(b. 1624, Sevilla, d. 1699, Sevilla)

The Entombment

Painted and gilt wood, over-life-size
Hospital de la Caridad, Seville

The Brotherhood of Charity, the Caridad, as it is known, was one of Seville's major lay confraternities. It was founded in 1565 with the mission of providing a decent burial for paupers. From 1663 the charitable activities were expanded to provide care for the needy sick, and a hospital was built, simultaneously enlarging and renovating the already existing chapel.

The scheme for the decoration of the chapel is a tripartite exposition of Christian charity as the way of salvation. The first part comprises two memorable paintings by Valdés Leal, demonstrating the futility of earthly pursuits and honours. A life devoted to accumulating wealth, power, and even learning is shown to lead only to the grave. Charity, which constitutes the second part of the program, provides the way to salvation, as seen in the seven acts of mercy, six of which are depicted by Murillo; the seventh, burying the dead, the Caridad's foundation charity, is embodied in a sculptural group, the Entombment of Christ by Pedro Roldán, placed in the altarpiece. The third component consists of two paintings by Murillo for lateral altars, depicting St Elizabeth of Hungary and St John of God, both illustrating the efficacy of good works and the necessity of personal participation in charitable deeds.

In seventeenth-century Spain the economic crisis had the effect of intensifying religion and bringing it closer to the people. Spanish sculpture of this period, nearly always in brightly coloured wood, treated the various figures of the Passion singly, in isolation, with the devoutness of a miracle play, thus bringing about an unexpected return to the cultural atmosphere of the Middle Ages. Roldán's sculptural group is an example of this style.

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