Discovered in the Convento de Santa Isabel de los Reyes, Toledo, by restorer Jerónimo Seisdedos in 1931;
Sold by the nuns to Alejandro Fernández de Araóz, Madrid, in 1944;
His widow, Madrid;
Thence by descent within the Araóz family.

Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, Flanders, Espagne, Portugal du XVe au XVIIe siècle, 19 May – 31 July 1954, no. 115;
Geneva, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Du Greco à Goya: chefs-d'oeuvre du Prado et de collections espagnoles, 16 June – 24 September 1989, no. 32;
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Stora Spanska Mästare, 12 December 1959 – 13 March 1960, no. 98;
Madrid, Dirección General de Bellas Artes, Casón del Buen Retiro, Velazquez y lo velazqueño, 10 December 1960 – 23 February 1961, no. 39;
London, Royal Academy of Arts, The Golden Age of Spanish Painting, 10 January – 14 March 1976, no. 44;
Madrid, Museo de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Tesoros de las colecciones particulares madrileñas: Pintura desde el siglo XV a Goya, May – June 1987, no. 25;
Seville, Monasterio de la Cartuja de Santa María de las Cuevas, Salas del Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Velázquez y Sevilla, 1 October – 12 December 1999, no. 97;
Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, Velázquez in Seville, 8 August – 20 October 1996, no. 43;
London, The National Gallery, Velázquez, 18 October 2006 – 21 January 2007, no. 14;
London, The National Gallery, The Sacred Made Real: Spanish painting and sculpture 1600-1700, 21 October 2009 – 24 January 2010, no. 16;
Paris, Grand Palais, Galeries nationales, 25 March – 13 July 2015, no. 32.

A. L. Mayer, Velazquez: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Pictures and Drawings, London 1936, p. 129, under cat. no. 547;
G. Martin-Méry, Flandres, Espagne, Portugal du XVe au XVIIe siècle, exh. cat., Bordeaux 1954, p. 105, under cat. no. 115;
C. Nordenfalk, P. Grate and P. Bjurström, Stora Spanska Mästare, exh. cat., Stockholm 1959, pp. 77-8, under cat. no. 98;
E. Lafuente Ferrari et al., Velazquez y lo velazqueño, exh. cat., Madrid 1960, pp. 51-2, under cat. no. 39;
J. López-Rey, Velazquez: A Catalogue Raisonné of His Oeuvre with an Introductory Study by Jose Lopez-Rey, London 1963, p. 320, under cat. no. 578;
P. M. Bardi, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Velázquez, Paris 1969, p. 89, reproduced fig. 17A;
A. E. Pérez Sánchez and X. De Salas., The Golden Age of Spanish Painting, exh. cat., London 1976, pp. 62-5, no. 44;
J. López-Rey, Velazquez: The Artist as a Maker with a Catalogue Raisonné of His Extant Works, Lausanne-Paris 1979, pp. 226-7, under cat. no. 21;
J. Brown, Velázquez. Painter and Courtier, New Haven and London, 1986, pp. 32-4;
E. Valdivieso, J. Urrea and J. Gállego, Tesoros de las colecciones particulares madrileñas: Pintura desde el siglo XV a Goya, exh. cat., Madrid 1987, pp. 68-9, under cat. no. 25;
C. Garrido Gómez and T. Gómez Espinosa, ‘Estudio técnico comparativo de los dos retratos de la Venerable Madre Sor Jerónima de la Fuente’, in Boletín del Museo del Prado, vol. 9, no. 25-7, 1988, pp. 66-76;
Du Greco à Goya: chefs-d'oeuvre du Prado et de collections espagnoles, exh. cat., Geneva 1989, p. 78, under cat. no. 32;
J. Gállego, Velázquez, exh. cat., Madrid 1990, p. 85, reproduced p. 86;
C. Garrido Pérez, Velázquez, técnica y evolución, Madrid 1992, pp. 89-95;
J. López-Rey, Velázquez. Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne 1996, vol. 1, pp. 33, 42; vol. 2, pp. 50-1, under cat. no. 21;
M. Clarke, J. H. Elliott et al., Velázquez in Seville, exh. cat., Edinburgh 1996, pp. 174-7, under cat. no. 43;
J. M. Serrera et al., Velázquez y Sevilla, exh. cat., Seville 1999, pp. 208-9, under cat. no. 97; D. W. Carr, X. Bray et al., Velázquez, exh. cat., London 2006, pp. 142-3, under cat. no. 14;
J. Cruz Valdovinos, ‘Precisiones sobre algunos retratos de Velázquez’, in B. Navarrete Prieto (ed.), En torno a Santa Rufina: Velázquez de lo íntimo a lo cortesano, exh. cat., Seville 2008, pp. 68-9;
X. Bray, The Sacred Made Real: Spanish painting and sculpture 1600-1700, exh. cat., London 2009, pp. 122-5, under cat. no. 16;
J. López-Rey, Velázquez. The Complete Works, Cologne 2020, p. 337, under cat. no. 18;
G. Kientz, Velázquez, exh. cat., Paris 2015, pp. 158-61, under cat. no. 32;
Z. Véliz Bomford, ‘Velázquez composes: prototypes, replicas and transformations’, in Colnaghi Studies, 03, October 2018, p. 97.


This imposing portrait of Mother Jerónima de la Fuente, a Spanish nun from the order of the Poor Clares, is considered a highlight within Velázquez’s oeuvre as evidenced by its continuous presence in all major exhibitions and publications on the Spanish master over the last two decades. In the words of Xavier Bray, “the rugged features of the sixty-six-year-old nun in a realistic and uncompromising fashion, creat[e] a strong sense of her physical presence and profound spirituality...”1 An image of striking psychological penetration, this painting is still regarded as a perfect example of Velázquez’s unparalleled skills as a portraitist.

The following note by Guillaume Kientz was printed in the 2015 catalogue, Velázquez, published on the occasion of the eponymous blockbuster exhibition held at the Grand Palais in Paris. It has been translated from the original French text by Colnaghi, London:

It was in 1972 when the portrait of the Venerable Mother Jerónima de la Fuente, now in the Prado Museum, was exhibited for the first time. The painting, then attributed to Luis Tristán (c. 1585 – 1624), came from the convent of Santa Isabel de los Reyes in Toledo. A first cleaning quickly revealed Velázquez’s signature, which many considered suspicious, as well as the date 1620. In 1931, a second version was discovered, also belonging to the Franciscan convent, which showed few slight variations to the first canvas. In 1944, the two paintings were sold to the Prado Museum and a private collector, respectively, where they remain.

As specified in the apocryphal inscription at the bottom of the painting, the portrait of Mother Jerónima de la Fuente was created on the occasion of the nun’s stay in Seville between June and August of 1620. The Poor Clare, sixty-six years-old at that time, she was on her way to Cadiz to embark for the Americas and Manila, where she was going to found the first sister convent in the New World. Perhaps Pacheco (1564 – 1644), during his visit to Toledo in 1611, met her and took the opportunity to mention that his young protégé, Velázquez, could paint her portrait. Santa Isabel de los Reyes was a royal foundation, and the nun enjoyed high popularity in Castile, which is why it was a good strategy to associate his son-in-law with her at the start of his career as an artist. The nun had a strong and charismatic personality among the female branch of the Franciscans. Venerated during her lifetime, almost like a saint, her intention was to leave an image for her country that would reflect the traits of her character and her undivided virtue. Bible and Crucifix in hand, in the attitude of a missionary, she seems extremely determined to convert souls.

The formula adopted for this portrait deliberately imitates hagiographic representations. The phylactery flowing from her face belongs to this tradition. Wrongly considered apocryphal, the parchment was removed from the Prado painting when it was restored. Fortunately, it is preserved in this original version of the portrait. Here we can read an extract from the Psalms (XVII, 15): "I shall be satisfied when he is glorified". On the upper part, another inscription quotes the Book of Lamentations (III, 26): “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord”, a scriptural echo from the closed book that she is holding, which is materialised through her severe look and closed mouth.

The recent and rapid beatifications and then canonizations of Spanish religious personalities, which had taken place in the first decades of the century (Ignatius of Loyola, Thérèse d'Avila, François Xavier), had given rise to a deep and exalted desire for holiness. Images were a good strategy to work towards achieving such a recognition. Like Mother Jerónima in Toledo, where attempts to compile stories of her qualities and prowess were made, in Valencia there were failed attempts to consecrate Father Jerónimo Simón, who died in 1612. His image, widely spread through prints, was crucial to his later veneration, giving the faithful a visual source for their devotion. In format as well as in intention, the portrait of the Franciscan nun obeys the same rules, according, of course, to the recommendations that were surely made to Velázquez.

The painting is distinguishable through its strong plasticity and even resembles the sculptures of the time. The psychological intensity and manly robustness of the figure give the sitter an imposing presence. By removing all physical beauty, the painter avoids the pitfall of female seduction, a constant concern among the authorities on religious images. The painting had to be, on one hand, a commemorative work, and, on the other, an exemplary image.

The main formal difference between the two versions of the Jerónima de la Fuente portrait is the position of the Crucifix, which in the Prado painting is placed towards the sitter, and in the present work, it is turned towards the viewer instead. Julián Gállego saw in this variation the two sides of the Mother’s devotion: meditation and evangelization. The Crucifix, in a Franciscan context, also refers to the mystical episode of Francis d’Assisi’s reception of the stigmata. Jerónima was known to have practiced penitence, including attaching herself on a cross so that she could re-enact the Passion of Christ first-hand. The Crucifix has been related to a copy after a bronze original, supposedly derived from a drawing by Michelangelo, which Pacheco owned and which Velázquez could have used as a model for this composition. The radiograph of the Prado portrait shows that the contours of the cross are slightly risen, meaning that it was painted later, as a second step, on top of the cloak, unlike in the present painting, in which the position of the cross seems to have been fixed from the start. In the latter work, the simplified, lighter handling, as well as the absence of pentimenti, suggests that it is an autograph replica of the Prado painting. In view of its exceptional quality, its authenticity has never been questioned. The difference in the layers of the ground between the two pictures links the first work to Velázquez’s early years in Seville, and the second to his early days in Madrid. This may indicate a later dating for the present picture, perhaps between 1623 and 1626. However, this needs to be taken with caution, for this thesis has never been confirmed by either contemporary sources or stylistic analysis.

If we never manage to know why there are two versions of the same portrait, it is possible, as Javier Portús suggests, that one was intended to decorate the convent in Toledo, while the other would have stayed in the chapel of the church that was owned by Jerónima’s family. There is a third version, depicting her bust, which is considered an old copy, possibly by the workshop.

Footnotes
1. X. Bray, The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600-1700, exh. cat., London 2010, p. 122.

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