In memoriam Francisco Pradilla Ortiz 1

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848–1921), Marino Faliero, Dux LV (1883), watercolour on paper, 72.5 x 51.5 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Wikimedia Commons.

The most famous Spanish artist named Francisco was of course Goya, whose life and work I have just completed reviewing. He was born and brought up in and close to Zaragoza, where another great Spanish painter named Francisco also trained. Next week, I commemorate the centenary of the death of Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, who was born in a village in Zaragoza province in 1848, and died on 1 November 1921.

More traditionally, he would have been known as Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz, with Pradilla as his paternal and Ortiz his maternal surnames. For that reason, he’s known not as Ortiz but as Pradilla.

Pradilla started his artistic training in the city of Zaragoza, then moved to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid, also studying there at the Academy of Watercolourists.

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848–1921), Rape of the Sabine Women (1874), oil on canvas, 115 × 150 cm, Universidad Complutense, Facultad de Bellas Artes, Madrid. Wikimedia Commons.

His first major painting as a student was this version of the popular narrative, Rape of the Sabine Women (1874), which won him a scholarship to study at the Spanish Academy in Rome – the Spanish equivalent of the French Prix de Rome.

This shows the classical Roman legend in which the early citizens of Rome, almost entirely men, carried off the women of their friends and neighbours the Sabines, as captive brides. One of the standard themes for all great narrative painters, masters such as Poussin and Rubens had filled their canvases and panels with a riot of people. Pradilla was wisely more modest, and in the foreground the group of a Sabine mother reaching after her daughter, who is being carried off in the arms of a Roman, gives the story a more personal and emotional touch.

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848–1921), Doña Juana “la Loca” (Juana the Mad) (1877), oil, 340 × 500 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Wikimedia Commons.

After he had completed his studies in Madrid and Rome, Pradilla submitted this painting of Doña Juana “the Mad” in 1877, to the National Exhibition, where it was awarded the Medal of Honour. It went on to be hung at the Exposition Universelle in Paris the following year, and in Berlin.

Queen Joanna of Castile, or Juana the Mad, brought about the union of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, forming the basis of modern Spain. She married Philip the Handsome in 1496, shortly before her seventeenth birthday. He was crowned king of Castile in 1506, and was the first of the Habsburg monarchs in Spain.

He died suddenly later that year, probably from typhoid fever, and Juana became mentally ill, refusing to let Philip’s body be buried. It is this which is the basis for Pradilla’s painting, in which Juana is shown in the nun’s habit which she would have worn when she was eventually secreted into a convent. When her father, Ferdinand II, died in 1516, Juana inherited Aragon, and Spain was ruled under the personal union of her son Carlos I, who was also elected Holy Roman Emperor as Charles V.

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848–1921), Muchacho flautista coronado de hiedra (Flute Player Crowned with Ivy) (1880), watercolour on paper, 71 x 45 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Pradilla didn’t neglect his watercolours. A Flute Player Crowned with Ivy (1880), shows a lightness of touch and sophistication in technique.

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848–1921), Portrait of a Lady in Evening Dress (date not known), watercolour and graphite, 34.3 × 24.2 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

This small undated Portrait of a Lady in Evening Dress is even looser and more gestural.

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848–1921), La Rendición de Granada (The Surrender of Granada) (1882), oil on canvas, 330 x 550 cm, Palacio del Senado de España, Madrid. Wikimedia Commons.

After the success of Doña Juana “the Mad”, Pradilla was commissioned to paint The Surrender of Granada by the Spanish Senate, which took him from 1879-82 to complete.

This elaborate and heavily populated painting shows another momentous event in the history of the Spanish nation, when Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad XII, known locally as Boabdil, the last Nasrid ruler of Granada, surrendered his emirate to Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon (Juana the Mad’s parents), the Catholic Monarchs, in 1492.

Muhammad XII is mounted on the left, holding the keys to the city, which he is about to hand over to Ferdinand II, whose hand is already reaching out to receive those keys, and Queen Isabella I on her white horse. Apparently Muhammad was spared the ignominy of having to kiss the royal hands, and was allowed to simply hand the keys over. Prominent in the background is the Alhambra.

The detail below shows Muhammad.

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848–1921), La Rendición de Granada (The Surrender of Granada) (detail) (1882), oil on canvas, 330 x 550 cm, Palacio del Senado de España, Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

Pradilla finished that painting when he was working in Rome, as the director of the Spanish Arts Academy there, a post which he held for two years.

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848–1921), Marino Faliero, Dux LV (1883), watercolour on paper, 72.5 x 51.5 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Wikimedia Commons.

Marino Faliero, Dux LV, from 1883, is a wonderful watercolour portrait of one of the most colourful leaders of Venice, who was elected Doge in 1354. The following year, he attempted to seize power from the ruling aristocratic elite. The plot was discovered early, and at the age of 81, Faliero pleaded guilty to all charges, and was beheaded. That event is shown in Eugène Delacroix’s well-known Execution of the Doge Marino Faliero from 1826, shown below.

Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), The Execution of the Doge Marino Faliero (1825-26), oil on canvas, 145.6 x 113.8 cm, The Wallace Collection, London. Wikimedia Commons.