(b. 1601, Granada, d. 1667, Granada)
The Miracle at the Well1646-48
Oil on canvas, 216 x 149 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
This painting, hailed by Cano's contemporaries as a masterpiece, was part of the main altar in the no longer extant church of Santa María de le Almudena in Madrid. Damaged and all but forgotten, the painting entered the Prado in 1941, where its qualities can now be appreciated as they fully deserve.
According to legend, the son of St Isidore fell into a well. Through the prayers of the saint and his wife, the water level rose miraculously so that the child was brought safely to the surface. Here, we see St Isidore standing in front of the well with his arms spread wide. The young woman is helping the child out of the well and looking towards her husband with an expression of astonishment on her face. Two servant girls in the background are commenting with eloquent gestures on the miracle. Two children and a dog, drawn towards the overflowing water, also discuss the event.
Cano links two themes in this painting: the miracle itself and the recognition of Isidore's saintliness by the women. For the artist, this means presenting him in the manner of history painting and religious portraiture at the same time. He has solved this problem of duality by presenting the saint as an almost incidental figure barely involved in the event, a fact which has frequently been misinterpreted as a weakness of this painting.