The Sacred Made Real: religious art from Spain's Golden Age

Pedro de Mena's St Francis Standing in Meditation

Pedro de Mena's St Francis Standing in Meditation

Created to shock the senses and stir the soul, The Sacred Made Real  exhibition, which takes place from 21 October 2009 - 24 January 2010,  at the National Gallery, presents a landmark reappraisal of religious art from the Spanish Golden Age. Paintings including masterpieces by Diego Velázquez and Franciscomde Zurbarán are displayed for the very first time alongside Spain's remarkable 'polychrome' (painted) sculptures.

While the religious paintings of Velázquez and Zurbarán are relatively well known, the polychrome sculptures which also emerged from 17th-century Spain have never been the subjects of a major exhibition. Still passionately venerated in monasteries, churches and processions across the Iberian Peninsula, very few of these sculptures have ever been exhibited overseas. During the Spanish Counter-Reformation, religious patrons, particularly the Dominican, Carthusian and Franciscan orders, challenged painters and sculptors to bring the sacred to life, to inspire both Christian devotion and the emulation of the saints.

The exhibition brings together some of the finest depictions of key Christian themes including the Passion of Christ, the Immaculate Conception and the portrayal of saints, notably Pedro de Mena's austere rendition of Saint Francis Standing in Meditation, 1663, which has never before left the sacristy of Toledo Cathedral. By installing 16 polychrome sculptures and 16 paintings side-by-side, the exhibition aims to show that the 'hyperrealistic' approach of painters such as Velázquez and Zurbarán was clearly informed by their familiarity - and in some cases direct involvement - with sculpture.

The religious art of 17th-century Spain pursued a quest for realism with uncompromising zeal and genius. Far from being separate, this exhibition proposes that the arts of painting and sculpture were intricately linked and interdependent.

As this exhibition is the first of its kind outside Spain the National Gallery is keen to ensure that everyone who may be interested in this exhibition knows that it is happening, and is aware of what they can offer those visiting as a group.

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