Juan Alonso Villabrille y Ron, Saint Paul the Hermit, c. 1715

Sculptural bust of man holding skull and rock, with thatched material around his torso

Juan Alonso Villabrille y Ron

(c. 1663–c. 1732)

Saint Paul the Hermit

c. 1715

Polychromed terracotta

24 x 30 x 18 1/2 in. (61 x 76.2 x 47 cm)

Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum purchase thanks to a gift from Jo Ann Geurin Thetford in Honor of Dr. Luis Martín, MM.2013.01

Hear a reading of the object label (1:35 minutes)

Object Label

Juan Alonso Villabrille y Ron is considered by many to be one of the most important sculptors of the Baroque in Madrid in the first decades of the eighteenth century. Not much is known about his life and artistic education, and although many works are referenced in archival documents, very few are known. Descriptions of sculptures attributed to Villabrille y Ron often address the objects’ extreme realism, pious sentiment, anatomical accuracy, virtuous carving, and pathetic gestures. These are also qualities of this terracotta sculpture, believed to represent Saint Paul the Hermit, the first hermit saint of the Christian church.

In this bust-length image, the saint is presented as a balding, gray-haired, wizened man in the midst of contemplative prayer. He holds what appears to be a stone in his right hand and an extremely realistic skull in his left hand, both common attributes of a penitent saint. He looks intently at the skull with an expression of deep sorrow that is heightened by his bulging eyes and sunken eyelids. His sunburned skin is a result of his life in the wilderness; his protruding cheekbones, collarbone and spinal column reinforce the emaciated appearance of the ascetic for whom fasting was a key part of religious experience. Even minute details of his anatomy are naturalistically rendered, for example the bluish veins that are easily seen through his frail skin. Nearly half of the saint’s trunk is covered by a realistically executed woven-reed garment that stands out as Saint Paul’s most distinguishing attribute.