History, But From Whose Point of View?

St. Ferdinand, King of Spain
Artist not known, Mexico
About 1730–1760

Students will critically examine and discuss the image of St. Ferdinand, King of Spain, then analyze and interpret it as a historical source for information as well as an important and impressive work of art. Students will consider how the artist and the patron who commissioned its creation influenced this sculpture, and generate a list of questions about the artwork.

Intended Age Group
Secondary (grades 6-12)
Standards Area
Social Studies
Lesson Length
One 50 minute lesson

Students will be able to:

  • describe and analyze what they see in the image of St. Ferdinand, King of Spain;
  • discuss the importance of the point of view of an artist or historian in analyzing historical fact; and
  • develop questions that arise from observation and acquisition of new information.


  1. Show students the image of St. Ferdinand, King of Spain and have them critically examine what they see. What is this object made from and how do they think it was made? What things catch their eyes and raise questions for them?
  2. Share the information from the About the Art section with students and explain that this is St. Ferdinand, who was a king of Spain. Ask students to locate Spain on a map and identify the areas that King Ferdinand united within the country. Even though St. Ferdinand was a king of Spain, this work of art was created in Mexico. Have students locate that area on the map as well.
  3. Go over the “Details” information fromAbout the Art and discuss the realism of the sculpture. Why do they think extreme realism was so popular at the time? Did they have photography at this time?
  4. Some students may wonder how a king became a saint. This is a good time to compare America’s laws about the separation of church and state to laws in other countries. Explain the history of King Ferdinand. Information is available in About the Art.
  5. King Ferdinand was named a saint by the Catholic Church for his deeds. Make sure students recognize the peaceful, calm, welcoming demeanor portrayed in the sculpture. This is a historical point of view that we can infer using this work of art as a historical source. How would the point of view change if we were to consider historical information found in texts from the Moorish people whom King Ferdinand conquered to control religion in Spain? Is that aspect of King Ferdinand’s life visible in the sculpture?
  6. Why is it important to critically analyze historical sources? Discuss with the class.
  7. Have students generate a list of questions inspired by the study of this work of art. They might ask questions about the history of Spain or King Ferdinand, the artist who made this sculpture, how the artist conveyed King Ferdinand so realistically, the role of Spain in Mexico, etc.


  • World map
  • Note-taking paper for each student
  • Variety of pencils, markers, or other writing implements
  • Color copies of the image for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a screen or wall
  • About the Art section on St. Ferdinand, King of Spain


CO Standards
  • Social Studies
    • History
    • Geography
  • Evaluate and analyze sources using historical method of inquiry and defend their conclusions
  • Understand the concept that the power of ideas is significant throughout history
  • Become familiar with Western Hemisphere historical eras, groups, individuals and themes
  • Analyze the concepts of continuity and change and effect
  • Analyze the concept of complexity, unity and diversity
  • Become familiar with World geography
  • Understand geographic variables and how they affect people
  • Use geographic tools and sources to answer spatial questions
  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes
21st Century Skills
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

St. Ferdinand, King of Spain

About 1730–1760

Artist not known, Mexico

About 1730–1760

Height: 76 in.

Gift from Sam Houston in honor of Ms. Helen Bonfils, 1956.91

Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.

About the Artist

The artist who created this object used various techniques to turn a wooden sculpture into a life-like depiction of St. Ferdinand. For fabric areas, the artist used a technique referred to in Spanish as estofado [ES-toe-FAH-doe]. When using the estofado technique, the artist would first cover the wood with gesso, or base paint, mixed with a brownish-red pigment called bole. Tissue-thin sheets of hammered gold were then applied to the bole base. Next, the artist would apply paint over the gold leaf. The paint layer was then etched through to reveal the gold leaf underneath. To depict areas of skin, such as the face and hands, the artist used a technique known as encarnación [EN-car-nah-see-OWN]. Similar to the estofado technique, the artist would begin by covering the carved wood with white gesso, which was then painted over with flesh-toned paint. A layer of clear, glossy varnish was applied over the paint and gently sanded smooth. The artist would repeat the process of applying paint and sanding it until the buildup of layers resulted in a glowing surface, imitating real skin.

What Inspired It

St. Ferdinand, or Ferdinand III, was king of Castile and León in Spain during the early 1200s. Born near Salamanca, Spain, he became king in 1217 at the age of eighteen. He inherited the kingdom of Castile from his mother and the kingdom of León from his father, permanently uniting those areas for the first time and forming the core of what would later become Spain. Known as a wise and just ruler, Ferdinand was instrumental in the struggle to reclaim large areas of the Iberian Peninsula, which included Spain and Portugal, from Muslim occupation. Ferdinand had grown up during a period of intense efforts to reclaim the area for the Christians and, as a young king, continued the movement and re-conquered many cities. Ferdinand died in 1252 and was buried in a crypt underneath his chapel in the Cathedral of Seville. He was buried wearing the simple robe and rope belt of a Franciscan friar rather than the royal clothing of a king. He was canonized, or declared a saint, by the Catholic Church in 1671 for his efforts in reclaiming much of Spain for Christianity.

In Spain and Latin America, images of St. Ferdinand are often paired with images of his younger cousin, St. Louis of France, who also became a saint as a result of his religious crusades. Artists and architects of cathedrals in the New World often adorned altars with pairs of statues depicting European royalty who became saints. These altars were known as Altars of the Kings. The cathedral altar in Querétero, Mexico, where this statue is believed to have come from, was dismantled in the 1800s. Its matching statue of St. Louis of France is in a private collection in Mexico City.



The artist used the estofado technique to create an imitation of the elaborate brocaded fabrics of the period. Even though this statue is made of wood, notice how the areas of fabric seem to hang as they would if they were made of cloth.


The artist used the encarnación technique on St. Ferdinand’s face and hands to create a glowing surface that looks like real skin.


Although St. Ferdinand’s symbol is a greyhound, he is more frequently depicted holding an orb topped with a cross in one hand, and a flag with the emblems of Castile and León in the other. This sculpture only depicts an orb. The orb symbolizes St. Ferdinand’s efforts to spread Christianity throughout the Iberian Peninsula.


Notice how St. Ferdinand looks down with a calm expression. This statue would have been placed high on an altar, looking down at the people below.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.