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The Preacher's Perspicuitas and Velazquez

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Bulletin of Spanish Studies
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The preacher's perspicuitas and Velázquez's 'truthful imitation of nature': An
examination of scholarly attitudes to religious paintings
Jeremy Roe
Online Publication Date: 01 September 2005
To cite this Article Roe, Jeremy(2005)'The preacher's perspicuitas and Velázquez's 'truthful imitation of nature': An examination of
scholarly attitudes to religious paintings',Bulletin of Spanish Studies,82:6,735 — 751
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/1475382052000345001
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Bulletin of Spanish Studies, Volume LXXXII, Number 6, 2005
The Preacher’s Perspicuitas and
Velázquez’s ‘Truthful Imitation of
Nature’: An Examination of Scholarly
Attitudes to Religious Paintings*
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The early Sevillian paintings of Velázquez are
deceptively simple, which, paradoxically, underlines
the fact that they are the product of a complex world
now lost and remote[...]1
The apparent simplicity of Velázquez’s Sevillian works has been a focus of
art historical discussion; since Pacheco stated in his Arte de la pintura
(published posthumously in 1649) that Velázquez had hit upon the ‘truthful
imitation of nature’ (‘la verdadera imitación del natural’) and described the
skills he refined to achieve this, such as life study and the mastery of relief,
much attention has been dedicated to discussion of the painter’s study of
nature and the development of these studies into paintings.2 However,
critical discussion of the Sevillian paintings has demonstrated an
increasing awareness of the ‘complex world’ that produced Velázquez’s
‘imitation of nature’. In the nineteenth century Stirling Maxwell in his
Velázquez (1855) cited the significance of the Church as patron and later
Justi’s Velázquez and His Times (1888) considered the appeal of picaresque
* It has not been possible to include as many illustrations in this article as I would
have wished. However, many of these images may be familiar to readers already and they
can all be found in the exhibition catalogue, Velázquez in Seville, edited by Michael Clarke
(Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1996) as well as in Enriqueta Harris, Velázquez
(London: Phaidon, 1982) and Jonathan Brown, Velázquez: Painter and Courtier (New
Haven/London: Yale U. P., 1986).
1 Ronald Cueto, ‘The Great Babylon of Spain and the Devout: Politics, Religion and
Piety in the Seville of Velázquez’, in Velázquez in Seville, 29–33 (p. 33).
2 Francisco Pacheco, El arte de la pintura, ed. B. Bassegoda i Hugas (Madrid:
Cátedra, 1990), 519. For a detailed discussion of the significance of the term ‘imitation of
nature’ in treatises on painting see Jeremy Roe, ‘Velázquez’s “Imitation” of Nature Seen
through “ojos doctos”: A Study of Painting, Classicism and Tridentine Reform in Seville’
(unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Leeds, 2002).
ISSN 1475-3820 print/ISSN 1478-3428 online/05/06/7000735-17
© Bulletin of Spanish Studies. DOI 10.1080/1475382052000345001
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BSS, LXXXII (2005)
literature.3 The importance of the religious and literary spheres of Iberian
society has been examined more closely in subsequent scholarship. The
catalogues, Velázquez in Seville (1996) and Velázquez y Sevilla (1999), that
accompanied the two recent exhibitions of Velázquez’s Sevillian painting
document the most recent investigation. Lleó Cañal, Enriqueta Harris,
David Davies and Gridley Mckim-Smith amongst others examined the
paintings on a wider cultural horizon beyond the studio, combining
consideration of how they were made with how they were seen.4
A further contribution is made, in this article, to the research into the
significance of the visual arts amidst the complexity of Golden-Age Iberian
culture. However, the primary concern of my discussion is to consider how
Velázquez’s spectators responded to his religious paintings, and to
undertake this I explore the relationships between painting and preaching.
Viewed in the light of these cultural investigations the paintings’
‘simplicity’ and Velázquez’s remarkable ‘imitation of nature’ may be ‘seen
through’ to reveal a deeper range of concerns than solely the carefully
illuminated portrayal of figures, objects and landscape. The aim of this
paper is to explore these deeper concerns by discussing how Velázquez’s
spectators would have engaged with his religious painting, as both visual
phenomena and the subject of erudite discussion.
As well as contributing to Velázquez studies this discussion is also
concerned with the wider theme of spectatorship and the visual arts. El
arte de mirar: la pintura y su público en la España de Velázquez (1997) by
Miguel Morán and Javier Portús offers a range of valuable critical
perspectives on the public and spectators of the visual arts in Golden Age
Their studies of spectatorship, centred on the court and
seventeenth-century Madrid, draw attention to the interdisciplinary nature
of this field of research, which is an important dimension of this article,
which turns attention from Madrid to Seville’s scholarly community, and in
particular Francisco de Rioja (1583–1659).5 A detailed consideration of how
Rioja and his contemporaries looked at painting elucidates the complexity
of Seville’s intellectual traditions and ideological concerns and provides
further evidence for what Morán and Portús term ‘hábitos visuales’.6 Rioja
3 See William Stirling Maxwell, Velázquez (London: J. W. Parker & Son, 1855); Carl
Justi, Diego Velázquez and his Times, trans. A. H. Keane (London: H. Grevel & Co., 1889).
4 Lleó Cañal, ‘The Cultivated Elite of Velázquez’s Seville’, in Velázquez in Seville, 23–
27; Enriqueta Harris, ‘Velázquez, Sevillian Painter of Sacred Subjects’, ibid., 46–47; David
Davies, ‘Velázquez’s bodegones’, ibid., 51–65; Gridley Mckim-Smith, ‘La técnica Sevillana de
Velázquez’, Velázquez y Sevilla, ed. Alfredo J. Morales (Sevilla: Aldeasa, 1999), 109–23.
5 For an introduction to the range of scholars, including Rioja, working in Seville at
the time of Velázquez’s apprenticeship and early career see Jonathan Brown’s seminal study
‘Theory of Art in the Academy of Francisco Pacheco’, in his Images and Ideas in Seventeenthcentury Spanish Painting (Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1978).
6 Miguel Morán Turina and Javier Portús Pérez, El arte de mirar: la pintura y su
público en la España de Velázquez (Madrid: ISTMO, 1997), 8.
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is an exemplary figure of his generation, whose life combined religion, court
politics, painting and poetry. Rioja is best known today as a poet, but his
contributions to debates concerning the decorum of paintings by Pacheco
have brought him to the attention of art historians. The complexity of
Sevillian culture as discussed by authors such as Lleó and Cueto are clearly
illustrated by Rioja; his writings enable the study of the contrasting
concerns of Velázquez’s spectators and the consideration of how these may
have informed the production of Velázquez’s paintings. Rioja’s treatise on
the rhetorical principles for preaching provides important perspectives to
develop an understanding of the significance of Velázquez’s religious
paintings for his spectators.
Despite the ever-present problem of a lack of documentary evidence for
this period of Velázquez’s life a number of spectators of his paintings may
be identified by name. Rioja was one and another was the poet’s friend and
correspondent Juan de Fonseca y Figueroa (1585–1627). However, in
addition to examining Velázquez’s specific spectators, this article aims to
explore wider cultural attitudes to spectatorship of paintings. An initial
and general framework for such considerations is found in the Discorso
intorno alle imagini sacre e profane by the Archbishop of Bologna, Gabriele
Paleotti (1522–1597). Published in 1582 this treatise undertakes a detailed
discussion of the traditions and functions of Christian painting and
addresses the task of the Christian painter. It marks an important
engagement with the canons and decrees of the 25th Session of the Council
of Trent and offers a valuable source to consider Tridentine attitudes to
painting. Paleotti identified four classes of spectators: ‘painters’, ‘scholars’,
‘the simple’ and ‘the pious’ and proposed that each looked at paintings
differently.7 He claimed that ‘painters’ concentrated on the formal aspects
of painting. It may be argued that it is these spectators on whom art
historians have focused through the study of painting treatises as the
principal sources for the language and concepts employed in the discussion
of painting. To consider the other classes of spectators these linguistic and
conceptual resources are insufficient, and an aim of this study is to redress
this lack.
According to Paleotti, ‘scholars’ applied their erudition to the scenes
represented. Paleotti’s text as a whole signals the range of erudite
responses a work may elicit, but it also indicates the Tridentine concerns
for painting’s role as a tool for evangelism. In contrast to the scholar’s
erudition, the ‘simple’ spectator was expected to respond to images by
learning the gospel narrative depicted and its doctrine, which suggests a
naive response to paintings as simply a representation of a visual
narrative. Similarly ‘the pious’ spectator’s response may be understood in
7 ‘[…] i pittori, i letterati, gl’idioti e gli spirituali’ (G. Paleotti, ‘Discorso intorno alle
imagini sacre e profane’, in Trattati d’arte del cinquecento, ed. P. Barocchi, 3 vols [Bari: G.
Laterza, 1960–62], II, 117–509 [p. 497]).
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BSS, LXXXII (2005)
terms of naivety, except that the painting was a point of departure for a
more searching, inner vision. An understanding of the ‘simple’ and the
‘pious’ spectators may be discerned from the writings of various scholars,
but they are the most problematic to discuss, primarily because they are
anonymous social categories.
The contribution of scholars to both the production of specific paintings
and the theoretical discussion of painting has been the subject of a range of
art historical studies. In his treatise De Pictura (1435), the Florentine
humanist and painter, Leon Battista Alberti, stated that painters should
‘be learned in all the liberal arts’ and ‘should associate with poets and
orators’.8 During the course of the Renaissance the response, by painters,
to Alberti’s treatise is most clearly demonstrated in their depiction of
erudite subject matter drawn from classical and biblical sources. Contracts
reveal that the specific details of subject matter were often decided by the
patrons or their learned advisors, which reveals the cultural relationships
that assured the decorum of paintings, whether mythological or religious.
During the Catholic Reformation the concern for decorum in religious
paintings attained a greater ideological importance. Pacheco’s research,
during Velázquez’s apprenticeship, into the iconographical decorum of his
paintings is paradigmatic of this cultural concern.9 Erudite discussion of
decorum between scholars and painters clearly informed the production of
painting, but the concern for decorum, whether classical or religious, was
only one facet of a wider scholarly discourse of painting.
Erwin Panofsky’s Idea: A Concept in Art Theory (1924) set a lasting
precedent for art historical investigation into the relationships of painting
and philosophical thought during the Renaissance.10 Panofsky himself
acknowledged the difficulties inherent in such a project, in response to
which art historians have explored new methodological approaches to the
scholarly roots of painting. In The Judgement of Sense (1987) David
Summers’ inquiry into how philosophical, scientific and cultural concerns
informed Renaissance painting set aside an historical narrative to offer a
‘mosaic’ of ideas and themes surrounding art over the course of the
Renaissance. One of Summers’ ‘tessarae’ is the contribution of rhetoric.11
8 L. B. Alberti, On Painting, trans. C. Grayson (London: Penguin, 1991), 88.
9 Pacheco’s collections of manuscripts held in Madrid’s Biblioteca Nacional and at the
Universidad de Sevilla document his iconographical research and his requests for scholars to
approve his paintings. The responses to his Last Judgement (1610–14) were later included
as two of his three chapters discussing decorum in the Arte de la pintura (El arte de la
pintura, ed. Bassegoda i Hugas, 291–340). For further discussion of Pacheco’s studies see
Brown, Images and Ideas, 60–83.
10 Erwin Panofsky, Idea: A Concept in Art Theory (New York: Harper and Row, 1968).
For analysis of this text and David Summers’ see Roe, ‘Velázquez’s “Imitation” of Nature’.
11 David Summers, The Judgement of Sense (Cambridge: Cambridge U. P., 1987).
Summers discussed Rhetoric at various points in this text. In Chapter 7, ‘The Light of the
Piazza’, in his section ‘Cicero on the Appeal of Eloquence’, he addressed the effect of rhetoric
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A model for the study of this theme had been undertaken by Michael
Baxandall in 1971.12 He examined the application of rhetoric in early
Renaissance discussions of painting and explored how rhetorical theory
informed Alberti’s theory of painting. The relationship of rhetoric and
painting is a history that remains to be explored in detail, but the research
Baxandall and Summers demonstrates that rhetoric provided a critical
framework for scholars to discuss paintings that in turn informed the
production of actual works.13
Paleotti’s analysis of painting’s spectators is one indication of the
awareness of the rhetorical dimensions of Painting. The Archbishop of
Bologna addressed this theme directly in several chapters that compared
the orator, who had to persuade his listeners to share his opinions, with the
painter, whose duty was ‘to persuade people to piety and order them to
God’.14 Continuing this argument he said that like the orator the painter
has ‘to delight, instruct and move’ his spectators.15 Paleotti went on to
examine each of these aspects in turn; this concern for the instruction of the
people and the ways paintings could delight and move spectators indicate
Paleotti’s, or an erudite, understanding of the simple and pious spectators
Evidence that Iberian spectators considered paintings with concepts
drawn from rhetoric is found in a number of texts written at the turn of the
seventeenth century. The treatises by Gaspar Gutiérrez de los Ríos and
Juan de Butrón demonstrate how rhetoric was used to discuss Painting.16
Both dedicated chapters to Painting’s emulation of rhetoric and at other
points in their treatises frequently described Painting’s ability to instruct
spectators. Butrón gave a particularly detailed discussion of Painting’s
on both listeners trained in the art and the ‘unskilled crowd’, which offers a paradigm to
understand Paleotti’s classification of different spectators. He went on to discuss this in
relationship to Paleotti’s treatise.
12 Michael Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators: Humanist Observers of Painting in Italy
and the Discovery of Pictorial Composition 1350–1450 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).
13 Further discussion of this theme is found in: Svetlana Alpers, ‘Ekphrasis and
Aesthetic Attitudes in Vasari’s Lives’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes,
XXIII (1960), 190–215; Peinture et rhétorique. Actes du Colloque de l’Académie de France à
Rome, ed. O. Bonfait (Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1994), which includes Marc
Fumaroli, ‘Ut pictura rhetorica divina’, 77–104; Alberto Carrere and José Saborit, Retórica
de la pintura (Madrid: Cátedra, 2000).
14 ‘perusadere le persone alla pieta et ordinarle a Dio’ (Paleotti, Discorso intorno alle
imagini, 215).
15 ‘dilettare, insegnare e movere’ (ibid.).
Paleotti’s discussion draws on his
examination of the causes for Painting’s invention: Chapter 12, ‘Delle cause perché
s’introducessero le imagini profane’. He described four: the need to communicate, Painting’s
use as a medium for knowledge, the delight gained from images, and the virtuous effects
images can have. On this foundation he addressed the Christian traditions of painting.
16 Gaspar Gutiérrez de los Ríos, Noticia general para la estimación de las artes y de la
manera en que conocen las liberales de las que son mecánicas y serviles (Madrid: Pedro
Madrigal, 1599); Juan de Butrón, Discursos apologéticos en que se defiende la ingenuidad del
arte de la pintura, que es liberal y noble de todos derechos (Madrid: L. Sánchez, 1626).
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BSS, LXXXII (2005)
rhetorical features, with especial regard to the effectiveness of religious
painting; in addition his discourses address the responses of different
spectators to paintings. Although these recall Paleotti’s four categories of
spectator, Butrón’s text focused on the relationship of the scholar and the
painter.17 The contrast of these treatises with discussion of actual
paintings makes evident that they provide a theoretical reflection on
erudite criticism to actual paintings, which was underpinned by ideas
drawn from rhetoric.
In the intervening period between the publication of Gutiérrez’s and
Butrón’s treatises the only publication of criticism on Iberian painting was
the third part of Fray José de Sigüenza’s (c.1544–1606) Historia de la
Orden de San Jerónimo. Published in 1605, it discusses the variety of
artistic wealth collected by the monastery’s founder, Philip II.18 In Discurso
XVII of the second part Sigüenza gave ekphrases of the paintings, which
allude to the naive responses of the simple and pious spectators.19 His
analysis combines praise of the painter’s skill with attention to the spiritual
significance of the paintings; his treatise signals the ‘scholarly’ spectators’
awareness of painterly issues such as perspective, although he consistently
refers to his ignorance of such matters. There is also discussion of
paintings in terms of their historical or theological decorum and their
rhetorical effects. By recording such effects he implies that the paintings
displayed at El Escorial fulfilled the Tridentine ideals.
Another example of the use of rhetoric in painting criticism is found in a
silva by the Sevillian poet Antonio Ortiz Melgarejo. It is dedicated to
Pacheco’s painting of the Last Judgement (1610–14) and formulates an
erudite response to painting.20 It combines ekphrastic description with
praise of various aspects of Pacheco’s painting. The description of the
multitudes awaiting judgement and the face of the divine judge highlights
Pacheco’s ‘imitation of nature’, although Melgarejo acknowledges that it
has been mediated by the painter’s concerns for ‘la unión, la belleza y el
decoro’. The effect of such a lifelike appearance, even of this eschatological
event, is his main theme and he draws to a close by stating: ‘¿No ves las
17 Butrón’s most important of discussion spectators is found in his fourth and
fourteenth discourses. The former offers an important distinction between the ‘simple’
spectator and more erudite responses.
The latter discourse focuses on Painting’s
evangelizing function.
18 Another important example of painting criticism is Pablo de Céspedes, Discurso de
la antigua y moderna pintura y escultura [...], written for the scholar Pedro de Valencia in
1604. The manuscript was first published in Volume III of J. A. Ceán Bermúdez,
Diccionario histórico de los más ilustres profesores de las Bellas Artes en España, 3 vols
(Madrid: Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, 1965).
19 Fray José de Sigüenza, Fundación del monasterio de El Escorial por Felipe II
(Madrid: Apostolado de la Prensa, 1927).
20 Pacheco, El arte de la pintura, ed. Bassegoda i Hugas, 339. The poem concludes the
Arte’s discussion of decorum and follows the approvals for the painting discussed above.
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cuatro espíritus alados / tener con nuevo efecto peregrino / los ojos
The convincing illusory effect of the ‘imitation of nature’ signals
recognition of the painting’s rhetorical virtuosity. Melgarejo highlights this
in two ways: firstly, by referring to the other senses that were mobilized,
such as feeling the sparks from the burning fires and hearing the sounds of
chains, and then by stating the theological ideas of heaven and hell which
the painting ‘brings to the memory’; these passages may be read in terms of
the response to paintings by the simple or the pious spectators.
Although ekphrastic discussion like Melgarejo’s may be read in terms of
the established ‘rivalry’ between poet and painter, it also documents the
application of the rhetorical framework employed by Paleotti in discussion
of paintings. The use of rhetoric to discuss painting and the allusion to the
painter’s role as a preacher, although brief, should not be overlooked; both
allude to a complex series of debates concerning rhetoric which reveal that
discussion of the imitation of nature, such as Sigüenza’s or Melgarejo’s, was
grounded in anything but a naive vision of painting. These debates may be
explored through the writings of Francisco de Rioja, but before examining
his work an overview of rhetorical theory during the Catholic Reformation
is required.
Marc Fumaroli offers a wide-ranging study of many writers across
Europe who engaged in the debates concerning the ars oratoria.22 He chose
an Iberian text, the Ecclesiasticae Rhetoricae of the Dominican Friar Luis
de Granada (1504–1588) to discuss three fundamental themes
underpinning the efforts to reform the practice of preaching in Catholic
Alberto Carrere and José Saborit term these three themes the virtutes
elocutionis. They note that the first, puritas, concerned with the correct use
of language, was drawn from the art of Grammar. Granada’s latinitas
corresponds to this; however, in his case it may be understood as the use of
language based on the Latin of the Vulgate and the Church Fathers.
Fumaroli commented that the preacher should adjust the latinitas, or
purity, to the audience. The second two were based on rhetorical principles,
perspicuitas referred to the ‘comprehensibility of the discussion’, and
ornatus ‘the beauty of the expression through its use of tropes and
21 Pacheco, El arte de la pintura, 340.
22 Marc Fumaroli, L’Âge de l’éloquence: rhétorique et ‘res literaria’ de la Renaissance
au seuil de l’époque classique (Paris: Champion, 1980).
23 First published in Lisbon in 1576.
24 Retórica de la pintura, 194. Carrere and Saborit’s discussion departs from the
structure given in Cicero’s Ad Herenium. Cicero listed three qualities a style must have:
taste (elegantiam), artistic composition (compositionem) and distinction (dignitatem).
Latinitas and perspicuitas are discussed in the section on taste and ornatus in the final
section of M. Tulli Cicero, Ad Herenium, trans. H. Caplan (London: Loeb Classical Library,
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BSS, LXXXII (2005)
The concern for the practical application of preaching is more apparent
in the latter two principles: perspicuitas and ornatus. Fumaroli writes that
according to Granada the former ‘renders the discourse at once acceptable
to scholars, and comprehensible to the ignorant’ while the latter was to be
conditioned by utility, not by rhythm or symphonia verborum.25 Hence it is
implied that the use of language, tropes and figures should be restrained
while the preacher focused on his task. Fumaroli’s comments demonstrate
that the Tridentine models of sacred rhetoric placed an emphasis on a
stylistic decorum grounded in the need for effective communication. To
develop a more detailed understanding of the significance of these terms
their application by preachers and their commentators needs to be
The concern for stylistic decorum has been noted in the publication of
actual sermons. In particular Hilary Dansey Smith’s Preaching in the
Spanish Golden Age provides a study of the publications of ten preachers,
two of whom, Fray Luis de Rebolledo OFM (1549–1613) and Fray Pedro de
Valderrama OSA (1550–1611), were from Seville. Smith’s discussion
reveals that although Granada’s theoretical principles were followed by
some, they were nevertheless in competition with others.26 Amongst the
evidence examined, Smith quotes Francisco de Medina’s comments on
preachers, taken from his preface to Fernando Herrera’s Obras de
Garcilaso de la Vega con annotaciones.27 Employing sacred rhetoric to
illustrate poetic principles Medina criticized preachers whose sermons
placed emphasis on ‘deleites y galas’ rather than those whose work focused
on evangelical severity and simplicity.28 Despite their early date, Medina’s
comments signal that Granada’s theory of stylistic decorum was responded
to by scholars in Seville.
Both Fumaroli’s historical account and Smith’s study demonstrate that
debates about rhetoric focused on ‘perspicuity’ and ‘ornament’. A metaphor
Medina employed to describe the two styles of rhetoric he considered
indicates a relationship between the two. He distinguished between
1954), 268–75.
25 Fumaroli, L’Âge de l’éloquence, 148. Hereafter the English terms perspicuity and
ornament are used.
26 Hilary Dansey Smith, Preaching in the Spanish Golden Age (Oxford: Oxford U. P.,
1978), 94, n. 6. Smith’s study, based on preachers’ handbooks as well as theoretical
treatises, identified two ‘camps’ of rhetorical theory, one favouring ‘sincerity and plainspeaking’, identified with Granada, and the other ‘eloquence and elegance’. On the basis of
her analysis of published sermons, she qualified this by saying that the divisions are not
clear and that ‘some preachers are positively inconsistent’.
27 Until his death in 1615 Medina was one of the central figures of Seville’s
intellectual life that took an active interest in painting. He gave advice to Pacheco on the
subject matter of his compositions, including the Last Judgement, and to the renowned
patron Fernando Enríquez Afán de Ribera, the third Duke of Alcalá, regarding the
commissioning of paintings.
28 Fernando de Herrera, Obras de Garcilaso de la Vega con anotaciones (Seville, 1580).
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preachers who ‘adorn themselves with modest clothes, as appropriate to the
authority of their persons’, and others that dress in a costume ‘galano, pero
indecente, sembrado de mil colores y esmaltes, pero sin el concierto que se
demanda’.29 The metaphor of clothing, which may conceal and delude,
signals a relationship between ‘perspicuity’ and ‘ornament’ and the
potential for these concepts to be applied in a visual context, to a painted
sermon. Francisco de Rioja’s discussion of rhetoric explores this boundary
between verbal and visual rhetoric and offers a critical framework to
consider Velázquez’s paintings.
The continuation of the Tridentine concern for the reform of preaching
following the principles laid down by Luis de Granada is indicated by
Rioja’s unpublished ‘Avisos que han de tener un predicador’, dated 13
March 1616. A number of copies of this work exist in the Biblioteca
Nacional, Madrid, and the Biblioteca Colombina, Seville. The copy quoted
from here was compiled by Pacheco in what is known as the ‘Tratados de la
erudición’, and is not only further evidence of his close relationship to Rioja,
but also indicates the painter’s own interest in rhetoric.
Rioja’s declaration that the ‘el fin del orador cristiano es enseñar al
pueblo con la autoridad de los libros sagrados [...]’ and that ‘las palabras
son ornato i lustre de las cosas cuando se ponen con dignidad i
conveniencia’ signals the concerns for effective preaching as well as
‘perspicuity’ and ‘ornament’.30 In addition, his argument that the prophets
surpassed Greek and Latin authors for their ways of speaking suggests an
ideological concern for puritas similar to Granada’s.
An important aspect of Rioja’s text is its practical application of the
Tridentine theoretical ideals. To address the task of the preacher he
structured his discussion with the genera elocutionis. The three styles of
speaking termed in classical rhetoric subtle, impressive and medium, Rioja
names: ‘delgado o sutil’, ‘robusto’ and ‘florido’. Rioja classified each with a
function: the first teaches, providing the ‘razón’ of a story, the second moves
the audience and the third delights them employing ‘blandura y
venustidad’. His comments illustrate the application of the same rhetorical
ideas Paleotti employed in his treatise on painting. He argued that each of
these styles can have many variations, but the reader is warned against
darkness, lasciviousness and vanity.31 The allusion to ‘perspicuity’ and
measured ‘ornament’ in these comments is addressed directly in the
following section.
29 Smith, Preaching in the Spanish Golden Age, 97.
30 ‘Tratados de la erudición’, Biblioteca Nacional, MS.1713 (Madrid), fol. 11v.
31 Ibid., fol. 12v: ‘cualquiera destos estilos podrá tener muchas diferencias porque
puede ser más apretado o más remiso, pero así de mirar mucho huir los vicios que tiene cada
uno semejantes que alguno suele usar por grande el hinchado i espumoso o el áspero
demasiadamente i oscuro, por delgado el ínfimo i por florido el lascivo descompuesto i vano’.
Rioja signalled the difficulty of identifying any one style of sacred rhetoric, which indicates
his awareness of the debates noted by Smith.
BSS, LXXXII (2005)
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Rioja turned from the genera elocutionis to the use of metaphors. He
says that they are normally taken from touch, sight or taste and that ‘si se
quiere engrandecer algo se tomarán de los objetos más nobles pero si se
quisiere umillar de los más viles.’ (fol. 12v–13r). The preacher is warned to
take care not to fall into the vice of expending great efforts in ‘painting’ the
dawn, spring flowers, the wind blowing over waters and trees with the
intention to persuade and teach, which illustrates the continuation of the
earlier discussion of restrained ornament. Rioja went on to argue:
[...] el espíritu i vida de las vozes son las cosas, como ellas también su
lustre i ornamento, mas la noticia dellas solamente diferencia los
ombres; galante cosa es por cierto una pintura que nos muestra con
viveza i perfección los cuerpos pero cuán diferente la que nos representa
los ánimos! (fol. 13r)32
Rioja clearly advocated verisimilitude in the ‘imitation of nature’, but it is
linked to ‘perspicuity’ and a control of ‘ornament’. Furthermore his idea of
verisimilitude is not satisfied with the superficial appearance, but seeks to
represent the interior dimensions of a person.33
The emphasis on
verisimilitude in preaching offers a significant contrast to ekphrastic
descriptions of painting, such as Melgarejo’s silva and Paleotti’s theoretical
discussion, and these are addressed below.
A further dimension to perspicuity is elaborated in Rioja’s discussion of
the preacher’s role to explain the meaning of biblical texts. He argued that
the preacher should convey the literal message and where necessary
explain any cryptic details resulting from allegorical, tropological and
anagogical expression. Following this a perspicuous sermon may be
understood in the following senses: the use of language suitable for its
listeners, the avoidance of unnecessary detail or measured ‘ornament’,
verisimilitude or a ‘lifelike imitation’ of subjects, and clear explanation of
the conceptual dimensions of a subject.
32 Rioja’s metaphorical use of the verb ‘to paint’ refers to spoken descriptions, but it
indicates the close relationship between rhetoric, ekphrasis and painting.
33 Rioja’s awareness of Classical texts on painting criticism may be detected here.
Both Gutiérrez and Butrón refer to Xenophon’s Memorabilia, which recorded a series of
questions on Painting’s potential to imitate concerning which Socrates asked the painter
Parrhasius. Their conversation addressed the following points. Firstly Painting’s ability to
‘represent and reproduce figures high and low, in light and in shadow [...] young and old’;
then its aesthetic potential through the combination of ‘the most beautiful details of several
[...] to make the whole figure look beautiful’; followed by the expression of mental states such
as: ‘[…] nobility […] servility […] prudence […] and vulgarity […] reflected in the face and in
the attitudes of the body’. Parrhasius confirmed that all were achieved by painting.
Socrates’ fourth and final questions combined an aesthetic and ethical concern asking
Parrhasius which he thought ‘most pleasing […] one whose features and bearing reflect a
beautiful and good lovable character, or one who is the embodiment of what is ugly and
depraved and hateful’. Parrhasius replied, ‘No doubt there is a great difference, Socrates’
(Xenophon, Memorabilia, trans. O. J. Todd [London: Loeb Classical Library, 1968], 233–35).
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Although there are other significant aspects of Rioja’s treatise such as
his discussion of the training of preachers, these cannot be addressed
here.34 Instead his discussion of ‘perspicuity’ needs to be considered in
terms of the theoretical framework provided by Paleotti’s text. On the basis
that rhetoric was clearly employed in the discussion of paintings it may be
proposed that the four aspects of Rioja’s discussion of ‘perspicuity’ provide
criteria that would have informed how he and other spectators viewed and
discussed Velázquez’s religious paintings.
The extent to which Velázquez’s religious paintings were discussed in
terms of the suitability of their ‘visual’ language is hard to gauge. It would
seem probable that their emphasis on the ‘imitation of nature’ was
considered as suitable for all categories of spectator. Of more importance is
the reduced ‘ornament’ and emphasis on verisimilitude seen in all his
religious paintings. The paintings of the apostles St Thomas (1618–20) and
St Paul (1619–20) are testament to this. In both paintings the detail, or
‘ornament’, is reduced to the minimum required to denote the biblical
significance of these figures. St Thomas seen in the act of preaching is
framed by his attributes, the book half concealed by his robe and the lance
bisected by the picture edge, yet they also add to the work’s verisimilitude.
Within the constraints of the genre Velázquez could not depict an audience,
but it is alluded to by the open mouth. A spectator such as Rioja would
have been struck by Velázquez’s efforts to represent the apostle’s mind.
Likewise in the case of the St Paul attention is concentrated on the man,
who remains silent, but the book he holds alludes to his epistles.
The treatment of the clothing in these paintings evokes Medina’s
criticism of preachers, and the Apostles’ appearance represents a visual
analogy of what was expected of preachers. The concerns for preachers’ use
of language are alluded to by these paintings; the severe and simple style
associated with the Bible and the early preachers is signified by the saints’
appearance. Together these paintings may have been seen as visual
paradigms of the rhetorical ideals expected in spoken and written sermons.
The allusions to language in these two paintings become explicit in
Velázquez’s portraits of Mother Jerónima de la Fuente (1620).35 It may be
assumed that the patron, the Franciscan convent of Santa Isabel de los
Reyes in Toledo, dictated the explicit rhetorical terms of the painting, but
spectators would have been struck by the contrast of the lively treatment of
34 Rioja’s treatise concluded on the subject of invention and the preacher’s training.
He emphasized the importance of the use of historical texts, moral philosophy and ‘arts such
as sculpture painting and architecture’ for the ‘pertinent speculation they offer’. ‘Tratados
de la erudición’, fol. 17v–18r: ‘de algunas artes como escultura, pintura i arquitectura es
razón que se tenga noticia si quiera de lo especulativo para tratar las cosas que dellas se
ofrecieren atinadamente […]’.
35 Three versions of this painting exist, two full-length portraits and one half-length
copy. The copy in the Museo del Prado is signed 1618, but the scroll has been removed.
Fortunately it is intact in the Araoz version.
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BSS, LXXXII (2005)
the nun, making evident her inner commitment to devout action, in
contrast to her inscribed beliefs; written in Latin at the top of the painting
in capitals is ‘It is good to wait with silence for the salvation of God’
(Lamentations, III, 26) and on the banderole ‘I shall be satisfied when thy
glory shall appear’ (Psalms, XVI, 15). It is probable that the text allowed
Velázquez to reduce the ornament to the bare essential and to portray the
devout nun’s appearance and the ‘liveliness’ of her ‘mind’. Paleotti’s term
‘delight’ is perhaps not what comes to mind when faced by this exemplar of
Tridentine piety, but there seems little doubt she would have instructed
and moved her spectators, whether painters, scholars, the simple or the
Although the conceptual dimensions of these single figure paintings are
limited they make evident how Velázquez’s paintings may be discussed in
terms of both a visual and a conceptual perspicuity. The contrast of the two
is made all the more apparent in Velázquez’s three multi-figure religious
compositions. Seen in terms of visual and conceptual perspicuity, the
spectator would have found these works accomplished essays of visual
rhetoric. However, these two aspects of ‘perspicuity’ cannot be considered
in isolation; the verisimilitude of their appearance serves to guide the
spectator to the conceptual themes, and Velázquez’s portrayal of the ‘minds’
of the characters is central to this.
In terms of providing conceptual perspicuity, Velázquez’s pair of
paintings The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception and St John the
Evangelist on the Isle of Patmos (c.1619) [Plates 1 & 2] demonstrate a
complex compositional strategy. The dual composition has been discussed
in the context of the contemporaneous heated debates and demonstrations
in Seville regarding the theological status of the Virgin’s Immaculate
Conception.36 The theology and biblical exegesis these debates drew on was
complex, and no doubt a challenge to preachers to provide clear
explanations to their congregations. It may be argued that in the eyes of an
erudite spectator Velázquez’s paintings successfully achieved a conceptual
‘perspicuity’ of these complex ideas.
The painting of St John provides a literal exposition of anagogical
experience and biblical allegory.
However, the explanation of its
significance is provided in the second work, which is a devotional image
rather than an actual biblical scene. The Evangelist’s vision, recorded in
Apocalypse, chapter 12, of the Winged Woman threatened by the Dragon
was then interpreted as an allegory of the Virgin’s Immaculate Conception.
In Visionary experience in the Golden Age of Spanish Art (1995) Victor
Stoichita drew attention to the scale given to the saint and his book, in
contrast to the vision pressed into the painting’s top left hand corner. He
36 See Suzanne Stratton, The Immaculate Conception in Spanish Art (Cambridge:
Cambridge U. P., 1994).
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argued that the accompanying painting, of The Virgin of the Immaculate
Conception, filled ‘the emptiness of the white page’ of the Evangelist’s text,
which may be developed to say that the second painting provides a deallegorization of Saint John the Evangelist’s vision.37
The saint does not look at the actual vision, which may be interpreted
as a depiction of an interior mystical vision, yet the direction of the saint’s
gaze is significant. It leads us to the second painting. A conclusion drawn
by Stoichita in his examination of Spanish religious painting, is that the
depiction of the visionary serves ‘as an intermediary […] through which the
transcendence is revealed to the spectator’.38 The Evangelist may be
understood in this role. Not only does he ‘see or experience’ the original
vision but his gaze leads the spectator to the next painting, the theological
consequence of the first, and the subject of ardent debate in early
seventeenth-century Seville.
Velázquez’s two other religious paintings both represent narratives and
did not have to engage with such conceptual challenges as have been
discussed so far. However, in each of them Velázquez explored the
possibility of what Stoichita has termed the ‘intermediary’. In the
Adoration of the Magi (1619) not only does the verisimilitude of the
treatment of the Holy Family and their devout visitors concentrate
attention on the narrative moment, but this is heightened by the restricted
use of ‘ornament’. The regal finery is reduced to the minimum and it
signals how Velázquez’s image may be read as a ‘perspicuous’
representation of the biblical scene. Within this restricted space Velázquez
concentrates the spectator on two visual foci. The red and brown cloaks of
the Magi mark a curved space separating them from the Holy Family. The
golden caskets they hold punctuate its flowing recession into the picture’s
depth, leading the eye to the sunrise, with its symbolic significance. The
spectator’s attention is also caught by the Magi’s gaze which leads to the
second and principal focus of the painting, the Holy Family.
The significance of this painting requires little ‘exegesis’. Nevertheless,
Velázquez drew attention to an important conceptual dimension of the
scene, which is the importance of vision for the act of adoration. It may be
argued that the Magi and their page, framed by their sombre clothes, act as
‘intermediaries’ for the spectator to engage with the scene, seeing the
brightly clothed and illuminated Virgin and Child with their eyes. In this
case the Magi are both Paleotti’s ‘scholarly’ and ‘pious’ spectators, while the
page offers a paradigm of ‘the simple’; the four gazes of these spectators in
the act of witnessing the Son of God become an integral element of the
painting as a representation of the Holy Family.
37 Victor I. Stoichita, Visionary Experience in the Golden Age of Spanish Art (London:
Reaktion, 1995), 113.
38 Ibid., 199.
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BSS, LXXXII (2005)
Velázquez’s final painting, The Virgin Bestows the Chasuble on St
Ildefonso (1622–23), is another representation of anagogical experience. In
terms of the use of rhetorical principles the restricted ‘ornament’ is detected
in Velázquez’s exclusion of any reference to the location of the image and
attention is focused on the mystical event. Earlier paintings of this subject,
such as Pedro de Campaña’s Mariscal Altarpiece (1555–56) or Antón
Pizzarro’s 1618 illustration of the subject, published in Salazar de
Mendoza’s El Glorioso Doctor San Ildefonso (Toledo, 1618), situated the
action in Toledo Cathedral.39 The visual ‘perspicuity’ of Velázquez’s
portrayal focuses the erudite spectator on the Virgin and the devout saint.
In the treatment of the former the austerity of the image is notable; there
are no celestial trappings, and her angelic companions appear in a classical
guise, rather than divine with wings and haloes. Again, the context of the
Marian war is important to understand this representation of the Virgin; as
well as being an important Iberian example of a Marian vision, the Virgin
is shown rewarding the piety of those who showed devotion to her. St
Ildefonso is shown as an exemplar of devotion. However, he may also be
considered as an example of the pious spectator, who is concerned primarily
with the inner vision.
Again, Velázquez’s representation of the gazes of the protagonists is
significant. The Virgin is shown looking down on her faithful servant, but
the fixed stare of St Ildefonso does not meet hers. He may be seen as
waiting patiently for the chasuble to be placed on his shoulders, yet his
pose may also be understood as a representation of mystical vision. Like St
John the Evangelist he is not shown seeing the vision as an external event
but an interior one. Hence this painting contrasts with the depiction of
vision in the Adoration by portraying the inner experience of the saint and
in this way seeking to provide a more lifelike imitation of body and spirit.
Rioja’s text has allowed for a more complex understanding to be
developed of the discussion of painting in terms of rhetoric. The concepts of
‘perspicuity’ and ‘ornament’ provide ideological terms that develop our
understanding of the ‘imitation of nature’. Our analysis of Velázquez’s
paintings has demonstrated that Rioja’s rhetorical principles provide a
conceptual framework to discuss not only the paintings’ appearance but
also Velázquez’s treatment of their conceptual significance. In the light of
the Tridentine view of the painter as preacher it would not seem fanciful to
suggest that these ideas and concerns informed the viewing and discussion
of the paintings of Velázquez and his contemporaries. However, it is also
important to consider the reach of these ideas in Seville amongst
Velázquez’s ‘scholar’ spectators.
39 See Juan Miguel Serrera, ‘Velázquez and Sevillian Painting of his Time’, in
Velázquez in Seville, 37–43 (p. 38) and Harris, ‘Velázquez, Sevillian Painter of Sacred
Subjects’, 45–49 (p. 46)
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Pacheco’s possession of a copy of Rioja’s manuscript indicates the
dissemination of the debates concerning preaching in Seville, but as has
been demonstrated they were already widely known. Furthermore, I would
draw attention to other channels of the dissemination of rhetorical
principles relevant to the discussion of ‘images’. Treatises on poetics, the
Art of Memory, ekphrasis in poetry and prose, and ‘spiritual exercises’,
examined in conjunction with the debates on preaching, reveal how ideas
derived from theories of rhetoric, such as perspicuitas, informed intellectual
and ideological concepts of images, the imagination and vision in GoldenAge Iberian culture.40 Examination of these texts reveals the diffusion of
the ideas discussed in the course of this article, and they signal the further
complexity of Sevillian culture and Velázquez’s paintings.
A final consideration is Velázquez’s own awareness of these debates.
Pacheco claimed that a motivation for Velázquez’s 1622 journey to Madrid
was to visit El Escorial, which he would have known from Sigüenza’s text
or else the descriptions of Pacheco himself.41 Hence along with the evidence
examined so far it is probable that he was schooled in the rhetorical
dimensions of painting criticism; in addition, the analysis of the paintings
suggests that theoretical principles of rhetoric informed not only
Velázquez’s theoretical understanding of painting but also the production of
paintings. Aside from theoretical considerations, Velázquez’s paintings
reveal him to be an accomplished visual orator, or preacher, and it was his
accomplished visual rhetoric that would have gained him renown in Seville
and Madrid. Therefore it may be concluded there is some substance to
Palomino’s claim, alluding to Alberti’s statement given above, that
Velázquez ‘gained much with which to embellish his compositions’ from his
acquaintance with ‘poets and orators’.42
40 For discussion of these themes see: McKim-Smith, ‘La técnica Sevillana de
Velázquez’; Javier Portús Pérez, Pintura y pensamiento en la España de Lope de Vega
(Hondarribia-Guipúzcoa: Nerea, 1999); Fumaroli, ‘Ut pictura rhetorica divina’; Roland
Barthes, Sade/Fourier/Loyola, trans. R. Miller (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1989);
Roe, ‘Velázquez’s “Imitation” of Nature’.
41 Pacheco had travelled there in 1611 as well as to Córdoba, Toledo, Madrid and El
42 Antonio Palomino, Lives of the Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors, trans.
Nina Mallory (New York: Cambridge U. P., 1987), 143.
BSS, LXXXII (2005)
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Plate 1
Diego Velázquez, The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, c.1619, oil on canvas,
135 x 101.6 cm.
Reproduced by courtesy of the National Gallery, London.
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Plate 2
Diego Velázquez, St John the Evangelist on the Isle of Patmos, c.1619,
oil on cavas, 135 x 102.2 cm.
Reproduced by courtesy of the National Gallery, London.