Alonso Cano
Biography of Spanish Baroque Sculptor, Painter & Architect.

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Eve (1666) Granada Cathedral

Alonso Cano (1601-1667)

Alonso or Alonzo Cano is one of the great Baroque sculptors of Spain - whose diversity of talent - as sculptor, painter, and architect - has given him the nickname of the "Spanish Michelangelo". A man of explosive temperament, he was active (successively) in Seville, Madrid, then Granada. A major figure in Spanish Baroque art, his most famous work of sculpture is The Immaculate Conception (1655, Granada Cathedral), while his best known paintings include Descent into Limbo (1640, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles) and The Miracle at the Well (1646-48, Museo del Prado, Madrid). His decoration of the western facade of Granada Cathedral is also highly acclaimed. In addition to his Baroque sculpture, Cano was also one of the most famous Baroque architects in Spain.

Crucifixion (1636-38)
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
A wonderful example of dramatic

SCULPTURE (1600-1850)
Baroque Art (1600-1700)
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See: History of Sculpture.

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Born in Granada in 1601, Cano was taught the fundamentals of architecture from an early age by his father, Miguel Cano, an architect. At the age of 13 Alonzo moved to Seville to study painting and sculpture. He studied painting under Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644), who is best known for his biography of Spanish artists Arte de la Pintura (1649) and for the fact that he also taught Spain's most famous painter Diego Velazquez. Cano also studied sculpture under Juan Martinez Montanes (1568-1649), also known as 'el Dios de la Madera' (the God of Wood), for his wood sculptures which were gessoed, polychromed and gilded.

No sculptures from Cano's Seville period survive. However, one of his early paintings from this period is Saint John the Evangelist's Vision of Jerusalem (1636-37) now in the Wallace Collection, London. This painting was originally executed for the convent church of Santa Paula in Seville. It already shows Cano's mastery of painting technique, of anatomical drawing, foreshortening and the use of delicate translucent colours. The sophisticated style suggests that Cano may have spent time in Italy, although there is no evidence that he left Seville before 1638. Two other important paintings in the Louvre Museum collection from this period (also created for the convent) include: St John the Evangelist (1636) and St James the Greater (c.1635).

For different types of carving,
and modelling, see:
Stone Sculpture
From igneous, sedimentary,
and metamorphic rocks.
Marble Sculpture
Pentelic, Carrara, Parian marbles.
Bronze Sculpture
Lost-wax casting method,
sandcasting, centrifugal casting.


Madrid and Court Painter

Known for a volatile temper, Cano was forced to flee Seville for Madrid after a duel with the painter Sebastian de Llanos Valdes (1605-77). It was believed that Cano had already risked his life by smashing a statue of a saint, when the buyer questioned his price - it could have been viewed as an act of heresy, punishable by death.

In Madrid, King Philip IV appointed Cano to be Royal Architect and King's Painter. He was tasked to restore pictures in the British royal art collection, and thus came into contact with masters of the 16th century Renaissance in Venice. This influence can be seen in Cano's subsequent paintings, which are softer than his earlier pictures and are strongly lit from a light source, in the manner of Zurbaran. One of Cano's most important paintings from this period includes The Miracle at the Well (1646-48, Prado Museum, Madrid), which had been hailed by his contemporaries as a masterpiece, but had remained damaged and forgotten until it was submitted to the Prado in 1941. From 1640 onwards, Cano's style became more pictorial, almost Baroque in style. This can best be seen with Descent into Limbo (1640, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles) which is highly illustrative, the viewer finds themselves in the middle of a story. Other paintings include Mary (1646-50, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest); Noli me Tangere (c.1640, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest); and St John the Evangelist on Pathmos (1646-50, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest).

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In order to appreciate important 3-D artists like the Spanish Baroque sculptor Alonso Cano, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.

Granada Cathedral

In 1644 Cano was yet again to flee for his life on being accused of the murder of his wife. He initially escaped to Valencia, but was returned to favour in 1652 and was granted the position of Canon at Granada Cathedra. In order to secure his position Cano took holy orders and was appointed chief architect of the cathedral, a position he held until his death. Cano was to design many of the features and decorations of western facade of the cathedral - upon which rests his reputation as one of Spain's greatest architects of the day - but the facade was only erected after his death by his successor Jose de Granados. The cathedral houses many of Cano's works of Christian art, including a polychrome wooden statue of The Immaculate Conception (1655) which is sometimes considered his masterpiece. His works from Granada are harmonious and serene. Another example is Eve (1666, Granada Cathedral) - a large wooden bust which is highly effeminate and elegant. Cano's Eve sparkles with coquettish charm and intelligence. He never managed to complete the accompanying wooden bust of Adam, this was completed later by Juan Velez de Ulloa.

Other Works

Other paintings by Cano in collections in museums around the world include: The Vision of Saint John (1635, Wallace Collection, London); The Annunciation (c.1645, Museo del Prado); Dead Christ Supported by an Angel (1646-52, Prado); Immaculate Conception (1648, Provincial Museum, Vitoria); and The Vision of St Bernard (c.1650, Prado).

Cano died in 1667 in Granada. Unfortunately time has not been kind to many of his paintings and sculptures, several of his best have been destroyed in revolutions and wars.

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