Pedro de Mena (1628-1688)
San Diego de Alcalá, c.1685
Polychrome Wood - H. 65 cm
San Diego Art Museum
Photo : San Diego Art Museum
19/1/13 - Acquisition - San Diego, Art Museum - Art lovers visiting Spain are always amazed by the exceptional quality of the 17th century sculptures residing in the churches, monasteries and museums in this country, especially since they are rarely found abroad  and that artists such as Juan Martínez Montañés, Gregorio Fernández and Pedro de Mena are generally unknown.
The San Diego Museum of Art has just acquired a work by the last from the Coll & Cortes Gallery in Madrid , representing San Diego de Alcalá (ill.) depicting the saint for whom the city is named. During the recent exhibition at the National Gallery of London featuring 17th century Spanish religious art (The Sacred Made Real), Pedro de Mena, who studied under his father Alonso de Mena, then Alonso Cano, appeared as one of the best artists in the school, notably with a Saint Francis in Ecstasy and Mary Magadelene Meditating on the Crucifixion.
While taking bread from the monastery table to the poor, hidden in the folds of his robe, San Diego was stopped by the superior who asked him to show what he was carrying. The bread had been miraculously transformed into flowers. Custom required that they not be sculpted so that the faithful could place real or artificial ones at the foot of the statue.
A very monumental work, this San Diego de Alcalá, despite being in fact small, seems almost to be life size when seen in a photograph. The realism is underscored by the polychromed work which covers also the iris and the pupil in the eyes. The saint’s habit is not uniform, presenting a grooved effect giving the impression of relief, fond to the artist and found also on the robe of the Mary Magadalene quoted above.
Roxana Velásquez (her name predestined perhaps to this field), who has directed the San Diego Art Museum for the last two and half years, would like to expand the Spanish art collection, a logical move for a California establishment, not far from the Mexican border, which already owns a rich selection (notably paintings by El Greco, Sánchez Cotán, Zurbarán, Alonso Cano and Murillo). A little over a year ago, it had also acquired a portrait of Don Luis de Borbón by Anton Raphael Mengs (see news item of 8/12/11).