Falling off a ladder….

is an unlikely subject for an oil painting. But there is such a painting (see left), about the accident which befell one of the most famous Andalucian painters, the Baroque master, Bartolome Murillo.

The painting shows a prone Murillo being ministered to by anxious monks. He had been working on the altar piece in Santa Catalina Chapel in Cadiz, when he fell from the ladder and injured himself.  The capuchin monks rushed to his aid but, at aged 64, the fall did him no good at all and he died shortly afterwards. The city of Cadiz commissioned this unusual and somewhat morbid painting in his memory. The altarpiece which he was painting at the time, together with accompanying side panels, mainly by his disciple, Osorio, hang on the end wall of the Murillo Room in the Belles Artes galleries in the Museo de Cadiz, next to the painting of what befell their creator.

Perhaps as well-known for his portraits of street urchins and everyday people as for rosy-cheeked Madonnas and cherubim, the Murillo room contains both types, but mainly the latter. In London one can find Murillo paintings in the National Gallery and also at Dulwich Picture Gallery ( see A South London Gem ).

I have written before about the Museo de Cadiz ( see Cadiz in the rain ) with its huge collection of antiquities in the lovely Plaza Mina. What I have not mentioned is the fine art gallery upon its second floor.

The Belles Artes rooms are well worth a visit. They have an excellent collection of paintings, particularly of the Baroque. The other major Spanish master who features heavily is Zurbaran, who also has a room dedicated to his work (though not the cause of his death). In it, the visitor can see a series of religious paintings and portraits, some of which come from the  retalbo of the charterhouse at Cartuja, Jerez de la Frontera. The Apotheosis of St Bruno and The Blessed John Houghton, one of the Carthusians at the monastery, as well as two paintings of angels carrying thuribles all come from there.  The construction for which many of the paintings were made was largely destroyed and it is reconstructed here, in so far as that is possible, in diagram form. The paintings were removed for restoration and subsequently hung here among other Zurbarans.

I am a fan of Zurbaran, his crisp-edged drapery and haunted faces, with dramatic dark backgrounds and chiascuro. I particularly liked the angels here, neither of which I had seen before. But the Gallery has much more than Spanish Baroque paintings. There are some interesting ‘history paintings’ and some Rubens and Velasquez. Some of the paintings I most enjoyed seeing were, however, by twentieth century artists who came to Cadiz, rather as British painters decamped to Cornwall, to paint in its famously clear light. All of them were unknown to me before this visit.

The Gallery de Belles Artes has seven major rooms on the second floor of the building of the Museo de Cadiz and a further smaller floor given over to abstract art ( which I found of less interest ). It also has an excellent exhibition of antique puppets and scenes from puppet theatre, together with an interesting exhibition about the relationship the city has with the sea, but those are for different articles.

If you emerge into the sunlight of Plaza Mina feeling hungry, as we did, you might like to try one of the tapas bars and restaurants in Calle Zorrilla off the right hand side of the square as you face away from the Museo. Most famously there is Meson Cumbres, which I can heartily recommend, though you really need to book for the restaurant or get there early, or late, as we did, for the tapas tables outside. It isn’t cheap, no-where in Cadiz is, but the food is unusual and of a high quality and it is usually full of Spanish diners.

If you enjoyed reading this article you might also enjoy                    Cadiz in the rain             Carnaval Sunday             Jerez in the rain                          Mirador                       The Seeing City                     Jerez Archeology

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