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

St Elizabeth of Portugal

Oil on canvas, 184 x 90 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Zurbarán at his best may be said to have given new life to certain qualities found in the Mozarabic miniatures and Romanesque panel paintings - majesty, serenity and brilliance of colour. He had already made his name, and was a court painter - though he had not yet come under the not altogether felicitous influence of Murillo - when he painted this Andalusian girl with her attractively irregular features, elegantly dressed in heavy, shimmering silks, wearing pearls and a coronet and holding roses in her hand, the only indication of her identity. For St Elizabeth of Portugal is associated with the miraculous transformation of bread into roses as was St Elizabeth of Hungary and Thuringia.

There are many versions of the story of Elizabeth's miracle of turning bread into roses, but they are all fundamentally the same. She is said to have been forbidden by her unfaithful husband to give to the poor. Having hid bread to give away in her apron, she encountered King Diniz, who asked her what she was carrying. Not wanting to let on that the contents of her apron were meant for the poor, she responded that they were roses. The bread was transformed into roses, and King Dinis, who could not understand how she could have possession of fresh roses in January, did not punish his wife.

The left side of the painting was cut.

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