10 Famous Spanish Painters of the 17th Century

The 17th century marked the Golden Age of Painting in Spain and left us countless priceless works of art. It was a century of change and innovation in art, represented by the geniuses of Diego Velazquez, Zurbaran, Murillo, and countless other masters.

May 2, 2020By Vladislav Tchakarov, BA History
The Feast of Bacchus, Diego Velazquez, 1628-29
The Feast of Bacchus, Diego Velazquez, 1628-29, courtesy Museo del Prado

The Spanish Golden Age and prominent Italian art cities like Naples gave way to the Golden Age of Painting in the 1600s. Most of the Spanish masters were deeply influenced by the great Italian masters. The Spanish painters carefully studied Italian works and brought new elements to Spanish art. Spain is home to many of the world’s greatest artists from all art periods but the largest contribution undoubtedly comes from the 17th century Baroque period. The following list of painters could easily be extended with other names but here we have curated our top 10 most admired Spanish painters of the 17th century. 


10. Antonio de Pereda

The Relief of Genoa
The Relief of Genoa, Antonio de Pereda, 1634-1635, courtesy Museo del Prado

Antonio de Pereda was an incredibly diverse Spanish painter who was deeply influenced by Venetian and Dutch art. He introduced vanity symbolism to the Spanish Baroque, a motif he adopted from his studies on Dutch Art.

Pereda’s biographical data is insufficient but we know that painting was in his blood as his father was also a painter. When he settled in Madrid at a young age, he became an apprentice to Pedro de las Cuevas next to important figures like Juan Carreno de Miranda. He studied the great Italian and Dutch masters and was fortunate enough to make powerful friends who helped him gain numerous court commissions. 

Pereda is mostly famous for his still-life paintings but also for a number of history-themed artworks executed at a young age. “The Relief of Genoa”, which can be seen above, is perhaps his most valued work as it is an excellent example for the variety of techniques used by Pereda – atmospheric perspective, complicated and dynamic composition, and excellent use of warm colors. 


9. Jose de Ribera

The Martyrdom of Saint Philip
The Martyrdom of Saint Philip, Jose de Ribera, 1639, courtesy Museo del Prado

Jose de Ribera was born in Spain but spent most of his life in Italy which is why he is also considered an Italian artist. His art illustrates dramatic and realistic depictions of mythological scenes and subjects. The main elements in his style were tenebrism and naturalism which is why his paintings were extremely realistic and often horrific.   

Ribera spent his early years studying with Francisco Ribalta in Valencia before officially moving to Italy. Through the years, he lived in important art centers like Venice, Rome, and Naples where he mixed with famous Caravaggisti. Since Naples was under Spanish rule at the time, Ribera’s Spanish nationality helped him gain the attention of the high class and notable art collectors. In fact, there were times when he was considered the foremost artist in Naples despite being Spanish. 


8. Francisco Ribalta

Saint Francis Comforted by an Angel
Saint Francis Comforted by an Angel, Francisco Ribalta, 1620, courtesy Museo del Prado

Francisco Ribalta (1565-1628) only lived through the first quarter of the 17th century but undoubtedly left his mark in history and is considered as one of the most influential figures of the early Spanish Baroque. He is considered to be the first Spanish painter to adopt and use the Tenebrist style of painting in the early 1600s. 

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In his early period, Ribalta lived and painted in Madrid. Most of his work was commissioned by religious authorities but unfortunately, only a single artwork from this early Mannerist period survived modern days. When the death of King Phillip II in 1598 put an end to most of his Royal commissions, Ribalta moved to Valencia and opened his own workshop. 

Francisco painted in a variety of styles until about 1610, when his artworks became much more realistic under the influence of the Tenebrism style. The source of influence to adopt this style is unknown but it is possible that he visited Naples or Rome where at the time, Caravaggio had the greatest following. His newly adopted style influenced a whole generation of Spanish Baroque painters and paved the way for some of the greatest names in art like Diego Velazquez. 


7. Juan de Valdés Leal

The Naming of Jesus
The Naming of Jesus, Juan de Valdés Leal, 1680, courtesy Fundación Banco Santander

Juan de Valdés Leal was not only a painter but a sculptor and architect. He devoted his work to religious art and most of his works were commissioned by religious authorities in Seville and Cordoba. He is known for the dramatic subjects he painted which often even appeared violent. 

Valdes’s painting was unlike anything that was being produced around him. Despite the irregularities in his style, his versatility in the use of color and light was unique. He was more interested in portraying expression rather than beauty. 

Valdes was also the co-founder of the Seville Academy of Art together with Bartolome Esteban Murillo despite the absolute difference in their styles of painting. After the death of Murillo in 1682, Valdes became the foremost painter in the city of Seville and continued painting until his final days. 


6. Claudio Coello

The Triumph of Saint Augustine
The Triumph of Saint Augustine, Claudio Coello, 1664, courtesy Museo del Prado

Claudio Coello was one of the last great masters of the Spanish Golden Age and the 17th century. He drew influence from the famous court painters Diego Velazquez and Juan Carreno de Miranda but also studied the works of great masters like Titian and Peter Paul Rubens from private collections during his apprenticeship to Francisco Rizi. 

The most dominant subjects in his paintings were religious and thus, most of his commissions came from churches and cathedrals in Madrid, as well as the royal family. In fact, he was appointed King’s Painter to Charles II in 1683. During his years as a court painter, he added portraiture to his otherwise religiously-focused repertoire. 

In his final years, Coello painted fewer works. Instead, he dedicated his time to the supervision and restoration of the royal collections. 


5. Francisco Rizi

The Annunciation
The Annunciation, Francisco Rizi, 1663, courtesy Museo del Prado

Like many of his renowned contemporaries, Francisco Rizi was deeply influenced by Venetian Art and spent years studying it. He was also one of the first Spanish Baroque artists to introduce its characteristics into the Spanish art circles. 

Francisco Rizi was an incredibly versatile painter which is why his commissions came from all the different layers of society. His paintings characterize with rich colors, outstanding compositions and Venetian-influenced dramatic subjects. Of course, like most of his contemporaries, most of his work was done for churches and religious authorities. 

In 1656, he was named painter to King Philip IV where he served until he fell out of favor when Charles II sat on the throne at the age of 4. It is curious that one of his successors as painter to the king was one of his greatest students – Claudio Coello. 

Francisco Rizi worked on court commissions until his final days. More importantly, he took many apprentices during his final years and paved the way for some of the greatest Spanish painters. 

4. Juan Carreno de Miranda

Charles II in Armor
Charles II in Armor, Juan Carreno de Miranda, 1681, courtesy Museo del Prado

One of the few renowned Spanish portraitists of the 17th century, Juan Carreno de Miranda is known to have been one of the most important court painters in Spanish history. In fact, he comes second only to Diego Velazquez whose influence is clearly visible in Carreno’s art.

Although Carreno is mostly famous for his portraits, his repertoire covered most of the fields of art, typical to the Baroque era. During his early years, he was devoted to religious painting and received numerous commissions from churches and cathedrals. 

It was only after he was appointed painter to the king in 1669 when he devoted his work to portraiture. His portraits were often solemn and austere, with neutral backgrounds. He captured the true elegance of the court without the use of flashing decorations and jewelry. 

Some of his most appreciated portraits today are of the Duke of Pastrana and Pedro Potemkin. Nevertheless, he is mostly famous for the series of portraits of Charles II which depict the different stages of his life. 


3. Bartolome Esteban Murillo

The Martyrdom of St. Andrew
The Martyrdom of St. Andrew, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1682, courtesy Museo del Prado

In an age of dark art, Bartolome Esteban Murillo stood out from other Spanish painters with a much sweeter style of painting. Without a doubt, this could be one of the main reasons behind the immediate appreciation of his art in comparison to most of his renowned contemporaries like Velazquez and El Greco who, despite their indisputable success during their active years, received their deserved appreciation nearly two centuries later. 

Murillo is mostly famous for his religious paintings which remain among the most prized artworks from Spanish painters but he also painted many realistic paintings that depicted the life in the 17th century. He had the ability to represent the extraordinary in a simple, delicate, and harmonious way. He depicted Christ, the Holy Virgin, and other entities from the Bible as children and adolescents, giving them a sweeter humane feeling. We can safely assume that he created a whole new genre of painting that was in complete contrast with the religious-themed work of his contemporaries.


2. Francisco De Zurbaran

The Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas
The Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas, Francisco De Zurbaran, 1631, via Wikipedia

Francisco De Zurbaran had a life-long devotion to faith and religion and thus, these were the main topics of his art. He is well-known for the use of chiaroscuro in his paintings, one of the greatest artistic techniques developed during the Renaissance. He was deeply influenced by Caravaggio whose art he studied in-depth and whose techniques and elements are clearly visible through the different paintings by Zurbaran. 

Although he was the most renowned painter in Seville for many years after the departure of Velazquez to Madrid, he received few royal commissions and it is said that he spent the latest years of his life in poverty. 

When it comes to his paintings, they characterize with simpler compositions and representations of reality but display Zurbaran’s indisputable talent as a portraitist. His outstanding use of light enhanced the characteristics of his subjects and show his absolute control over the expressions and faces. 


1. Diego Velazquez

Las Meninas
Las Meninas, Diego Velazquez, 1656, courtesy Museo del Prado

Diego Velazquez is nowadays considered to be the most important Spanish Baroque painter. Although he was already incredibly successful during his lifetime, he was truly appreciated centuries later in the 19th century due to his artistic style which was clearly ahead of his time. His approach in painting was individualistic and in contrast with the traditional styles of depiction from his contemporary period. 

His naturalistic style, which later directly influenced the arising styles of impressionism and realism, focused on depicting scenes authentically and accurately which was uncommon for artists from this and any previous periods in Art. 

Although Velazquez was easily the most important figure in the court of King Philip IV and spent his life painting for royalties, he was deeply interested in the life of the common man and painted a large number of everyday scenes involving the common people, as in his famous Las Meninas. In fact, unlike most of his contemporaries, he was interested in all the genres of painting treated each with excellence which is why no other Spanish Baroque painter could compare to his genius.

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By Vladislav TchakarovBA HistoryVladislav Tchakarov is a History student at Sofia University in Bulgaria and a contributing writer at TheCollector. Originally from Bulgaria, he moved to the Netherlands to work and study Business Management before realizing that his passion for history is too great which lead to his return to Bulgaria and the beginning of his History studies.