Meadows Museum Acquires Juan Alonso Villabrille y Ron Terracotta sculpture

The Meadows Museum has acquired the first terracotta sculpture attributed to Spanish Baroque master Juan Alonso Villabrille y Ron.

X-rays of St. Paul the Hermit. Photos by Jay Mize, Children's Medical Center Dallas.

X-rays of St. Paul the Hermit. Photos by Jay Mize, Children’s Medical Center Dallas.

In-depth research conducted by museum staff members sheds new light on the identity of the bust-length sculpture’s subject and its historical significance. When the sculpture was initially offered to the Museum it was believed to depict St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church. Meadows curators’ research, however, determined that the subject is in fact St. Paul the Hermit.

Villabrille y Ron is considered one of the most important Spanish sculptors of the Late Baroque period because of his mastery of technique. In addition, he taught another renowned sculptor of the period, Luis Salvador Carmona, and worked for the court in Madrid in the early eighteenth century. The quality of his work was such that he received commissions to create sculptures for some of the most important monuments in the city, such as the Puente de Toledo and the façade of the former Hospicio Provincial (now the Museo Municipal de Madrid). This sculpture is the first terracotta work to be attributed to Villabrille y Ron; not many examples of Spanish terracotta sculptures from the period have survived. Most of the works attributed to Villabrille y Ron are of polychromed wood or stone.

When the sculpture was initially offered to the Museum it was believed to depict St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church, who retired as a hermit to the Syrian Desert for three years’ penance. Meadows’ curators, however, took note of the subject’s prominently positioned woven reed garment, a vestment not present in any of the many other existing depictions of St. Jerome, and concluded the likeness had been misidentified. Their research determined that the subject is in fact St. Paul the Hermit, the first hermit saint of the Christian church, who is always shown as an old man wearing a woven reed garment made of palm leaves sewn together. Various experts in the field of Early Modern religious iconography, including George Washington University Professor Barbara von Barghahn and Richard P. Townsend, independent art historian, have confirmed the amended identification. www.meadowsmuseumdallas.org

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