Isabella of Portugal, or St. Casilda

Zurbarán painted a series of pictures of female saints, which must have been portraits of ladies, holding the attributes of their patron saint. The Prado Museum has a very beautiful St. Casilda, whose face was almost certainly one such portrait, although the sitter is unknown. With the same simple composition, the saint completely fills up the picture, and seems to be walking as if she were in a procession, showing off her beautiful clothes, which we assume were designed by Zurbaran himself as they have no relation to the fashion of the period. The background is completely black and the light falls strongly onto the figure of the woman, in typical Tenebrist style.

Zurbarán was a master of colour and texture, and this can again be seen in this picture. We are able to admire the sheen and softness of the woman’s silk dress. The saint is shown holding roses in her skirt, an allusion to the miracle in which she turned the food she secretly took to Christian captives, into roses. She was an Andalusian lady who was the daughter of the Moorish king of Toledo, but she ended her days as a penitent in Castile. The subject has also been said to be St. Isabel of Portugal, a medieval queen who devoted herself to charity and even gave out money from the Treasury to the very poor.

(c) (R) 2013, MUSMon com S.L.
Text (a) Catalina Serrano Romero
English translation (a) Thisbe Burns