(b. 1450, Paredes de Nava, d. 1504, Ávila)

Burning of the Heretics (Auto-da-fé)

c. 1500
Oil on panel, 154 x 92 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The mature style of Berruguete was formed by a synthesis of Flemish and Italian influences. This synthesis is best seen in Ávila where he worked from 1499 until his death in 1504. His principal patron in this city was the Dominican monastery of Santo Tomás, where he created paintings for the main altarpiece, dedicated to St Thomas Aquinas, and two subsidiary altars, dedicated to St Peter Martyr and St Dominic, and which are the best demonstration of his hybrid style. The best known picture from Santo Tomás represents St Dominic seated in the middle of a high tribune, pardoning a heretic from death at the stake.

St Dominic was a Spanish saint born in Castile in 1170. At the age of fourteen he was admitted to the University of Valencia and from there he went to the South of France to preach against the Albigensian heresy. The order he founded was militant in combating the enemies of the Church and, as may be seen in Berruguete's pictures among others, played a leading role in the conflict with the Albigensians.

Berruguete lived during the last years of the reconquista when those sentenced to be burned at the stake were mostly Moors who had been converted to Christianity but who were suspected of practicing Mohammedanism in secret. Berruguete witnessed the death of these heretics and this painting faithfully illustrates the manner in which the sentences imposed by the Inquisition were enforced in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: he records the half reprieve granted to penitents, the throttling that preceded burning and even the pointed hats worn by those condemned to do penance. Berruguete's way of representing the platform, and the delicacy, elegance and harmony of his colours are all indications that the innovations of Italian art of the fifteenth century had already found their way to Spain.

In fact Berruguete worked in Italy, in the court of Federico da Montefeltro, Prince of Urbino, in the early 1480s together with Piero della Francesca, Melozzo da Forli and Luca Signorelli. He was basically a Renaissance painter with strong Spanish-Flemish traditions.