CANO, Alonso
(b. 1601, Granada, d. 1667, Granada)

The Dead Christ Supported by an Angel

Oil on canvas, 178 x 121 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

An Andalusian by birth and training, Alonso Cano, a painter, sculptor and architect, did most of his painting between 1638 and 1652, in Madrid, and later in Granada. This part of his career was divided between the execution of altarpieces and the portrayal of religious scenes revealing the highest qualities of an artist in love with beauty. In his conception of painting, Cano, a great creator of types, stands somewhere between Zurbarán and Murillo. His frequently rounded forms are softened by lively and harmonious, but never strident colors. Strong lighting and vigorous composition give his figures, almost always religious, their distinctive plasticity.

The most noteworthy of Cano's altarpieces are those in the church at Getafe (near Madrid), dating from 1645. From that time on, Cano's technique became increasingly pictorial, that is to say, increasingly Baroque, acquiring some of the subtleties he had previously ignored. Perhaps his most important painting is the Descent into Limbo (in the County Museum, Los Angeles), a strange, rather illustrative composition, anecdotal in the movement imparted to the figures, but including one of the rare, and one of the most beautiful, female nudes in Spanish art. His sense of drama finds its most intense expression in his Dead Christ Supported by an Angel, in the Prado. Cano's gifts as a landscape painter are apparent in a number of pictures with Biblical themes, for example in his Christ and the Woman of Samaria, in which the lights and darks have a strongly naturalistic effect.

During his later years in Granada, Cano painted a number of other important works, like the Seven Mysteries of the Virgin, brilliantly colored canvases of monumental proportions painted between 1652 and 1664 for the main chapel of the Cathedral. Cano's foremost achievement is undoubtedly the series of Immaculate Conceptions painted at various times in his career, including a particularly fine one in the Provincial Museum at Vitoria, and another in the oratory of Granada cathedral. Fate has not been kind to Cano's paintings: several of the best have been destroyed in revolutions and wars.