Natalia Mejía Murillo, Vicente Guerola Blay, The convergence of graphic sources in the pictorial production of Francisco Ribalta in Valencia, Spain and Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos in Bogotá, Colombia, e-conservation Journal 3, 2015
Available online 18 November 2015

The convergence of graphic sources in the pictorial production of Francisco Ribalta in Valencia, Spain and Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos in Bogotá, Colombia

Natalia Mejía Murillo, Vicente Guerola Blay


The use of graphic sources as a formal mechanism for imaging is a topic widely applied in the pictorial production of the 16th and 17th centuries. The use of engravings, which was a common practice in European painting, became a necessity in America due to the absence of painting masters, leaving the Colonial artists guessing the right approach based on the tools they had at their hand. Hence, the availability of European graphic sources established itself as a direct and decisive influence on the formation of painters. From this perspective, similar representations were identified in the paintings of Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos (1638-1711), one of the most prominent colonial painters in Colombia and Francisco Ribalta (1565-1628), an influential Spanish baroque painter. Both artists used the same model horse and some soldiers found on Flemish and Italian engravings for their paintings’ composition “St. James in the Battle of Clavijo”. This research aims to emphasize the importance of a chromatic reintegration based on valid sources that allows a respectful restoration of the original and, therefore, misinterpretations affecting the correct reading of the paintings are avoided. For this reason, the identification of these prints are an important contribution, not only documentary and historical, but also as a tool for the conservator-restorer that would be able to use the same sources that have served as models for both painters.

1. Introduction

The study between the formal relationships and influences of engravings in the pictorial production of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe and America has been an issue addressed in historiographical research [1, 2] that allowed to obtain information about the use of graphic sources as formal mechanism for imaging.

The technical possibilities offered by printed reproduction sources played an important part in the copy and dissemination of ideas used on Counter-Reformation images. The spreading of these prints, mainly religious themes, through engravings, proved to be a formidable tool for artists that would be able to found in them a visual repertoire that could be used for the making of their paintings, either by using fragmented extracting from figures that compose the image or by direct copying of the whole picture.

With the Spanish colonisation, engravings were also taken to America and became a useful tool to evangelize, educate and illustrate faith dogmas as they had been previously used in Europe. The wide diffusion of printed images in the New World established itself as a direct and decisive influence on the formation of American artists that would find in graphic sources a formidable way to mitigate the lack of tools and knowledge necessary for the practice of painting. Thus, due to the absence of workshops, painting teachers and models for the drawing exercise, the copy of engravings became a necessity for the colonial artist, who used them as a tool for imaging.

From this approach, similar representations were identified for the composition of the images of “St. James in the Battle of Clavijo” in paintings by Colombian painter Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos (1638-1711) and Spanish painter Francisco Ribalta (1565-1628). These paintings are located, respectively, in the Cathedral of Bogotá, Colombia and in the Church of St. James in Algemesí, Spain. The importance of this research is to acknowledge how these artists, which developed their artistic practice in completely different contexts, used the same models for the horse and some soldiers extracted from Flemish and Italian engravings to create their compositions.

Therefore, the identification of pictures that have served as models for painters provide knowledge of the working methods those painters followed and, through this method, reveal how they developed their own painting style. The role that engravings play in the creative process is essential since the same image in the hands of different artists would develop its own language, being certainly determined by the personal interests and context in which painters develop their artistic practice. Graphic sources play a decisive role in the study of artistic processes in the field of restoration, as they offer a compositional approach of paintings. The use of engravings provides a useful tool for the restorer that would be able to employ the same sources that have served as models for painters and could be applied to solve processes of retouching in paintings.

2. Use of engravings as a tool for imaging

The study of the use of graphic sources as a formal mechanism for imaging is an issue that has been addressed in historiographical research such as the work by Navarrete Prieto [1] which has contributed to the understanding of the methods of 16th century Andalusian painters.

Historically, artists have used visual codes to give plastic reality to concepts or ideas through the search of graphic references that contribute to the creation process. Consciously or not, painters used images seen in reality, imagination or works from other artists who preceded them to create their own work.

However, the engravings were not only used by modest local painters and minor or marginal artistic circles that found in printing sources an immediate solution for their creation decrease through copying foreign models, but also were used by the most renowned prominent painters [1], those who have been considered as true creators of images, such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Tintoretto and Rubens. Specifically, in the Spanish Baroque period, renowned masters such as Zurbarán, Velázquez, Murillo and Cano also used graphic sources for the design of their paintings [1].

In this process of “image creation", the printing models provided a visual richness that was widely used by artists. This method even became an essential tool for the "craft recreation" of a composition, serving as easy source for those without creative impulse. Thanks to historical studies on the influence of engravings in the Spanish painting of the 16th and 17th century [8], it has been demonstrated that the movement of 16th century Germanic and Flemish prints in Europe, and particularly in the Iberian Peninsula, was very active even to penetrate in the most isolated artists’ circles [1].

The impact that had certain images of artists, such as Rubens and Durer works, is largely due to the powerful expressive force with which they were conceived and also for their iconographic representations. This aspect was decisive for some works and were mostly repeated and instituted as icons in painting production.

While there are compositions that have being used as a whole, maintaining an important role in the painters’ choice for a certain iconographic requirement, there have also been engravings used in a fragmented way, i.e., extracting some isolated figures for reuse in a new context, immersing them in other meanings and with other character than the original image. This way of composing by "collage", merging into a single image printed fragments from different graphic sources, makes manifest the imagination with which some artists made their own compositions. Particularly, these cases enhance the skill and ingenuity in the search and pattern of models to get to express a concept by magnificent compositions.

Indeed, the use of fragments for composing is the most recurrent method in the works of Gregorio Vasquez and Francisco Ribalta and from which arises the study on the correlation of models in their process of creating images.

2.1. St. James in the Battle of Clavijo and The Vision of King Ramiro I, by Francisco Ribalta

Francisco Ribalta executed one of the most important pictorial groups of Jacobean iconography in Valencia, Spain for the main altar of St. James in the parish church of Algemesí. Its importance lies in the fact that it is one of the most monumental and ambitious sets, at least for the number of scenes represented in the pictorial production of Francisco Ribalta [3].

Within the group, the painting of St. James in the Battle of Clavijo (Figure 1) stands out as one of the main panels, where is clear the military profile of the saint in the altarpiece [3]. For the execution of this painting, the artist preferred to use an ambitious composition with marked Mannerist trends, which is evident from the agglomeration of more than 25 characters in a narrow space [4]. The strong episode and the dramatic gestures are emphasized by the use of multiple figures with clear imprint from the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial and using vigorous shading. [5].

Similarly, it must be mentioned another painting, presented as a narrative supplement to the episode: The Vision of King Ramiro I (Figure 2). This painting illustrates the immediately preceding passage to the battle of Clavijo, at the time where the apostle appeared to the monarch in a dream, to announce him the victory in the battle of the next day, thanks to his intercession [3].

2.2. St. James in the Battle of Clavijo by Gregório Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos

The Cathedral of Bogotá has one of the most important pictorial repertoires of Vasquez production, which has been considered by some art historians as "the brightest manifestation of Hispanic art" [6].

Within the group, two paintings stand out, where the invocation of St. James in the Battle of Clavijo is represented. Something that must be outlined is that these are the only known examples in Colombia that illustrate the iconographic type of St. James as a holy warrior [7]. This factor becomes even more praiseworthy the importance of these works in the pictorial field of the country, and in the study of Jacobean iconography in the context in which the paintings were made.

Regarding the paintings, it has been found that Vasquez executed at least three versions of this profile of St James, two of them located in the Cathedral (Figure 3) and Sagrario Chapel (Figure 4) in Bogota and the other in a private collection (Figure 5). Despite the limited information available on these images, some of Vasquez's knowledgeable work, and of the colonial art in general, have given valuable information on the subject and its pictorial qualities.

Through these paintings, the virtuosity and creativity of Vasquez are revealed to conceive the images as a formal unit, in which the drawing, composition, colour and excellent use of chiaroscuro, give great impetus to the composition, and potentiate the character of the episode represented.

3. The Stables of Don Juan of Austria and The Roman Caesars riding

After extensive observation of Vasquez and Ribalta paintings, and the subsequent comparative study of these with graphic sources, it has been possible to hypothesize that these artists had in their visual repertoire some Flemish and Italian engravings in common, from which they extracted the horse model.

Thus, it is possible to propose that the engravings used by these painters make part of the "Roman Caesars riding" series by the Italian Antonio Tempesta and the editing of pictures that illustrate the stables of Don Juan of Austria (Equile Ioannis austriaci Caroli V), executed by leading Flemish artists.

As a reference in common, it is important to note that these two sets of engravings depart from Stradanus designs (1523-1625), who also made pictures with scenes of battles that were widely disseminated [1]. The location of these images was possible thanks to the contributions of Benito Navarrete, who postulated that "Tempesta and Stradanus are often used for issues or battles for equestrian figures ..." [1, p. 311]. Indeed, it is possible that the artists had at their disposal an important visual repertoire that allowed them to take different sources models for the composition of Jacobean theme images.

Under this premise, the prints of Stradanus and Tempesta series were used in the paintings of Vásquez and Ribalta in a fragmented way, mixing in the same image, and even in a same figure, different parts of several engravings.

Surely, it is possible to argue that the equine anatomy studies made by Stradanus and the representation of classic positions, reminiscent of sovereignty and greatness of Tempesta Caesars, may have been determining factors in the choice of these horses, as the most important iconographic attribute in the paintings of St James in the Battle of Clavijo.

In approaching the study of Stradanus and Tempesta composition, it has been identified that because of their similarity and formal aspects, the engravings that Vasquez and Ribalta used were “From The Stables of Don Juan of Austria” by Flemish engravers, the print “equus liber et incopositus” by Hendrick Goltzius, and from the series of the Roman Caesars riding the Tempesta horse, the engravings of Nero and Julius Cesar.

3.1. The Antonio Tempesta and Hendrick Goltzius engravings in Gregorio Vásquez and Francisco Ribalta paintings

3.1.1. Paintings compose over Hendrick Goltzius model

The comparative study of the horse used by Vasquez and Ribalta with Goltzius model, allowed to establish direct echoes with one of the parts, which bring greater vitality and character to the steed representation: the head. The similarities are mostly visible in aspects such as the tilt, the gesture of the mouth, the position of the ears and the head profile.

Also, when comparing the picture with other paintings in Spain and America, very direct parallels have been found with the horse figure of Goltzius, which reveal the great promotion that this model had within the graphic repertoire of artists and its profound influence within the equestrian representations.

Some Spanish painters as Vicente Castelló and Juan Ribalta, as well as specific cases of Latin-American artists in Bolivia, with the work attributed to Leonardo Flores and another anonymous, show how artists have used this graphic source when they decided to perform certain matters in which the figure of the horse acquired some prominence within the composition. Indeed, the type of horse in each table presents some variants, which are clearly identified by the painter's style and formal approaches to composition.

Now, comparing the figure of the horse entirely with Vasquez paintings, important visual concordances are observed. The artist extracted the horse from the soothing Flemish landscape to insert it into a new dynamic context, in which he also adds a number of figures of warriors and horses arranged in different planes and positions to complete the movement of the composition and increase the agitation of the episode.

When comparing the three versions of St. James in the Battle of Clavijo of Vásquez with the engraving, it is shown that the artist follows closely the model horse in vertical format paintings. The inclination of the body, the firmness of the rear legs and the position of the front ones in attack attitude, besides the already mentioned tilt and nod of the head and the overall attitude of the figure, are reflected clearly in similar types of Vasquez.

With regards to the Francisco Ribalta’s paintings, it cannot be established a direct similarity with the equestrian picture types used in his representations. As it has previously been noted, for now the use of Goltzius engraving is only related to horse's head, which was specifically used in the painting "La vision del rey Ramiro I".

However, besides the Vasquez paintings, we can also make reference to other Spanish painters who used the Flemish picture as a source for their Jacobean theme compositions. In this sense, Vicente Castelló in Valencia and Juan Roelas in Seville show great similarity with the model of Goltzius. It also draws attention, noticing the imprint of the same figure in some artistic works in Bolivia and Mexico.

In this sense, the painting attributed to Leonardo Flores has particularly a closer similarity with the Flemish picture, both in movement and posture vitality, as well as impetuous attitude that gives Goltzius to his model. In the same way, the engraving may be related with a painting by Juan Tinoco in Mexico.

3.1.2. Paintings on models of Antonio Tempesta

The equestrian compositions of Italian engraver Antonio Tempesta, were widely appreciated because of the dynamism, movement and vitality that the artist gave to his models [1]. Thus, his prints had a major impact within the themes of battles or particular studies of equestrian figures [1], allowing artists of the time period to find an affluence of expressive possibilities in Tempesta’s images for the study of horse figures.

Regarding the edition of Roman Caesars Riding, the historian Benito Navarrete indicates that these engravings, "were widely used in Seville at the time, especially because of the demand that these works had in the New World" [1]. In this way, the possible influence of these pictures on the pictorial production of Colombian Gregorio Vásquez has been established with greater certainty.

Under that premise, the decision was to continue the study using as reference the series of paintings of equestrian representations - located in the “Sagrario” Chapel in Bogotá-, among which is included the already mentioned battle of Clavijo. Thus, the intention is to find possible associations between the Tempesta and Stradanus prints with the important series of works by Vásquez, as well as with the work by Ribalta.

In the same way, it is essential to highlight the crucial contribution of Joan Carles Gomis Corell in his study of the Algemesí altarpiece [2]. Gomis Corell suggested in his text the possible use of the equestrian portrait of Emperor Nero for the model of St. James in the Battle of Clavijo of Francisco Ribalta; in this sense, the author states that "at least, it seems inspired by it" [2]. According to these observations, the picture of Emperor Nero has been taken as a reference point in order to compare it with Ribalta’s paintings and Vasquez’s equestrian representations. Indeed, when the paintings are compared with the engravings, there are evident influences which are visible in the composition.

Both Ribalta’s paintings, St. James in the Battle of Clavijo and The Vision of King Ramiro I, as well as Vásquez’s, The Miracle of St. Louis Bertrand, maintain a similar posture and gesture as that of Tempesta’s model. This suggests that although the picture was not exactly copied, at least it could have been used as a reference point for both artists.

Santiago Sebastian pointed out an important factor that allows us to establish with greater assurance the use of the same source by both artists. The historian stated that “The Quito school of the eighteenth century presents compositions of a higher technical level, which were inspired on European engravings or paintings. The canvas of the convent of San Francisco in Quito is expressive, with an angry horse in a strong foreshortening position, which is partly similar to Francisco Ribalta’s model in the altarpiece of Algemesí, perhaps because both come from the same graphic source” [9].

In the same way, it was decided that another Tempesta image be compared with the paintings, in order to establish with more security, the use of models from the edition The Caesars in the pictorial production of Gregorio Vásquez. For this the engraving of Julius Caesar was taken as a reference, comparing it with the equestrian painting of Saint George and the Dragon, which is located in the Sagrario Chapel of Bogota.

By comparing the painting with the engraving, several elements are clearly common. The representation’s perspective, as well as the position and inclination of the horse’s body, closely follow the model in the engraving. Similarly, the position of the front and back legs and the head profile coincides almost exactly with the Tempesta model.

Finally, figures of soldiers with similar features have been identified in the paintings of the Battle of Clavijo by both artists (Figures 6-9). The characters, which are lying on the ground, have clear similarities in the expressions and body positions. Evidently, the differences that are observed are determined by the particular style of each artist, as well as by the use of different accessories that match the aesthetics of the historical period of each place in which the artists developed their works. This correspondence of figures in the compositions of Vasquez and Ribalta, must surely be due to the use of the same graphical source. Although this approach is entirely feasible, as we have already been able to confirm with previous studies, in this particular case it has not been possible to locate the engraving used by the artists to extract the figures.

4. Conclusions

The research allowed establishing an historical and artistic relationship between the pictorial production of Francisco Ribalta and Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos, leading painters during the 16th and 17th centuries in Spain and Colombia.

The identification and location of common models from Flemish and Italian engravings is a contribution to the knowledge about the working methods that some painters used to follow for the composition of their images or composition of their works. Likewise, the research emphasizes the important role played by graphic sources on the academic formation of painters.

In this sense, the use of Goltzius and Tempesta equestrian models for configuring certain Iconographic figures in Colombia and Spain, as well as the comparison with other painters in Europe and Latin America, demonstrates the influence of these models in the creation of paintings with similar iconographic subjects in both places.

The study of the graphical sources used by Ribalta and Arce y Ceballos complement the research of their works; as well as a formal approach to paintings, engravings offer a useful tool for the restorer. Therefore, our intention is that this theoretical research can have a practical application for the future and be useful when pictorial reintegration processes would be needed.

This study is relevant because it provides an approach to the original idea of the artists, which allow a more respectful intervention supported in a visual document that justifies it. Moreover, studies like this highlight the importance of creating a database to increase the visual sources that the restorer could use and thereby facilitate the reconstruction of a painting. In the same way, it stresses the needs of interdisciplinary works that contributes to the knowledge of paintings and, thus, ensure an appropriate intervention.

In light of the above, it is emphasized the value of engravings as documents that provide important information about the composition, history, iconographic aspects and working methods followed by artist for the configuration of their images. Thus, graphic sources have been proved to be a useful tool in the study of paintings.

Finally, this work reveals the opening of new research lines in the study of the artistic production of both artists, as well as the influence of graphic sources in other colonial painters.

5. References

[1] B. Navarrete, La pintura andaluza del siglo XVII y sus fuentes grabadas, Fundación de apoyo a la Historial del Arte Hispanoamericano, Madrid, 1998

[2] S. R. Baldó, Fuentes gráficas del arte valenciano. Uso y aplicación para la reintegración de obras de arte, Master thesis, Polytechnic University of Valencia, 2009

[3] J.C. Gomis, L´obra pictórica de Francesc Ribalta a Algemesí, Ajuntament d´Algemesí, Algemesí, 2006

[4] F.B. Doménech, Pinturas y Pintores En El Real Colegio De Corpus Christi, Federico Doménech S.A., Valencia, 1980

[5] F. B. Portus, Los Genios de la Pintura Española, Vol. 16, Sarpe, Madrid, 1990

[6] G. Giraldo, La Pintura en Colombia, Fondo de Cultura Económica, México, 1948

[7] R. Vallín, J.M. Huertas, La presencia del Apóstol Santiago en Colombia, in: Culture and Youth Council, Santiago y América. Mosteiro de San Martillo Pinario (exhibition catalogue). Santiago de Compostela, 1993, pp. 156-159

[8] A. E. Pérez, De Pintura y Pintores: La Configuración De Los Modelos Visuales en La Pintura Española, Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 1993

[9] S.S. López, Iconografía de Santiago en el arte hispanoamericano, in: Culture and Youth Council, Santiago y América. Mosteiro de San Martillo Pinario (exhibition catalogue), Santiago de Compostela, 1993

Natalia Mejía Murillo

Polytechnic University of Valencia
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Vicente Guerola Blay
Polytechnic University of Valencia
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