the Hartford museum’s old master holdings alongside contemporary works. Exhibition organizers at the Wadsworth Atheneum say this show “juxtaposes Renaissance and Baroque masters, such as Fra Angelico and Francisco de Zurbarán, with artists from the second half of the twentieth century, such as Nan Goldin and Ana Mendieta.”
Though recontextualizing the museum’s great paintings by placing masterworks beside contemporary photographs is a dubious curatorial undertaking, the show also serves as a stopgap exhibit, showing off highlights from the permanent collection while the Wadsworth Atheneum completes an extensive renovation project. While Heaven and Earth: Masterworks from the Permanent Collection will be on view through April 2015, Zurbarán’s painting of St. Serapion, a martyr who gave up his life to free fellow Christians during the Crusades, will soon be taken down.
Last week the museum announced it has been awarded a grant to pay for the restoration of “St. Serapion.” The canvas will be removed from public view in early December and conservation work will last until May. “St. Serapion” will then travel to Madrid, a loan to El Museo Thyssen Bornemisza’s exhibition Zurbarán: A New Perspective.
This masterful painting will only be back on display in Connecticut next fall, once the Wadsworth Atheneum renovation is completed. If a summertime trip to Madrid is not in the cards, see this powerful painting in Hartford now. And marvel at the Friar’s white robe, a piece of painting that inspired poet Frank O’Hara to write:
“St. Serapion, I wrap myself in the robes of your whiteness which is like midnight in Dostoevsky.”
Heaven and Earth: Masterworks from the Permanent Collection, on view through April, 2015, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 600 Main Street, Hartford, CT, 860-278-2670, www.thewadsworth.org
Zurbarán: A New Perspective, June 9 through September 13, 2015, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Palacio de Villahermosa, Paseo del Prado 8, Madrid, Spain, 34 902 76 05 11, www.museothyssen.org
More information about Xico Greenwald's work can be found at xicogreenwald.com