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Herrera, Francisco

HERRERA, FRANCISCO (1576-1656), surnamed el Viejo (the old), Spanish historical and fresco painter, studied under Luis Fernandez in Seville, his native city, where he spent most of his life. Although so rough and coarse in manners that neither scholar nor child could remain with him, the great talents of Herrera, and the promptitude with which he used them, brought him abundant commissions. He was also a skilful worker in bronze, an accomplishment that led to his being charged with coining base money. From this accusation, whether true or false, he sought sanctuary in the Jesuit college of San Hermenegildo, which he adorned with a fine picture of its patron saint. Philip IV., on his visit to Seville in 1624, having seen this picture, and learned the position of the artist, pardoned him at once, warning him, however, that such powers as his should not be degraded. In 1 6 50 Herrera removed to Madrid, where he lived in great honour till his death in 1656. Herrera was the first to relinquish the timid Italian manner of the old Spanish school of painting, and to initiate the free, vigorous touch and style which reached such perfection in Velazquez, who had been for a short time his pupil. His pictures are marked by an energy of design and freedom of execution quite in keeping with his bold, rough character. He is said to have used very long brushes in his painting; and it is also said that, when pupils failed, his servant used to dash the colours on the canvas with a broom under his directions, and that he worked them up into his designs before they dried. The drawing in his pictures is correct, and the colouring original and skilfully managed, so that the figures stand out in striking relief. What has been considered his best easel-work, the " Last Judgment," in the church of San Bernardo at Seville, is an original and striking composition, showing in its treatment of the nude how ill-founded the common belief was that Spanish painters, through ignorance of anatomy, understood only the draped figure. Perhaps his best fresco is that on the dome of the church of San Buenaventura; but many of his frescoes have perished, some by the effects of the weather and others by the artist's own carelessness in preparing his surfaces. He has, however, preserved several of his own designs in etchings. For his easel-works Herrera often chose such humble subjects as fairs, carnivals, ale-houses and the like.

His son FRANCISCO HERRERA (1622-1685), surnamed el Mozo (the young), was also an historical and fresco painter. Unable to endure his father's cruelty, the younger Herrera, seizing what money he could find, fled from Seville to Rome. There, instead of devoting himself to the antiquities and the works of the old Italian masters, he gave himself up to the study of architecture and perspective, with the view of becoming a fresco-painter. He did not altogether neglect easel-work, but became renowned for his pictures of still-life, flowers and fruit, and from his skill in painting fish was called by the Italians Lo Spagnuolo degli pcsci. In later life he painted portraits with great success. He returned to Seville on hearing of his father's death, and in 1660 was appointed subdirector of the new academy there under Murillo. His vanity, however, brooked the superiority of no one; and throwing up his appointment he went to Madrid. There he was employed to paint a San Hermenegildo for the barefooted Carmelites, and to decorate in fresco the roof of the choir of San Felipe el Real. The success of this last work procured for him a commission from Philip IV. to paint in fresco the roof of the Atocha church. He chose as his subject for this the Assumption of the Virgin. Soon afterwards he was rewarded with the title of painter to the king, and was appointed superintendent of the royal buildings. He died at Madrid in 1685. Herrera el Mozo was of a somewhat similar temperament to his father, and offended many people by his inordinate vanity and suspicious jealousy. His pictures are inferior to the older Herrera's both in design and in execution; but in some of them traces of the vigour of his father, who was his first teacher, are visible. He was by no means an unskilful colourist, and was especially master of the effects of chiaroscuro. As his best picture Sir Edmund Head in his Handbook names his " San Francisco," in Seville Cathedral. An elder brother, known as Herrera el Rubio (the ruddy), who died very young, gave great promise as a painter.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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