(b. 1614, Avilés, d. 1685, Madrid)

Mass of St John of Matha

Oil on canvas, 500 x 315 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

In 1664 the Trinitarian order in Pamplona completed a new monastic complex and turned Carreño and Francisco Rizi to paint the altarpiece for the church. The Trinitarian order had been founded in the late twelfth century by the Frenchman John of Matha, and the altarpiece illustrates a key moment in his career. As St John of Matha raised the host during his first mass, he saw a vision of a young boy dressed in white (here converted into an angel), with arms crossed and hands resting on the heads of two prisoners, one a Christian, one a Moor. From this vision the saint divined his earthly mission, to establish a religious order devoted to the redemption of Christian prisoners.

The composition was designed by Rizi but it is signed and dated only by Carreño. The composition is set within a monumental space, opening at the right on a serene, luminous landscape. St John of Matha is flanked by priests wearing rich, sparkling vestments woven with gold and silver threads. The onlookers focus their eyes on the priest, who lifts the sacramental wafer, and lean forward, drawn inexorably by the power of the incipient miracle. Above the throng, in the airy upper reaches of the space, the artist demonstrates his command of movement and foreshortening.

This painting represents the culmination of the two artists' partnership soon to dissolve; neither artist working alone would again be able to create a picture of this quality and complexity.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.