(b. 1622, Sevilla, d. 1690, Sevilla)

Ascension of Elijah

c. 1658
Oil on canvas, 567 x 508 cm
Carmen Calzado, Córdoba

Valdés went back to Córdoba in 1654 for a final two-year stay and began one of his greatest creations, the altarpiece for the church of the Shod Carmelites. This work eventually would comprise twelve pictures and take three years to finish (two canvases are dated 1658). One reason for the delay might have been the painter's decision to leave Córdoba and settle permanently in Seville. Valdés's return coincided with the appearance in Seville of Herrera the Younger, who profoundly affected him. Herrera's impact is first noticeable in the Carmelite altarpiece, especially in the centrepiece, the monumental Ascension of Elijah, one of the greatest Spanish pictures of the period.

The Ascension of Elijah plays a central role in the imagery of the Carmelite order, which claimed to have been founded by the Hebrew prophet. According to the Bible (2 Kings 2:11) Elijah was assumed into heaven from Mount Carmel in a fiery chariot. As he ascended, his mantle felt to the ground and was received by Elisha, an act that symbolizes the succession of the Carmelites to the prophet's legacy.

In Valdés's painting a spirited team of horses pulls the chariot toward heaven, while a yellow mantle drifts down into Elisha's outstretched arms. Valdés has conceived the scene with an almost explosive theatricality. Fire bursts from the wheels and adornments of the chariot; flames are ignited by the impact of the horses' hooves. Even Elijah's beard seems ablaze as it is swept aside by the rush of the wind. On the ground below, a cool, placid landscape, filled with exquisite flora and fauna, is painted in subdued greens and grays that contrast with the riotous reds, oranges, and yellows of the flaming chariot.

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