JOSÉ and DIEGO DE MORA
(Baza, 1642 - Granada, 1724); (Granada, 1658 – Granada, 1729)
Polychrome wood, Ca. 1700-1720
73 x 31 x 28 cm (excl. plinth); 85 x 31 x 28 cm (incl. plinth)
This work of extraordinary technical quality and plastic beauty must be assigned without doubt to one of the great Baroque masters of the 17th Century. More specifically, due to its formal and stylistic features, it must be related directly to the sculpture school from Andalusia, as will be detailed below.
This sculpture represents Saint Bernard, following its usual iconography. He appears standing, slender and lean, with the tonsure and ascetic aspect typical of his monastic life. He wears the Cistercian habit and holds the abbot’s staff. He is looking up with his eyes lost in a well-accomplished expression of deep mystical intensity.
The work shows a great amount of details of high technical quality that reveal the expertise of the artist or artists that carved it. The sculpture is technically masterful, reaching a very high realistic quality. The face, hands and drapery are all rendered with exceptional refinement and delicacy.
The original polychromy is in amazingly good condition, practically intact and in pristine state. Features such as the flesh tones have remarkable quality, as can be seen in the incipient beard on his face or the shade of the shaved hair on his head. Also worth noting is the work of estofado with sting-like relief pattern on the edgings of his habit (neckline, sleeves, hood and lower border) with different decorative motifs in each area.
Regarding authorship, of course the influence of Alonso Cano and Pedro de Mena is clearly evident. More specifically, certain stylistic elements, formal features, typological models and similarities of the works by José and Diego de Mora can be seen in this piece. They were two of the sculptors from Andalusia more directly related to the work of both Cano and Mena. José and Diego de Mora were educated as sculptors with his father Bernardo in Granada, where he had moved after the death of Alonso de Mena. Since that time, they became in close contact with Pedro de Mena and also with Alonso Cano, since he returned to his home town in 1652. From then on, Cano needed younger sculptors as assistants to handle his commissions, among whom where Bernardo de Mora and Pedro de Mena. When Cano sojourned at court again between 1656 and1660 and Pedro de Mena moved his workshop to Málaga in 1658 to take care of the stalls of the choir of the cathedral, the productive workshop remained in charge of Bernardo and his sons José and Diego. This is the environment in which both were educated and, logically, they inherited the particular aesthetics of Cano-Mena, to which they would add their personal impression.
By the time when Mena delivered his famous Magdalene to the Jesuits in Madrid, José de Mora was also there. He had arrived presumably towards 1666 in order to work with Sebastián de Herrera Barnuevo, another one of the disciples of Alonso Cano, and even managed to achieve the position of sculptor appointed to the king, granted by Charles II. Between 1666 and 1680 he would spend many periods at court, to finally return definitively to Granada in 1680. While at the capital, he would complete “different effigies of his devotion, with singular accuracy and delicacy” as Palomino mentions, who knew him personally.
Very typical of José de Mora is the melancholy and strongly emotional look on the faces of his figures, with elongated heads, thin lips, arched eyebrows, marked cheekbones and half-open mouths. He also pays great attention to the detailed execution of the hands, which appear dramatic and gesticulating. Thus, Mora creates a particular style of very expressive and realistic character. All of these features can be seen not only in the St. Bernard studied here but also in many other works by José de Mora. Among them we will mention the Saint Bruno from the Cartuja in Granada (fig. 1) and mostly the series of life-size saints that he made for the chapel of Cardinal Salazar in the Córdoba Cathedral, like Saint Bernard, Saint Anthony of Padova, Saint Dominic, Saint Peter Nolasco, Saint Francis or Saint Francis of Paula (fig. 2). They present very closely related poses and compositions and, most of all, a similar expressive treatment of the faces and hands, which he executes with special attention. Also, the virtuously carved drapery, complicated and with a very meticulous and voluminous aspect showing movement and with a marked chiaroscuro, matches the one on this St. Bernard. Also worth mentioning is another series of comparable works like the St. Francis at the Detroit Institute of Arts (fig. 3), the Saint Dominic that was in the church of this saint in Granada (fig. 4); the St. Pantaleon from the church of Santa Ana in Granada, as well as others that are attributed to him like St. Anthony of Padova from the cathedral of Córdoba (fig. 5), the St. Hyacinth from the church of St. Dominic in Antequera (the hands are clearly not original) (fig. 6), or the St. Francis Solano from the church of St. Francis in Priego de Córdoba (fig. 7). These three last ones, however, should be more directly related to his brother Diego.
In this sense, a possible collaboration between the two brothers in the execution of this St. Bernard should not be discarded; such collaborations were frequent mostly during José’s final years, when he began to suffer some mental problems. Of course the way of carving the habit and draperies with their characteristic angled modeling is proper of José de Mora as we have seen in the previously mentioned works. However the face, even though it obviously has his typologies, shows perhaps less languor, less sorrow and drama; more serenity and a facial type that corresponds to a more sweetened concept of beauty, of great delicacy and naturalism. All of these are typical features of the style of Diego, as can be seen in the San Juan de Dios from the hospital of San Juan de Dios in Granada (fig. 8); as well as in other joint works by the brothers, among which we can mention the St. Margaret of Cortona in a private collection (fig. 9), or the impressive Christ gathering up his Garments (fig. 10).