Claire Barry: “Painting Jacob and His Twelve Sons: The Artist and His Studio”

Claire Barry: “Painting Jacob and His Twelve Sons: The Artist and His Studio”


– In Dallas, and Auckland
Castle in County Durham, in association with the Kimbell
Art Museum in Fort Worth. The show marks the first
time that this remarkable series of figures from the Hebrew Bible by the Golden Age Spanish master has traveled to the United States. In fact, the paintings have
rarely left Auckland Castle in northeastern England, where 12 of them have
hung in the dining room of the former bishop’s
residence for over 250 years. The 13th, Benjamin, joins his brothers from another collection in England. The current renovation of Auckland Castle and its transformation
into a cultural center made this American tour possible. It’s a great pleasure to introduce
our speaker this evening, Claire Barry, Director of Conservation at the Kimbell Art Museum, one of the most renowned
conservators in this country, and well known abroad. She is often in New York,
and has many friends here. Before the installation of
Jacob and His Twelve Sons in Dallas in the fall of 2017, these towering biblical heroes
lined Miss Barry’s laboratory in the Kimbell’s iconic
Louis Kahn building for almost a year. During that time, Miss
Barry and her associates gave them a ground-up examination using X-rays, infrared
reflectography, and pigment analysis to learn more about
Zurbaran and his workshops, materials, and practices, and
how they shaped the series. The results of the scientific study are presented in Miss Barry’s
seminal essay in the catalog Revisiting an Old Testament
Subject for the New World: Uncovering the Artist’s Process in Zurbaran’s Patriarch Series. She also coauthored two appendices, one with Rafael Barrientos
Martinez on print sources, and the other on canvas
weave with Don Johnson. The Kimbell team’s study is
the most comprehensive analysis of a body of work by
Zurbaran yet undertaken. Their findings were the centerpiece
of a symposium last fall at the Meadows Museum held
in Miss Barry’s honor. They are also the foundation
on which our project rests. We owe her a great debt
of gratitude as well for persuading the owner of
the 13th painting, Benjamin, to let it join the family
for both venues of the show. A graduate of the Cooperstown program in paintings conservation, Miss Barry began her
career with a fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum, working under the legendary
conservator John Brealey. In 1984, she was hired as the Kimbell’s first full time conservator, and was appointed director
of the department in 2011. While concentrating on European
paintings at the Kimbell, she also serves as the conservator
of the American paintings at the nearby Amon Carter
Museum in Fort Worth, and consults on Spanish
painting at the Meadows. A widely published author, she’s presented her many technical studies in books, journals, and documentaries. Her vast hands-on
experience with paintings ranges from Fra Angelico
to Georgia O’Keeffe, and includes her much
acclaimed restoration of Poussin’s The Sacrament of Ordination, which entered the Kimbell’s
collection in 2011. Examining potential acquisitions
for her own institution and for others is central to her work. As Michael Gallagher,
the Metropolitan Museum’s head of painting conservation said, “Claire Barry’s reaction to
a work under consideration “will often become a museum’s
weather vane of quality.” Please join me in
welcoming our good friend and esteemed colleague, Claire Barry. (audience applauds) – Good evening, oh. Good evening. Thank you, Susan, for such a generous and gracious introduction, and I’d also like to extend my gratitude to Chief Curator Xavier Salomon, and of course Director Ian Wardropper. I’d also like to welcome all the friends, conservators, and former colleagues from both the Met and the Kimbell who made the effort to be here tonight. One of the great delights of
undertaking the technical study of Zurbaran’s Jacob and His
Twelve Sons for the exhibition was the opportunity to collaborate closely with Senior Curator Susan Galassi. Susan, your curatorial
reputation speaks for itself, as we can see in the room next door. I feel that the
discussions we had together in front of Zurbaran’s paintings on our travels together
throughout Spain and France with Jose Luis Colomer and
a group of Spanish scholars were so fruitful. Also I greatly appreciate your work on the conservation video
shown here at the Frick. The presentation of the Patriarch Series at the Meadows Museum last fall closely mimicked their hanging on the green damask
walls of Auckland Castle. Seeing Jacob’s sons at the Frick, arranged in chronological order, together with their father’s blessings, against a warm red background provides a whole new experience, providing fresh insights
into the portrayal of individual figures and
the series as a whole. It’s a great honor and pleasure to be with you here tonight to speak about the series Jacob and the
Twelve Sons by Zurbaran. With the addition of
the painting of Benjamin from Grimsthorpe Castle, the entire series is happily reunited, as Susan has just said,
enabling the first family outing of the complete series to New York, the second leg of its
inaugural North American tour, which began at the Meadows in Dallas in September of last year. In the paintings conservation
department at the Kimbell, and here the paintings are as they’re hung in Auckland Castle, against the green damask walls, in the paintings conservation
department at the Kimbell, we’re fortunate over
the past several years to have maintained a long association with the Meadows Museum in Dallas, in the care of its superb
collection of Spanish art, starting with the technical study on Fernando Gallego in 2008. I’m grateful to Director Mark Roglan for continuing, and even expanding, our association with the Meadows
by inviting our department to undertake a series of technical studies connected to Meadows organized exhibition. Mark has a special talent
for seeing the potential that technical studies can provide in opening dialogues on Spanish paintings. It is thanks to Mark that our
department joined this project to carry out the first
comprehensive examination of Zurbaran’s series,
Jacob and His Twelve Sons. Bill Jordan, the distinguished
scholar of Spanish art and founding director
of the Meadows Museum, who passed away this past January, was the instigator of the
Kimbell’s long collaboration with the Meadows Museum. Following his tenure at the Meadows, where with Alger Meadows he
built a first rate collection, one of the very best
collections of Spanish art outside of Spain, Bill served as Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Kimbell for the better part of a decade. I had the pleasure to work with him then and throughout the years that followed. I believe that the best conservation work results from close collaboration between the conservator and the curator, and I was fortunate to work
closely with Bill Jordan, one of the greatest
scholars of Spanish art, on the restoration of
many Spanish paintings that he brought to my easel
over the past decades. This lecture is dedicated to his memory. The temporary closing of
Auckland Castle for renovation, beginning in 2016, provided the opportunity for a
comprehensive technical study of Zurbaran’s Patriarch Series, which, thanks to the
fortuitous loan of Benjamin from Grimsthorpe Castle, can
finally be examined unframed and in the Kimbell conservation studio as a complete series for the first time. Our study built on Gabriele Finaldi’s 1994 groundbreaking article on the series that was published in Apollo, as well as the exhibition he organized to reunite the series at both
the National Gallery, London and the Prado in Madrid in 1994 to 1995, at a time when the series still
remained relatively unknown. The current exhibition, here
shown as it was installed at the Meadows Museum in the fall of 2017, focuses primarily on an investigation of Zurbaran’s workshop practice in the production of his
ambitious Patriarch Series. This was a commercial project, dating from the mid-1640s, that was possibly intended
for export to the New World. The scope of the yearlong technical study undertaken by me and my team in the paintings conservation
department at the Kimbell, began in July 2016, included complete documentation
of the 13 canvases with infrared reflectography
and X-radiography. Conservation scientist John Twilley carried out pigment fractured sample and cross-section analysis with samples taken from
Joseph and Zebulun, using polarized light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and ultraviolet fluorescence examination. Our study also included
comprehensive analysis and photo micrography of
Zurbaran’s paint handling, using the stereo microscope, and a reappraisal of the print sources that Zurbaran referenced for
the making of the series. In addition to gaining insights into Zurbaran’s creative process, a major goal of our study
was to document the condition of Jacob and His Twelve Sons, to prepare for the future cleaning and restoration of the series. Unfortunately, no conservation
history for the series could be located in the
archives at Auckland Castle. We only received brief,
anecdotal information from the castle regarding recent damages to both Levi and Asher. Levi’s surface was
dented when a shuttlecock being used by the bishop’s children in a game of badminton in the dining room hit its surface, and Asher was damaged, unfortunately, when it fell from the wall onto a light, and caused this long
branched tear that you see here in the X-radiograph on the right, that extends into the basket. While it would’ve been
desirable to clean the paintings prior to the current exhibition, it would’ve been irresponsible
to just clean one or two, and it just wasn’t possible
due to time constraints to take on the restoration
of the entire series. As this detail of Asher’s arm reveals, it was obvious that there
were several condition issues that we needed to consider
during our assessment of the paintings. We discovered that the folds
in Asher’s crimson sleeve, which here appear a little flat, had been heavily reglazed in the past, during a previous restoration, in order to compensate for
the fading of the fugitive organic red lake pigment. Directly below this, the color
of Asher’s pale blue peplum had irreversibly changed
to a mottled gray-brown, due to Zurbaran’s use of
an inexpensive and unstable blue pigment smalt. Yet other details, including
Asher’s woven scarf, the sparkling gold brooch, and especially the basket of bread, were much better preserved, and retained much of
their original intensity. The evident quality of the gold brooch, along with the economy of its execution, suggests that it was
painted by Zurbaran himself. By contrast, the handling
of the repetitive fleur-de-lis pattern in Asher’s
skirt appears less nuanced, inviting speculation that
this part of the costume might’ve been assigned to
a member of the workshop. But until the series is cleaned, we must be cautious about drawing too many definitive conclusions about the handling, or any apparent weakness in the series, because we have to take into account the compromised condition and
the possible strengthening of these areas in previous
restoration campaigns. Currently, the varnishes
of the Patriarch Series show various levels of discoloration. While any future restoration of the series will likely involve all 13 paintings in a single coordinated campaign, in the past, some of the
paintings were restored as individual works. Most of the skies are heavily overpainted. More worrying is the fact that some of the flesh tones and costumes were subjected to harsh
over-cleaning in the past. The chromatic balance of the works, typical for many 17th century paintings, has also been compromised by
irreversible pigment changes due to Zurbaran’s use of blue
pigments azurite and smalt and the fugitive red lake pigment. Several details, such as
the bows on Joseph’s shoes, have been strengthened
in a past restoration, so that their present state
represent an approximation of their original appearance. Benjamin, which was separated
from the rest of the series when the paintings were
sold at auction in 1758, has experienced a different
restoration history from the 12 other canvases, over the past 250 years. In Zurbaran’s original
painting of Benjamin, shown here, currently in the collection of Grimsthorpe Castle, the color of his turban
has changed significantly due to the fading of the red lake pigment. Bishop Auckland commissioned
the artist Arthur Pond to create a copy of Benjamin,
here shown on the left, in the 18th century, so that he could complete the
series at Auckland Castle. Today I would like to examine
the artist’s studio practice as a gateway to understanding how Zurbaran produces ambition series as a commercial project. I will explore how he maintained a high level of quality control, while also engineering a very efficient, streamlined painting technique at a time when his workshop was producing numerous large series intended
for export to the New World. Although considered one of Caravaggio’s most important followers in Spain, Zurbaran developed his own recognizable trademark style of painting. Largely self-taught as an artist, in 1614 he began three years
of training in Seville, when his father sent
him there to apprentice with an obscure artist named
Pedro Diaz de Villanueva, an artist of whom very little is known. In 1626, Zurbaran’s contract
to produce 21 paintings for the Dominican monastery
of San Pablo in Seville within 18 months, 14 paintings depicting
the life of Saint Dominic and other saints and the
four Doctors of the Church established his reputation as a painter. By 1629, Zurbaran’s paintings
had gained the artist such fame that the elders of Seville invited him to relocate
permanently to the city, a great recognition of
his status as a painter. Zurbaran’s individual brand of tenebrism and Sevillian naturalism
continued to secure his position as the most popular artist in Seville for a period of about two decades. The Patriarch Series is
one of numerous series of single, life size religious figures, including apostles or virgin saints, that Zurbaran and his workshop executed, often for export to the New World, throughout the 1630s and 1640s. The vertical format
canvases that Zurbaran chose for Jacob and His Twelve Sons, measuring roughly 200 by 100 centimeters, are slightly larger than the supports he used in the Lisbon
Apostle Series, shown here. While the artist depicted the apostles before neutral, dark backgrounds, however, he placed the patriarchs in
front of vibrant landscapes with expansive skies and low horizons. By positioning the
patriarchs in a shallow space in front of low horizons, Zurbaran enhanced the perception of the figures’ towering stature. Ribera adopted a similar pictorial device in his famous The Club Footed Boy, 1642. We did see some variations in quality throughout the landscapes
in the Jacob series. However, it’s important to remember that the opacity of Naphtali’s
sky, here on the right, has been overemphasized due
to areas of heavy overpaint. This results from a
previous restorer’s effort to minimize a network of craquelure that had developed in the background, exposing the underlying dark brown ground. The task of portraying
the different individuals in the Jacob and His Twelve Sons series required that Zurbaran
engage the viewers’ attention by presenting 13 unique poses. Rather than painting figures from life, in the manner of Caravaggio, Zurbaran modeled the
patriarchs’ diverse gestures and stances from print sources, as Gabriele Finaldi and
others have written. Northern prints were
greatly admired and utilized by 17th century painters
working in Seville. Having knowledge and
access to these prints also enhanced the prestige of the artist. Referencing these iconic images
was a time-saving practice that ensured a high standard of quality. At first glance, Zurbaran’s
portrayal of Naphtali appears to be a near-slavish
imitation of Durer’s Christ from The Little Passion series. However, Zurbaran’s
studio practice involved a more hybrid technique
that likely combined painting Naphtali’s
face and hands from life while modeling the
patriarch’s overall stance from Durer’s figure of Christ. Zurbaran repositioned
Naphtali’s proper right arm and likely consulted Schongauer’s
engravings of apostles, possibly either Saint
Bartholomew or Saint Judas, to shape Naphtali’s proper right hand. Adopting a hybrid technique that united different print sources with
painting from a live model echoed an approach advanced
by the 17th century Sevillian art theorist Francisco Pacheco, Velazquez’s father-in-law and teacher. In book three of his treatise, On the Practice of
Painting and All Its Uses, Pacheco wrote, “While artists
have some figure to paint, “they should choose things from prints, “drawings, or paintings. “A head from one, a half
figure or two from another, “arms, legs, draperies, and
unite them in such a way “that they form a pleasing
whole from the various parts.” We did not uncover any
evidence of underdrawing in our examination of
the 13 Patriarch canvases through infrared reflectography or examination under
the stereo microscope. Furthermore, Zurbaran left
no drawings or studies of these paintings. His studio practice, however, must have involved a
preliminary drawing phase, since the evidence suggests
that he meticulously designed the 13 patriarch figures
prior to painting, although we have no direct
evidence of how he transferred his outlines of these figures
onto the prepared canvases. Pacheco wrote that it was common for 17th century Sevillian artists to draw directly on the ground
layer using gesso or chalk. And for life size or larger pictures, Pacheco recommended
fastening a piece of chalk to a cane to outline the figures. These chalk outlines
would’ve largely disappeared during the painting process. The proper delineation of the figure was something that Pacheco emphasized. Note the sinuous line that Zurbaran creates for Asher’s profile that begins with the repetitive pattern of drapery folds at the top of his turban and continues through
the profile of his face, here rendered in half-shadow and set off against the bright sky, and then even onto the ribbon loops. The luminous still life of
bread loaves in Asher’s basket, it’s a high point of the entire series, undoubtedly painted by Zurbaran himself. Zurbaran’s depiction of the loaves against the bright background sky highlights their crisp outlines and asymmetrical arrangement. Portraying the bread
loaves in raking light emphasizes their volume
and three dimensional form. Note the contour Zurbaran creates using Asher’s fingers and hand
that grasp the bread basket. His fingertips almost read as an extension of the basket weave. Zurbaran’s portrayal of Issachar, another one of the patriarchs
depicted in profile, with his arched back
and large red backpack, also reflects the artist’s preoccupation with the proper delineation of the figure. Zurbaran added Issachar’s
proper right hand as an afterthought. You can see here in these
details that it was painted on top of the already completed sky. This was the only pentimento
found in Zurbaran’s depiction of hands in
the Patriarch Series, but it doesn’t represent a change as much as it represents an addition that helps guide the
eye to Issachar’s face and helps balance the
counterweight of the backpack. Evidence from our
examination of the series through X-radiography
suggested that Zurbaran, once he predetermined
the patriarchs’ poses during a preliminary design phase, generally left their contours as designed without any major changes
during the painting process. We might see some slight shifts in the outlines of the drapery, but little more than that. This reinforced the impression that Zurbaran developed
their overall poses using a hybrid technique based on prints rather than posing from live models or instinctively painting from life. Zurbaran did not attempt to
capture spontaneous movement or momentary gestures. Rather, he produced 13 static
and emblematic figures. Once again, his studio practice seems to follow Pacheco’s advice to carefully plan figures
prior to painting. Quote, “I will not follow
the careless advice “that allows the painter
to assail the canvas “by drawing the idea for
some figure directly upon it “without any other
preparation,” end quote. This X-radiographic
detail of Joseph’s hand shows Zurbaran’s very deliberate treatment of this hand without any
hesitation or changes. Although Zurbaran was
influenced by Caravaggio’s revolutionary technique
of chiaroscuro painting, he departed from Caravaggio’s practice of painting figures directly form life. During examination of
Caravaggio’s Cardsharps, at the Kimbell Art Museum,
infrared reflectography revealed that the artist first rapidly blocked in, then spontaneously repositioned, the young cheat’s card-pulling hand. The apparent speed with
which he made the change suggests that he was working
in front of the live model. And Zurbaran’s contemporary, Guercino, an Italian follower of
Caravaggio working in Bologna, executed the Kimbell’s Christ
and the Woman of Samaria in 1619 to 1620, a painting indebted to
Caravaggio’s naturalism and chiaroscuro lighting. X-radiography revealed
Guercino’s obsession with readjusting the position
of Christ’s proper right hand, a focal point of the composition. There’s a palpable sense
that Christ is gesturing with his outstretched hand while conversing with the Samaritan woman. X-radiography of the patriarch paintings revealed that Zurbaran employed the inexpensive plain
weave canvas, taffeta, throughout the series. This was the canvas
weave most commonly used in 17th century Seville. During the mid-17th century, there were artisans designated
as preparers of canvas, and it was a common
practice for apprentices to store primed canvases in the
workshop waiting to be used. Relying on color men
or workshop assistants to systematically stretch
and prepare his canvases, a purely manual activity, freed Zurbaran to focus his attention on the more intellectual
or creative aspects of his painting practice. Through canvas weave
analysis with Don Johnson, we discovered that the 13 paintings derived from three cliques, or groups, of six, five, and two canvases each, suggesting that ample
canvases were prepared with the production of
a large series in mind. The canvas weave maps reflected a somewhat quirky method of stretching that we noted throughout the series, and this would be interesting compare with other canvases emanating
from Zurbaran’s workshop. Examination of several cross sections taken from Joseph and Zebulun using polarized light microscopy,
ultraviolet fluorescence, and the scanning electron microscope, confirmed the presence of
a two-layered brown ground comprised of brown iron earth that is characteristic of
the earth found in Seville, Sevillian earth ground. This was considered the
best and smoothest priming in its time. A clear difference in particle size was seen between the upper
and lower ground layers. The aim of the coarser lower ground was to fill the canvas weave
and create a stable base layer, while the upper layer consisted
of much finer particles, to create a smoother,
even surface for painting. The ground samples from Joseph and Zebulun shared the same structural features, and most of the same uses of material, pointing to consistency
in ground preparation throughout the series. As Zahira Veliz discussed
in her article on Zurbaran’s Christ and the Virgin
in the House of Nazareth from the Cleveland Museum of Art, composing a picture by
arranging dark and light areas was the prevailing trend in Spain when Zurbaran was active as an artist. The opaque underline of light
areas over the dark ground, called chiaroscuro underpainting, was an essential part of this method. During her examination of
the Cleveland painting, Veliz discovered that prior to painting, Zurbaran defined the shape
and contour of Mary’s robe using an opaque, warm,
tan preparatory layer that was applied over the brown ground. This light, warm underlayer
enhanced the luminosity of her crimson robe. Similarly, he painted Jesus’s drapery over a cream colored base tone that canceled the effect of
the underlying dark brown and heightened the radiance
of this ultramarine blue robe. Joyce Plesters, during her
examination of St. Margaret, on the left, at the
National Gallery, London, discovered thin layers of
gray-brown or blackish brown paint either noticeably lighter or
darker than the ground itself underlying various areas of local color. This suggested to Plesters that Zurbaran executed a monochrome
undermodeling prior to painting to aid the artist in establishing
the light and medium tones as well as shadows for the
painting of St. Margaret. In our examination of
the Patriarch Series, we found that while Zurbaran
painted the flesh tones and skies directly over the brown ground, he applied selective toned underlayers beneath different colored costumes. He painted Joseph’s once
lavender brocaded coat over a cool gray base tone, which is now completely
exposed here on the left due to the fading of
his original pigments, so we’re actually seeing the
underlayer in Jacob’s coat, the gray underlayer. And he also painted Joseph’s
cool crimson drapery, on the right, over a similar
cool gray underlayer, which has now become more
emphasized with the fading of the red lake pigment. For Zebulun’s multicolored striped pants, Zurbaran selected a
sienna toned underlayer, more appropriate for the warmer palette of Zebulun’s clothing. The artist used the warm base tone to enhance the tonality of the colors, and also to impart a sense
of volume to the pants. Note how he abruptly ends
the bright yellow stripes, allowing the exposed sienna base tone to suggest the curve of the fabric as it goes into shadow. Here. Zurbaran accomplishes such a
convincing illusion of form and fabric using the simplest of means. By contrast, Zurbaran painted
the patriarchs’ flesh tones directly onto the brown ground,
the Sevillian earth ground. He uses the exposed ground
to create the shadow and a sense of volume along
Jacob’s smallest finger. Zurbaran’s use of selective undertones was an essential part
of his studio practice, as seen in the Adoration of
the Magi from 1639 to 1640, from the museum in Grenoble. Here we see Zurbaran differentiating
between the flesh tones of the gray-haired Magi
and the Christ child by using different toned underlayers. He painted the older Magi’s flesh tones directly over the dark brown ground, which you can see here in the shadows, but modeled the infant’s skin
over a cool gray base tone that is also visible in
the thinly painted shadows. X-radiography of Levi yielded
the unexpected discovery of the head of a Virgin with
a light background blocked in beneath the patriarch’s legs. The earlier composition was abandoned, and the canvas was flipped and recycled to create the painting of Levi. Was this evidence of another,
earlier, abandoned series, perhaps an apostolato series, which would’ve included, typically, figures of the Virgin and Christ? Results of canvas weave analysis support the idea of a rejected series, revealing that the canvases
for the Patriarch Series were bought and prepared in bulk. The quality of execution
of the Virgin’s head suggests that Zurbaran
himself was responsible, and that he started the
composition with the head. This finding also sheds
light on the likely sequence that he followed in his studio practice, which was reinforced by
our direct examination of the paint surfaces. After painting the flesh tones, Zurbaran blocked in the
skies and the landscapes, followed by the clothes
and the decorative details, and ending with the final
retouching of the paintings. Zurbaran modeled Jacob’s flesh tones by using a simple, abbreviated technique in which he contrasted
the lighter flesh tones with exposed areas of
the dark brown ground to suggest the shadows and wrinkles of the patriarch’s weathered face. Zurbaran’s streamlined
technique of using raking light and dark and light contrast
to create a sense of three dimensional relief
was highly efficient compared to the Renaissance
practice of modeling form in a more generalized light with the meticulous application of glazes. Zurbaran’s innate skill
as a painter is seen in his seemingly rapid portrayal
of Jacob’s hooded eyes. After feathering in
the flesh-colored paint around areas of exposed ground, the artist added simple
black slits for the eyes and a few wispy brushstrokes
for Jacob’s brows. This detail of Joseph, the
second to last of Jacob’s sons, reflects the artist’s
ability to employ the same economical techniques
of chiaroscuro painting to portray the smooth skin
of a rosy-cheeked youth. Joseph’s mustache is suggested
by exposing the brown ground and little else. To create the half tones and the shadows beneath Joseph’s eyes, Zurbaran dragged a dry
brush over the dark ground. The contrast of Joseph’s shadowed brow, comprised of the exposed brown ground, emphasizes the intensity
of the patriarch’s fixed, open stare. Once again, Zurbaran used an
extremely efficient technique to model the lids, eyes, and highlights using just a few simple strokes. These details illustrate
a type of energetic zigzag brushwork that we found in passages throughout the series, that we felt could only be
ascribed to Zurbaran himself. The freedom and handling seem to reflect the work of the master engaged in the act of creating. On the left, we see
Zurbaran roughly blocking in Jacob’s beard prior to adding
the fine strands of gray with finishing brushwork. We found similar zigzag,
on a much finer scale, in the modeling of Issachar’s
flesh tones, on the right. Zurbaran began to paint
Simeon’s striped sash by applying a preliminary
layer of vermilion paint, the created the folds by
pulling in dilute brown glazes. Using a stiffer paint, he employed a rapid shorthand technique to apply the colored stripes of the sash. From a distance, these
short dashes of brushwork read as continuous lines of color. The artist recycled one template to create the brocade pattern draperies of Dan, Judah, and Levi, but used different color contrast to differentiate the three costumes. The photomicrograph of
Dan’s drapery on the right shows the sharp edge of the blue paint, here, suggesting that the artist
applied the brocade pattern with the aid of a template. Zurbaran’s mastery of
the handling of light can be seen in his
treatment of minor details in Zebulun’s costume. Starting with a thinly applied taupe base layer for the shadow, he modeled the dangling
string in Zebulun’s shirt using a single brushstroke
loaded with lead white paint. The downward pressure
he applied to the brush produced thin ridges of white paint along the edges of the string
that read as highlights. The artist’s efficient use
of chiaroscuro modeling can also be seen in his treatment
of Zebulun’s red button. He established the shadows
first using dilute black paint, and then applied the juicy
bright vermilion paint with apparent speed, shaping, texturing, and
highlighting the button in just one final step. Zurbaran’s handling of the
elaborate gold embroidery of Joseph’s coat, which, like all of the patriarchs’
embroidered borders were based on clear designs, is a tour de force. Close examination of the embroidery, applied during the final
stages of painting, reveals the simplicity and the directness of the artist’s technique. He rendered these details using
a simple, two-step process. After laying in a dilute
taupe paint for the shadow, he selectively added the
lead-tin-yellow highlights, using a stiffer paint. Zurbaran’s control of the brush, and mastery in the handling of highlights, creates the convincing illusion
of glittering gold threads in three dimensional relief. The artist employed the
same two-step process in the handling of the
embroidered paisley pattern along the border of Joseph’s coat. The artist applied
lead-tin-yellow highlights to create the fringe, using tiny, irregular dashes of paint that conveyed both the
sparkle and subtle movement of the gold threads. The simplicity of Zurbaran’s
technique is conveyed in his treatment of Joseph’s bejeweled, pearl-encrusted brooch. He creates each of the pearls by applying two dabs of paint for highlight and shadow over a gray base tone. Although X-radiography
of the Patriarch Series did not reveal any pentimenti
in the poses of the figures, it did bring to light
three significant changes or additions to narrative details that Zurbaran made in a
late stage of painting, at a point when he could’ve assessed both the individual figures
and the series as a whole. He added a much fuller
beard to Zebulun’s face, covering his scraggly neck and softening his weathered appearance. With this change, Zurbaran
modified Zebulun’s appearance to more closely resemble
that of de Gheyn’s portrayal of the the patriarch in this print. In the foreground of the painting of Levi, Zurbaran added a temple
over the completed landscape at lower left, covering a slender tree with a cupola of the building. Perhaps the artist felt it was necessary to clarify Levi’s identity
as a Jewish priest with the addition of the temple. Evidence of the artist’s
characteristic zigzag brushwork used for his initial
blocking in is visible in the interior of the temple. The artist also added loaves of bread to the pile of Asher’s basket, to produce a more ample
and asymmetric heap. Because the 12 patriarchs were viewed as predecessors to the apostles, they were the Old Testament
precursors to the 12 apostles, this adjustment highlights
a key iconographic detail, symbolizing the Eucharist and the bounty of Christ’s
blessing in the New Testament. These additions also
place greater emphasis on what is one of the
most beautiful passages of the entire series, that showcases Zurbaran’s consummate skill as a still life painter. Close examination of one of
the added loaves of bread shows how Zurbaran textured the crust by gouging into the still-wet paint with the end of his brush, exposing the brown ground, which is also visible in
some of the open craquelure on the right. We discovered that the artist
also carved into the wet paint of the river in Issachar’s landscape, using the exposed brown
to sculpt the branches along the riverbank. This discovery links Issachar’s landscape directly to the master’s hand, upsetting the notion that the landscapes were exclusively given
to workshop assistants. We found variations in the
quality of the landscapes in the Patriarch Series. Here are two of the
better quality landscapes. Nuances in the handling of
light on Asher’s wheat field, and the thatch building on the left, suggest that these passages were possibly painted by Zurbaran himself. On the right, the
artist’s handling of light on the rocks and water, coupled with his technique
of sculpting the tree branch, also links this landscape to Zurbaran. But when we compare Naphtali’s
landscape on the right to Asher’s wheat field on the left, we see perhaps differences
in the level of quality, particularly in the handling
of the thatched buildings, with the one on the right
appearing slightly more generic, possibly the work of a workshop assistant. In conclusion, we believe that
Zurbaran’s studio practice is a fundamental aspect to consider when discussing his place in
Spanish Golden Age painting. Taking cues from Caravaggio
as well as Northern prints, Zurbaran developed his
own marketable brand. He produced large scale series for important religious
commissions in Spain, such as Guadalupe, while also tapping into
the export potential for transatlantic trade
with the New World. By employing a studio practice that relied on highly developed, fixed compositions and exploiting the expressive potential of toned underlayers and
chiaroscuro painting, Zurbaran was able to paint very quickly. He abbreviated the painting process when it came to the addition
of decorative elements such as gold embroidery and pearls, which are some of the
most striking features in the Jacob and His Twelve Sons series. Zurbaran’s streamlined technique enabled him to position
himself as a prolific painter and guarantee his commercial success through the efficient
production of monumental series. Looking at the paint surfaces themselves, we see variations in handling. However, we found that
Zurbaran was actively involved in realizing the series at
several different stages. We see him blocking in forms,
using rapid zigzag brushwork, in an early stage of painting. We also see his hand in the
fully worked-up flesh tones and in iconographic changes, such as the addition of bread
loaves to Asher’s basket. Zurbaran’s hybrid approach to composition, coupled with his proficient,
systematic method and expert handling of the brush, are key to understanding his work. Jacob and His Twelve Sons is an example of the artist’s consummate vision, a workshop-oriented approach that includes significant hands-on
involvement of the master. Thank you very much. (audience applauds) (whispering)

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