ZURBARÁN, Francisco de
(b. 1598, Fuente de Cantos, d. 1664, Madrid)

St Hugo of Grenoble in the Carthusian Refectory

c. 1633
Oil on canvas, 102 x 168 cm
Museo de Bellas Artes, Seville

Zurbarán's painting of a Carthusian refectory intensely reflects the ideal of this order of hermit monks: simplicity, sobriety and quiet contemplation. The room is unadorned, but for a painting showing the Virgin and Child with John the Baptist in the wilderness - an inspiration to the monks. An arched doorway opens out towards a typically simple Carthusian church. The monks, dressed in white cassocks, are seated at the table on which there are only plates of bread. With the exception of one monk whose hands are folded in prayer, they are all completely immersed in introspective contemplation with their eyes cast down, apparently paying no attention to the guest to whom the elderly abbot, St Hugo, appears to be explaining the life of the monastery. This painting exudes an atmosphere of tranquillity unaffected by the event portrayed.