Juan De Valdes Leal – A Spanish Creative Figure

Revolutionary Spanish artist Juan de Valdés Leal was a painter, etcher, engraver, and architect. He was born on May 4, 1622 in Sevilla, Spain to a Portuguese father. Valdés received his early education in the city of Cordova, Spain. Antonio del Castillo was his teacher and mentor. Valdés continued his studies under Castillo until 1653. For the next three years, he worked both, in Cordova and in Sevilla. In 1656, he finally returned to his hometown and began his career there. In the year 1660, Valdés co-founded an art academy in Sevilla, along with Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Francisco Herrera the Younger. Murillo was the leading painter in the area and was chosen the President of the academy. After the death of Murillo in 1682, Valdés was established the topmost painter Sevilla. He married painter Isabella Carasquilla and fathered four children.

Valdés hailed from the Baroque era in painting. He was well-known for the religious and reformist overtone in nearly all his works. His style was unique and his subjects were uncanny. Valdés’ predisposition for the macabre led to some vivid imagery in bright color schemes. The grotesque scenes, a violent streak, dramatic light effects, and the covert symbolic meanings, together carried the force of raw nervous energy. Decaying bodies and imposing skeletal figures, often infested with blood, became the defining characteristics of Valdés work. A striking example of this style is ‘Vanitas,’ painted in the year 1660.

Valdés created his magnum opus, ‘Allegories of Death’ between 1670 and 1672. This work is a pair of two large size (220 cm X 216 cm) paintings, designed for a charity hospital known as ‘de la Caridad.’ The first of the two pieces, ‘In the twinkling of an eye’ portrays the frivolousness of material goals and mundane life. It signifies that no matter how different the life paths may appear, each one leads to the grave. The prince and the pauper, all meet the same fate. The other piece ‘The Triumph of Death’ expresses the power of death and its supremacy over life.

Another masterpiece by Valdés was color painting over the great altarpiece created by sculptor Roldan, in Caridad. He was also distinguished for his emotionally charged religious pieces and finely painted portraits. Made for the Hispanic Society of New York, ‘Way to Calvary’ belonged to this genre of his works. Other works by Valdés, included ‘Martyrdom of St. Andrew’ (Church of San Francisco, Córdoba) and ‘History of the Prophet Elias’ (Church of Carmelites). Valdés breathed his last in Sevilla, in 1690.