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Work Study for the Figure of a Hieronymite Monk

Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century

Etude pour une figure de moine hiéronymite

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Author(s):
Grollemund Hélène

This drawing is a study for the Adoration of the Holy Eucharist of Gorkum by Charles II and his court, or La Sagrada Forma, a painting commissioned by the king in 1685 for the sacristy of El Escorial and completed in 1690. The royal commission was the most important in Coello's career and earned him the title of court painter the same year. The sheet in the Louvre is one of his finest black and red chalk drawings.

An expiatory, political, and religious work

La Sagrada Forma (San Lorenzo del Escorial) commemorates the transfer of the reliquary containing the Holy Eucharist from the high altar of the church to the sacristry of El Escorial in 1684, which was one of the most important events in the reign of Charles II. The commission had specific political significance, being atonement for the profonation of the monastery by members of the government junta in 1677. On the request of Charles II, Pope Clement XI ordered the construction of a chapel or altar in El Escorial as a penitence. The king decided to build a new marble altar and transfer the Holy Eucharist to it. Apart from its commemorative and expiatory meaning, the key significance of the Sagrada Forma is the triumph of the Eucharist as the fundamental dogma of the Catholic Church, confirmed by the Counter-Reformation. It also symbolizes the political and religious testament of the Habsburgs under the reign of Charles II, the last descendant of the line in Spain.

The adoration of the Holy Eucharist

Coello's painting celebrates the moment when Charles II and the penitents are kneeling in adoration before the Holy Eucharist, which is enclosed in a monstrance and presented by Fray Francisco de los Santos, the prior of El Escorial, before its transfer to the reliquary in the sacristry. Several rows of monks are in attendence and choirboys and other monks are making music. The artist himself is shown in profile on the fringe of the scene. Coello had taken over the commission from Francisco Rizi. According to the artist and theorist Palomino (1653-1726), he made a sketch then several drawings of the king and his attendants.

Realism and fervor

This sheet, one of Coello's masterpieces, brings out the full meaning of the work, and all the mystic, introspective fervour of Spanish monastic life. Along with the Study for a Figure of a Hieronymite Monk (Louvre, Prints and Drawings, INV 18419 bis), it is the only evidence of the studies made for the Sagrada Forma, except for a study of an angel on blue paper (New York, private collection). The painting differs slightly from the drawing, although the monk's fervent yet restrained expression is unchanged. Few of the surviving sheets use a combination of red and back chalk. Coello's approach is quite easy to follow: he drew the main outlines first in red chalk and then in black chalk, then completed the features and brought out the volumes. To finish, he firmly accentuated some contours. Coello sought to render his subjects in a realistic manner and probably had the monks from El Escorial pose for him; the contemporary annotation on the back of the sheet supports this view. The problematical date of 1694 would suggest that the models wrote the inscriptions on the drawings, which had perhaps been given to them by Coello or bequeathed to them shortly after his death.

Bibliography

Boubli Lizzie, Inventaire général des dessins : Ecole espagnole XVIe-XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, n 68.
Propeck Lina, in Dominique-Vivant Denon : l'oeil de Napoléon, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1999-2000, n 218.
Boubli Lizzie, in Dessins espagnols du siècle d'or, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux,1991, n 61.

Technical description

  • Claudio Coello (Madrid, 1642-Madrid, 1693)

    Study for the Figure of a Hieronymite Monk

    1685-90

  • Black chalk and red chalk on cream paper; framing lines in pen and brown ink

    H. 15.5 cm; W. 12.8 cm

  • Marquis de Gouvernet, sale in Paris, November 6, 1775, Saint-Morys Collection; confiscation of Emigré property, 1793; given to the Louvre in 1796-97

    3918418

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Verso, an early annotation in pen and brown ink: "Ano de 1694 / Claudio Cuello meretrato eneles Corial."