Zurbarán, Francisco de (1598-1664)
Francisco de Zurbarán, one of the leading painters of the Spanish Golden Age, played an important role in the development of Spanish Realism. In his work he often turned to religious subjects. At the end of his life a softness and warmth appeared in his images that is illustrated well by the painting The Girlhood or Childhood of the Virgin. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, lived a life of piety and charitable deeds, but remained childless into old age. They made a vow that they would dedicate to God any child born in answer to their prayers. When Mary reached the age of three, her parents gave her to the Temple in Jerusalem, where she studied scripture and practised needlework. The model for this painting would seem to have been the artist’s own daughter. The adolescent Mary is the embodiment of meekness and spiritual purity. She has interrupted her sewing to address God in thoughtful prayer. The artist concentrates the viewer’s attention on Mary’s face, which is presented with tenderness and love.
The painting is transfused with a sense of harmonious calm. (SHM)