(b. ca. 1415, Valls, d. 1492, Barcelona)

Sts Abdon and Sennen

Mixed technique on wood, 290 x 220 cm
Santa Maria d'Egara, Terrassa

Huguet is an exemplary representative of Catalan painting of the 15th century, which remained indebted to medieval tradition and almost untouched by the innovations of the Early Renaissance. There are no records documenting his work before the year 1448, when he was commissioned to paint a St James altar for Arbeca. Between then and 1486, he executed a lengthy series of polyptychs, of which his Saints Abdon and Sennen Altar (1458-1460) and Three Kings altar (Barcelona, Museo de Historia de la Ciudad, 1464) stand out in particular. Huguet's painting underwent no notable stylistic development. He generally stuck to a gold background; spatial details were kept to a minimum, and the two-dimensional plane prevailed over physical volume. Huguet was so busy that he gradually employed more and more assistants in his workshop, which resulted in his works deteriorating in technical quality and becoming somewhat hackneyed in their appearance.

Jaume Huguet's best-preserved work is his Saints Abdon and Sennen Altar, executed for St Peter's church in Terrassa, near Barcelona. This detail shows the main picture, featuring the standing figures of the two martyrs of late antiquity. Although today relatively unknown, in Huguet's day they were highly revered by Catalan farmers. Their story was also included in the most famous medieval collection of biographies of saints, the Golden Legend. Huguet portrays the two martyrs dressed in the style of nobles of his day. The crowns which they wear on top of their fashionable hats indicate their royal rank. In their hands they carry the instruments of their martyrdom. Tall, slender, almost boringly well-proportioned figures, with gentle faces and even features, were one of the painter's hallmarks.

In a similar fashion to Cologne, Catalonia continued to employ lavish gold grounds far longer than in the Netherlands. In the present example, Huguet has even tooled a tendril pattern into parts of the gilding, while introducing raised relief into the crowns, haloes and decorative details.