José de Ribera
Xátiva, Valencia, 1591 - Naples, Italy, 1652
Oil on canvas, 180.3 x 231.6 cm
Acquired in 1924
In the large canvas, the figure of the saint lies naked on the ground, one arm still suspended from the tree of martyrdom. The holy women Irene and Lucilla tend the saint, one of them removing the arrows and the other holding the jar of ointment. Two little angels bearing the crown and the palm of martyrdom hover above them. Without abandoning realism, Ribera is an unquestionable master of the dramatic use of light and shadow and, to judge by its style, this is one of his early works related to those commissioned by the viceroy of Naples, Duke of Osuna, kept in the collegiate church of Osuna and datable to the years 1616 to 1618. Beside the signature repainted before the restoration of the canvas the date "1631" was readable, yet the technique of the painting, smoother and more finished than those of the canvases produced in the sixteen thirties, proves the date must be mistaken. In all probability the date is 1621, which would situate the painting between the Osuna canvases and the other version of this theme kept in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, clearly dated 1628. Both renderings present a bold composition of the bodies, where the vertical line of the arm and the horizontal line of the body form a luminous angle that will be repeated in many of the painter’s following canvases. The marked foreshortening of the figures, studied in a number of masterly drawings, was adapted in several themes dedicated to Christian (Saint Sebastian, Saint Bartholomew) and pagan (Apollo and Marsyas) martyrdoms. This canvas has had an eventful history: in the seventeenth century it belonged to the Marquis of Leganés, who made a gift of it to King Philip IV. In turn, Philip IV left it on deposit at El Escorial monastery, where it remained until the French invasion, during which Joseph Bonaparte gave it to Marshal Soult, from whose descendants it was acquired by the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. [A.E.P.S.]
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Cristóbal Balenciaga (Guetaria, Guipúzcoa, 1895–Valencia, 1972) is one of the most important designers in fashion history. He was born in the small coastal town of Guetaria, in the province of Guipúzcoa, where his mother worked as a seamstress. At the tender age of 13, Balenciaga copied a dress belonging to the Marquesa (Marchioness) of Casa Torres. After such a precocious start, the Marquesa became his patron and sent him to Paris to train in haute couture.
En 1913 he opened his own studio in San Sebastian, which was at the time one of the aristocracy’s favourite holiday resorts. The success of his creations, instantly recognizable by the geometric beauty of their cut, his profound understanding of the fabrics he used and the exquisite harmony of his colour ranges helped him to perfect his craft and soon encouraged him to open boutiques in Barcelona and Madrid. This early experience in dressmaking left an indelible mark on his idea of couture, to be seen clearly in the superb cut that characterizes his creations and the masterly handling of the quality of the finest fabrics.
In 1937 he decided it was time to step into the international fashion arena, which he did by opening a boutique for haute couture at number 10 on Paris’s chic avenue George V. Over three decades in the capital of the fashion world, Balenciaga reigned supreme as the ultimate benchmark in haute couture; every collection came replete with innovations as he continued on an obsessive search for a feminine ideal of perfection and elegance. In Paris he also forged the legend of himself as the ultimate hermetic male who shunned high-powered social events. This was his way of drawing attention to himself and earning the admiration of international fashion critics and the loyalty of a clientele of high-society women from Europe and the United States. Balenciaga’s undisputed predominance lasted until May 1968, when he closed all his salons, as prêt-à-porter took the fashion world by storm.
Balenciaga. Designing the limits contains 35 examples of haute couture from the collections of the Basque regional government, the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation, and two private collections in the Basque Country and Madrid. The exhibition is an exceptional staging divided into seven different ambiences, taking visitors on a fascinating itinerary of the creations of one of the greatest fashion designers to have graced the golden age of haute couture.
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