MASTER OF PEREA
(Spanish, 15th Century)
Madonna and Child with Saints Barbara and Lucy
Oil on panel
50 7/8 x 26 ½ inches
(129.2 x 67.3 cm)
Johanna Zeckel Collection, New York
To be included in the Exposición del Maestro de Perea organized by Dr. José Gomez Frechina in 2016 at Coll & Cortes, Madrid
The name “Master of Perea” has been given to an innovative but still anonymous painter active in Valencia in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. His name comes from the commission by a Don Pedro de Perea to paint the Retablo de los Tres Reyes (Altarpiece of the Three Kings) for a chapel in the Church of Santo Domingo in Valencia. Though more recent scholarship has determined that the altarpiece, now in the Museo de Bellas Artes of Valencia, was actually commissioned by Don Pedro’s widow, Doña Violante de Santa Pau y Centelles two years after her husband’s death in 1491, the sobriquet has remained for the sake of consistency. It is from the Altarpiece of the Three Kings, and works such as the one discussed here, that scholars have been able to establish that the Master of Perea was the leader and teacher of a coterie of Valencian painters who worked in a style previously unseen in Spain. This style, new and unique to the region, reflected a union of the relatively rigid Gothic traditions of early Spanish painting with new developments in oil painting current in Northern Europe, and especially Flanders.
The present panel, depicting the Madonna and Child with Saints Barbara and Lucy, displays the Perea Master’s ability to instill the more static style of early Spanish religious painting with the vibrancy of a Flemish attention to drapery and detail. These characteristics are notable in the rich brocade costume worn by the seated Virgin, which dips and rests with a physical weight similar to the works of the Flemish masters, as well as in the intricate detail of the cloth of honor hanging behind the Virgin and her attendants. The attendant female saints, Saint Barbara and Saint Lucy are demonstrably identified by their iconographic attributes. Saint Barbara, on the viewer’s left, holds in her left hand the tower in which she was imprisoned by her father to discourage her many suitors. The tower’s religious significance comes from its three windows; though built with only two, Barbara carved the third without her father’s permission to have a permanent symbol of the Trinity. (It was this act that led to her eventual martyrdom at the hands of her father.) Opposite Barbara, Saint Lucy stands holding her martyr’s palm in her left hand and a small tray displaying her eyes with her right. Though commonly thought to have been martyred by the removal of her eyes, her legend relates that she herself plucked them out and sent them to her betrothed after he would not stop praising them. Her eventual martyrdom was by gruesome torture after her betrothed, a pagan gentleman of means, denounced her for distributing her riches to the poor against his wishes.
Dr. José Gómez Frechina, Formerly Curator of Paintings at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia, has authoritatively confirmed the Master of Perea’s authorship of the present work in an extensive, as yet unpublished, catalogue entry. He relates our panel to other works by the Master, all generally dated between 1490 and 1510. Common to both the Madonna and Child with Saints Barbara and Lucy and the artist’s name-work, the Altarpiece of the Three Kings, is the flowing hair of the female figures punctuated by protruding ears – a personal idiom of the artist that gave him his alternate name, awkward but descriptive -- the Maestro de la Oreja en la Crencha, or the Master of the Ear in the Parted Hair.
The portrayal of two prominent female saints flanking the image of the Virgin nursing the Christ Child, a type known as the Madonna Lactans, suggests that the present work was commissioned by a female patron, perhaps for a convent context. The luxurious depiction of brocaded textiles, elaborately punched gilding, and rich celebratory color serve to create a setting of celebration, honor, and reverence.