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Alonso Sánchez Coello (born 1531/32, Benifairó de les Valls, near
Valencia; died August 8, 1588, Madrid) was a portrait painter of the
Spanish Renaissance and one of the pioneers of the great tradition
of Spanish portrait painting.
Coello spent his childhood in Benifairó de les Valls, until the
death of his father when he was around ten years old. He was
educated in Portugal at his grandfather's home. Coello's years in
Portugal and his family name of Portuguese origin led to a
long-standing belief that he was in fact Portuguese. His grandfather
(after whom he was named) was in the service of King John III of
Portugal who sent the young painter to study with Anthonis Mor (also
known as Antonio Moro) in Flanders around 1550. He was under the
service of Antoine de Granville, bishop of Arras, learning from Mor.
While studying in Flanders, Coello also spent time copying some of
In 1552, the
painter went to Lisbon with Anthonis Mor when Charles V commissioned
Mor to paint the Portuguese royal family. For a few years, Sánchez
Coello remained in Portugal working for the court of the heir to the
throne, John, Crown Prince of Portugal. After the prince's death,
Sánchez Coello moved to the Spanish court of Philip II, having been
recommended by the widow of John, Juana, who was the sister of the
Spanish king. In 1555, Sánchez Coello was in Valladolid working for
the Spanish court, and when Mor left Spain in 1561, Sánchez Coello
took his former master's place as Court Painter.
married Louisa Reyaltes in either 1560 or 1561 in Valladolid, and
they had seven children. Coello's daughter, Isabel Sánchez
(1564-1612), became a painter. She studied and helped in her
father's workshop. The painter moved with the court to Toledo and
finally settled in Madrid in 1561. Coello worked on religious themes
for most of the palaces, particularly for El Escorial, and larger
churches. Philip II held him in high esteem and was godfather to two
of his daughters. The painter spent the remainder of his life at the
court, becoming a personal favourite of the king and acquiring
honours and wealth. Among his disciples were Juan Pantoja de la Cruz
and Felipe de Liaño. Lope de Vega praised Coello in his work Laurel
to Apolo. Alonso Sánchez Coello died in Madrid on August 8, 1588.
Sánchez Coello was a follower of Titian, and, like him, excelled in
portraits and single figures, elaborating the textures of his
armours, draperies, and such accessories in a manner so masterly as
strongly to influence Velázquez in his treatment of like objects.
From Mor, Coello learned precision in representation, and from
Titian he incorporated Venetian gold tones, generous workmanship,
and the use of light on a canvas.
produced both portraits and religious paintings. The religious
works, many of which were created for El Escorial, are conventional
and undistinguished. It is for his portraits that he is remembered.
They are marked by an ease of pose and execution, a dignity and
sobriety of representation, and warmth of colouring. Although
influenced by the paintings of both Mor and Titian, these portraits
display an original talent and reflect admirably the modesty and
formality of the Spanish court. Paintings of Philip II (c. 1580) and
Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia (1571), both in the Prado, Madrid, are
two of his finest works. Among his religious painting is the St.
Sebastian in the church of San Geronimo, also in Madrid.
reputation as a portraitist has been diminished by the innumerable
copies and imitations that wrongly bear his name. While his debt to
Mor is evident, Sánchez Coello brought distinctive qualities to the
court portrait, notably a sharp sense of colour, a crispness of
execution and a heightened realism.
There has not been
any biography written on Coello, and many of his works are still
confused with those of Sofonisba Anguissola, who painted royal
portraits in the same period, and Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Coello's
disciple. In 1990 the Museo del Prado held the exhibition: Sánchez
Coello and the Portraiture at the court of Philip II.