CIRCLE OF PEDRO DE MENA (1628-1688) SPANISH, MALAGA, LATE 17TH CENTURY
polychromed wood, set with ivory teeth, and glass eyes and tears 40cm., 15¾in.
In the early 1670s Pedro de Mena first carved two of the most moving images known in European sculpture, his Ecce Homo and Mater Dolorosa, at which time he fully realised the potential of the mixed-media technique fathered by Juan Martínez Montañés half a century earlier. The idealised faces of Christ and Mary were not only enlivened by realistic polychromy; ivory teeth, glass eyes, tears made of droplets of glass and eyelashes of animal hair were all expertly fitted into the carved heads. To suggest cloth and attributes De Mena carved the wood paper-thin and appropriated real objects in a quest to approach reality as closely as possible. Christ and the Virgin’s humanity and their palpable anguish caused rapturous responses in Southern Spain’s churches and monasteries when they first appeared. Consequently, his busts and half-length figures set the standard for this type of imagery, prompting many further commissions for both his workshop and his followers.
Among De Mena’s most important Mater Dolorosas are those in the Monastery of San Joaquín y Santa Ana in Valladolid and the Convent of the MM. Conceptionistas in Zamora. These figures are characterised by sweeping Baroque drapery and animated by their clasped hands and turn of the head (see Moreno, op.cit., nos. 7 and 9). It is intriguing that the former figure is also mounted on a base with inset upper edge. A closely related bust is in the the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid dated to circa 1680 (Moreno, op.cit., no. 13) and another is in the collection of the Hispanic Society of America. This example is signed by Pedro’s daughter Andrea de Mena and dated to 1675 illustrated by Trusted (op.cit., no. 127) suggesting that at least some of these busts were carved by others under Pedro’s supervision.
RELATED LITERATURE L.L. Moreno (ed.), Pedro de Mena y Castilla, exh. cat. Museo nacional de escultura, Valladolid, 1989, pp. 34-47; M. Trusted,The arts of Spain. Iberia and Latin America 1450-1700, London/ New York, 2007, no. 127