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Work The Mass for the Founding of the Trinitarian Order

Department of Paintings: Spanish painting

La Messe de fondation de l'ordre des Trinitaires

© 1999 RMN / Gérard Blot

Spanish painting

De Vergnette François

In the twelfth century, while celebrating Mass, Saint John of Matha had a vision of an angel, with arms intersecting, resting its hands on the heads of two captives. Following this vision he founded the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, known as the Order of the Trinitarians, dedicated to freeing Christian slaves from captivity under the Muslims. This monumental canvas, commissioned for one of the order's convents in Pamplona, is a masterpiece of the baroque style in its compositional flow.

A vision

When celebrating his first Mass, at the moment of elevating the Host, Saint John of Matha had a vision of an angel with arms intersecting and hands placed on the heads of two kneeling slaves. The young priest's mission was revealed to him: it was to found an order dedicated to freeing Christian slaves held captive by the Muslims. The congregation founded in 1198 was called the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and its members were known as Trinitarians, or Mathurins in France. On this canvas, the faces of the numerous participants in the Mass, including many monks and nuns, all show deep devotion as they turn to face the Host. In the background, the church opens onto a terrace where a meeting is taking place between John of Matha and the hermit Felix of Valois. The latter is approving the young priest's decision to found an order. The two saints also had a vision of a white stag with a cross between its antlers, which can be glimpsed in the landscape that forms the background. The painter has set these events in the Spain of his own time, as is indicated by the baroque architecture of the church and the clothes of the aristocrat in the foreground. Next to the angel, in the upper part of the canvas, can be seen the Trinity with the dove of the Holy Spirit hovering above God the Father and Christ, who are seated side by side with angels playing musical instruments.

One artist composes the picture, the other interprets

This work was commissioned in 1665 from Francisco Rizi and Juan Carreño de Miranda to adorn the high altar of the Trinitarian church at Pamplona in Navarre. They were the two most renowned Spanish artists of the time. Although Francisco Rizo probably devised the broad outlines of the composition (as is evident from one of his drawings in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence), the painting itself is entirely the work of Carreño, who was the only one to sign it. This painting marks the high point in the association between the two artists-while one composes the other interprets. Rizi and Carreño drew on the Flemish and Italian art of their time in order to bring about a renaissance in their own country, thereby bringing Spanish art more into line with that of other European countries.

A masterpiece in the international baroque style

This large canvas, with its composition full of movement, is a masterpiece of the international baroque style. The lower part of the picture is crossed by oblique lines created by the bodies and gazes of the figures. The Host being presented by the saint forms the summit of a pyramid. The whole canvas conveys an impression of monumental space. Near to ground level there are contrasts of light and shade, warm colors, a silvery harmony as the light sparkles; while at the top of the picture, nearer to the heavens, the colors are colder and the light is transparent. Francisco Rizi's technique is very free, especially in the depiction of the gold and silver embroideries on the costumes.


- BATICLE Jeanine, "Une Oeuvre retrouvée de Carreño de Miranda, La Fondation de l'ordre des Trinitaires", in Revue du Louvre et des musées de France, n 15, 1965, pp. 15-22.

- GERARD POWELL Véronique, in Écoles espagnole et portugaise, catalogue du département des peintures du musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 2002, pp. 153-157.

Technical description

  • Juan CARREÑO DE MIRANDA (Avilés, 1614 - Madrid, 1685)

    La Messe de fondation de l'ordre des Trinitaires

  • H. : 5 m. ; L. : 3,15 m.

  • Don de la comtesse de Caraman, en souvenir de son mari, le comte Ernest de Caraman, 1964 , 1964

    R.F. 1964-36

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Room 718

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Additional information about the work

Signed and dated in capitals, lower left: "RJVº CARENO Fbat A. 1666."