ROELAS, Juan de las
(b. ca. 1570, Flanders, d. 1625, Olivares)
Spanish painter of Flemish origin. He was a native of Flanders but his entire documented career took place in Spain, where he played a major role in the transition from Mannerist to Baroque painting. He is one of the most important Spanish painters of the early 17th century; his work was extremely popular in his own time. He is sometimes called the Spanish Tintoretto; there are stylistic analogies between the two. His innovative style introduced the spirit of the early Baroque into painting in Seville at the beginning of the 17th century.
His paintings are naturalistic but have a transcendental quality, and his figures are endowed with an expressive vitality that contrasts with the physical and spiritual immobility of contemporary painting. Roelas used light, loose brushstrokes, with heavy, warm tonalities that contrast with the cool, chromatic tones, derived from Mannerism, that were favoured by his colleagues. In Seville he was first to combine realism and mysticism, an approach prevalent in 17th-century Spain.
He came from an aristocratic family, and his father was an admiral in the Spanish Navy. He held the office of chaplain throughout his life. He began his artistic training in Seville but may have completed it in Italy, as his work suggests an Italian influence. His paintings are in some cases derived directly from the late 16th-century Venetian school, in particular the work of the Bassano family. Roelas is documented in 1597 in Valladolid and worked in the city again when Philip III's court was there. In 1603 he moved to Olivares, near Seville, acting as chaplain in the collegiate church. He must soon have left Olivares for Seville, where he was a priest in the church of El Salvador. During the next ten years he became a commanding figure in the art world, executing significant commissions for the cathedral and several local churches.
Between 1604 and 1606 he executed part of the paintings for the main reredos of the Jesuit church (now the university church) in Seville. He painted the Circumcision in the central canvas of this reredos, filled with large figures and a celestial scene, as well as the right-hand panel, the Adoration of the Shepherds, which is a more naturalistic work; he also painted a St John the Baptist and a St John the Evangelist, both situated in the upper part of the reredos. In 1608 Roelas contracted to paint the Triumph of St Gregory for the English Jesuits in Seville (University of Durham), also a St James at the Battle of Clavijo and a Pietà (both 1609; Seville Cathedral). Two important works are known to date from 1612: the Vision of St Bernard (Seville, S Andrés) and St Peter Released from Prison (Seville, S Pedro). His masterpiece is perhaps the huge Martyrdom of St Andrew (1609, Museo de Bellas Artes, Seville).
In 1617 Roelas decided to try his luck at the court and applied for a position as royal painter. His application failed, but he lingered in Madrid until 1621, the date he returned to his chaplaincy at Olivares, where he died in 1625.