- unknown artist
Unknown artist, Saint Ferdinand, about 1730. Paint, gold leaf, and fabric on wood; 76 × 35 × 18 in. Gift of Sam Houston in honor of Helen Bonfils, 1956.91A-B.
This statue of Saint Ferdinand, the King of Castile and León in Spain, was originally part of an altarscreen installed in the Cathedral of Querétaro, Mexico, around 1750. Many cathedrals in Spain and Latin America installed main altar pieces dedicated to royal saints. Statues of Saint Ferdinand were often paired with ones of his friend and cousin, Saint Louis IX of France. The altarscreen was replaced with a Neoclassical one in the nineteenth century. The Denver statue was collected in Querétaro in 1920; its matching statue of Saint Louis is in a private collection in Mexico City.
As in Europe, the statues in Latin American altarscreens were carved of wood. Fabric areas were treated with a technique known in Spanish as estofado, in which tissue-thin sheets of hammered gold were applied to a red gesso ground. Next, paint was applied over the gold leaf. Then the paint layer was stamped or etched through to reveal the gold underneath, in imitation of the elaborate brocade fabrics of the period. Areas depicting skin, such as the faces and hands, were created using a different technique known as encarnación, in which white gesso was painted in flesh tones, shellacked, and gently sanded. The process was repeated until the buildup of layers achieved a glowing surface imitating real skin.
-- Donna Pierce, 2015