Francisco de Zurbarán was a Spanish painter. He is known primarily for his religious paintings depicting monks, nuns, and martyrs, and for his still-lives. Zurbarán gained the nickname 'Spanish Caravaggio', owing to the forcible, realistic use of chiaroscuro in which he excelled.
In 1598 Francisco de Zurbarán was born in the western Spanish town of Fuente de Cantos. His parents detected their son's artistic talent at an early stage. In 1614 he became an apprentice to the painter Pedro Diaz de Villanueva in Seville. In 1617 Zurbarán moved to Llerena, the region's most important town of that period, where he lived until 1628.
It is unknown whether Zurbarán had the opportunity to copy the paintings of Michelangelo da Caravaggio. At any rate, he adopted Caravaggio's realistic use of chiaroscuro. The painter who may have had the greatest influence on his characteristically severe compositions was Juan Sánchez Cotán. Polychrome sculpture, which by the time of Zurbarán's apprenticeship had reached a level of sophistication in Seville that surpassed that of the local painters, provided another important stylistic model for the young artist. The work of Juan Martínez Monta?és is especially close to Zurbarán's in spirit.
In 1625 Francisco de Zurbarán entered into a second marriage with the wealthy widow Beatriz de Morales, daughter of the patrician of Llerena. A little later Francisco de Zurbarán began his artistic career, he accepted a commission to produce several large paintings for the Retablo of San Pedro in the Seville cathedral and for the Carthusians of Santa María de las Cuevas.
On January 17, 1626 Francisco de Zurbarán signed a contract with the prior of the Dominican monastery San Pablo el Real in Seville, agreeing to produce 21 paintings within 8 months. This commission established Zurbarán as a painter. Between 1626 and 1628 Francisco de Zurbarán visited his friend Diego Velásquez in Madrid, who enjoyed a far greater reputation than Zurbarán. In June 1629 Francisco de Zurbarán was invited by the Elders of Seville, to move to the city, as his paintings had gained such high reputation, that he would increase the reputation of Seville. He accepted the invitation and moved to Seville with his wife Beatrix de Morales, the three children from his first marriage, a relative called Isabel de Zurbarán and eight servants.
Until 1658 he lived in Via Alcazar 27 close to the royal palaces. In the subsequent years Zurbarán worked on numerous commissions for churches and monasteries and his financial situation developed accordingly. In May 1639 his second wife, Beatriz de Morales, died. Zurbarán was deeply affected by her death. The quality of his artwork deteriorated significantly, even though it increased in quantity thanks to the help of the assistants in his workshop.
Zurbarán continued to receive commissions, but his financial situation deteriorated greatly. On February 7, 1644 he entered into his third marriage, as usual with a wealthy widow, this time Leonor de Tordera. In 1645 his reputation was deeply affected when Bartolomé Esteban Murillo produced the interior design of the Franciscan church in Seville with his cheerful, more populist and realistic work. Zurbarán's strict ascetic and celestial style was no longer able to compete.
In May 1658 Francisco de Zurbarán moved to Madrid, hoping to receive commissions there, to improve his dire financial situation. His last picture, dated 1662, was probably "The Virgin and the Child with St. John", but in a letter to the Bishop of Badajoz, Francisco de Zurbarán claimed to have been very busy with commissioned work for the king. Francisco de Zurbarán had reached the end of his career.
Francisco de Zurbarán died on August 27, 1664 in Madrid.