Saint Thomas of Villanova (Santo Tomás de Villanueva)

Saint Thomas of Villanova (Santo Tomás de Villanueva)

1600 -1650
unknown artist
Lima School Uncertain
Spanish cedar, gold leaf and paint
Accession Number
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Critcher Freyer for Frank Barrows Freyer Collection

Unknown artist, Saint Thomas of Villanueva, 1600-1650. Spanish cedar, gold leaf and paint; 25 × 12½ × 7½ in. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Critcher Freyer for Frank Barrows Freyer Collection at the Denver Art Museum, 1974.339.

height: 25 in, 63.5000 cm; width: 12.5 in, 31.7500 cm; depth: 7.5 in, 19.0500 cm
Mayer Center, Latin American Art
Latin American Art
This object is currently on view

Saint Thomas of Villanova (1486–1555)—or Tomás de Villanueva—was a Spanish Augustinian noted for his talents in oratory and religious writing. He is depicted wearing the finery that befits him in his role as the archbishop of Valencia: long robes, gloves, and a miter. In his hand he holds a large book, indicating his significance as a theologian and writer. Despite his prominence as an ecclesiastical official, Villanova was renowned for his extreme austerity and dedication to the poor. He is often depicted ministering to the poor and infirm, which may be the case for the small child tugging at his robes. He was canonized a century after his death, in 1658.

This small-scale sculpture was likely created in Lima, Peru, during the first half of the 1600s. It displays the techniques used by artists to evoke naturalism in flesh and opulence in textiles. The well-worn polychromy on the face of the saint may have been refreshed during its long lifespan. The saint’s robes have been enriched with a variety of patterns, created by applying gold leaf over paint and incising it to reveal the paint below (known as estofado). Notably, it is not carved in the round but has a flat back, suggesting that it was placed inside a small altar or retable, possibly within the home.

– Kathryn Santner, Frederick and Jan Mayer Fellow of Spanish Colonial Art, 2023

Known Provenance
Provenance research is on-going at the Denver Art Museum. Please e-mail, if you have questions, or if you have additional information to share with us.
Exhibition History
  • "Paintings & Decorative Art of XVI and XVII-Century Peru Collected by Mrs. Frank Freyer," Brooklyn Museum of Art, December 20, 1930 - September 30, 1931