A painting by Pedro Orrente acquired by the Prado

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17/5/23 - Acquisition - Madrid, Museo del Prado - Adonis is the fruit of incest, born of the union of Myrrha with her own father, Cinyras, king of Cyprus. The arrogant Cinyras had claimed that his daughter’s beauty surpassed that of Aphrodite. The goddess was somewhat chagrined by this and chose to take her revenge in moderation, inspiring Myrrha to love her father so much that she slid into his bed after having intoxicated him. The king, discovering her crime, went into a rage and pursued his daughter who, to escape him, asked the gods to transform her into a tree, the myrrh tree. Then she gave birth to a son, who came out of her bark.

Pedro Orrente (1580-1645)
The Birth of Adonis, c. 1610-1620
Oil on canvas - 94 x 108 cm
Madrid, Museo del Prado
Photo: Museo del Prado
See the image in its page

It is this scene that Pedro Orrente depicted in a painting purchased in 2022 by the Spanish Ministry of Culture from a private collector for the Prado. The artist is better known for his religious rather than mythological paintings. The Madrid museum holds a number of these, including a beautiful Adoration of the Magi in which we find the ochre and brown tones characteristic of his range, thus the recurring figure of the kneeling woman in the foreground.
Born in Murcia, in south-eastern Spain, Orrente travelled to Italy, first to Venice between 1602 and 1605, where he was particularly influenced by the art of the Bassanos, rubbing shoulders with Leandro, son of Jacopo; he also looked at the works of Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese. Later he went to Rome, where he probably discovered Caravaggio’s paintings. On his return to Spain, he went to Toledo and made friends with El Greco’s son, Jorge Manuel Theotocopuli. He also went to Valencia and probably to Madrid, since several of his works are in the royal collections at the Buen Retiro Palace.
Orrente was successful, heading a prolific workshop, he received numerous commissions and his compositions were widely distributed, which sometimes explains their uneven quality.

Diego de Mesía y Guzmán, Marquis of Leganès, a military man, politician and great collector, owned several of his paintings, especially two series of scenes inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This aspect of his work is less well known, as few mythological paintings have been located. The first set of paintings, mentioned in the inventories, consisted of eight pictures, illustrating in particular Apollo and Daphne, the transformation of Io into a cow, the musical joust between Pan and Apollo, and Cadmos saving Europa from the dragon. A second series of four paintings is mentioned, of which three subjects are identified: Apollo and Marsyas, Latona and the peasants and The Birth of Adonis. The Leganès collection then passed into the possession of Count Altamira in the 18th century. From one inventory to another, the dimensions do not always correspond and it is possible that a third cycle was painted.
Of the few mythological paintings by Orrente that have been preserved, one is in the Museum of Murcia, which represents Cephalus and Procris, although it cannot be linked to one of the sets owned by the Marquis of Leganès. A drawing by Orrente in the Spanish Bibliothèque nationale shows mythological figures, perhaps Venus and Adonis, but it cannot be linked to any painting.

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