One of the most important painters of the 17th century, Zurbarán was born in Fuentes de Cantos, in the province of Badajoz, and learned his trade from a very young age in the studio of a painter of religious images. In 1616 he painted his Immaculate Conception, and the following year completed his training and moved to Llerena. He was commissioned to produce a series of works for the Dominican friary of Saint Paul in Seville, a key painting of this period being his Christ Crucified. A further commission was to paint a lengthy cycle of works depicting the life of Saint Peter Nolasco for Seville's Merced Calzada convent. This collection includes his Vision of Saint Peter Nolasco and the extraordinary portraits of the monks.
His golden era began with the cycle he painted for the church of the College of Saint Bonaventure in Seville, the chief hallmarks of this period being his shadowy style and monumental compositions. Saint Bonaventure's Body Lying in State at the Synod of Lyon. For the College of Saint Thomas in Seville he painted the Apotheosis of Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of his finest works of this time. In 1633 he began to paint the various Apostles. In 1634 he travelled to Madrid for the first time, summoned by Velázquez to decorate the drawing room of the king and queen.
Between 1636 and 1639 he produced his cycle on the monks of the Charterhouse of Jerez, Adoration of the Shepherds, Adoration of the Magi, Circumcision.
In 1640 he painted a series of works in the Charterhouse of Las Cuevas in Seville. We can by this stage talk of a work of great maturity: the artist has abandoned his shadowy style, using lighter colours and a supremely delicate touch to create scenes of great beauty in Saint Hugo in the Refectory of the Carthusians, Our Lady of Mercy.
The paintings he produced for the Monastery of Saint Jerome in Guadelupe, Extremadura, without doubt form the most important of Zurbarán's series of paintings, featuring such major works as Brother Diego de Orgaz, Brother Gonzalo de Illesca, Saint Jerome Flagellated by an Angel.
We should also mention his depictions of female saints, portraits of ladies dressed in the fashion of the day, his series of Immaculate Conceptions, and his still lifes, which are few in number but remarkable.