Juan de Valdés Leal

Dates1622 - 1690

Even during his lifetime, Juan de Valdés Leal became known for somber, if not macabre, subjects painted in a dramatic style. Commissions throughout his life included altarpieces, retables, vanitas paintings, and frescoes. Valdés Leal's art reflects the intensely religious spirit of seventeenth-century Spain, which he inventively heightened by using exotic colors, dramatic light, and lively brushwork.

Of Portuguese ancestry, Valdés Leal was born in Seville in 1622. Little is known about his early life, but by his twenties he studied in Córdoba with painter Antonio del Castillo and started his own workshop. His artistic influences were probably Italian (Tintoretto, Titian) as well as his contemporaries from Madrid and Seville. Valdés Leal married in 1647 and had five children, several of whom also became artists.

Valdés Leal's art developed as the antithesis of the dominant artist of that region and period, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, whose style was by contrast, serene and sweet. Yet the two artists became friends and often worked together on large commissions. After Valdés Leal returned to Seville in 1656, he helped Murillo found the Seville Academy of Art. He, Murillo, and Pedro Roldán worked together on a large commission for Seville's Hospital de la Caridad (Hospital of Charity). In addition to painting and drawing, Valdés Leal also worked as a sculptor, printmaker, and gilder. After 1680, he worked primarily in fresco. Later in life, his son Lucas assisted and collaborated with him.