Juan Alonso Villabrille y Ron, Spanish, 1663-after 1728
Title: The Prophet Elijah
Date: 1720s
Medium: Oil on carved limewood (with glass eyes)
157.7 x 78 x 51.5 cm
Credit Line: Purchased, 1967 (Shaw Fund)
Object Number: NGI.8031
DescriptionVillabrille was born in the Asturias but moved to Madrid in 1686. One year later he was already working independently. His early documented works date from the beginning of the 18th century, and demonstrate his ability to carve equally in wood or stone. Characteristic of Villabrille is the twirling movement of some of his sculptures, the great attention to detail and the moderate realism expressed by his figures.

The Carmelites claimed that their order originated from a community of hermits created by the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel, where an oratory dedicated to the Virgin was subsequently built. Our statue shows one of the most frequently represented iconographical images of Elijah. The prophet is shown in combat, defending the true faith against the heretics, holding the Holy Scriptures in one hand while with the other brandishing a flaming sword. Beneath his feet the false prophets of Baal are visibly in agony.

This splendid sculpture has been attributed also to Manuel Gutierrez.

(National Gallery of Ireland: Essential Guide, 2008)

ProvenancePurchased, Heim Gallery, London, 1967
Label TextPolychrome (painted) sculpture was produced, in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spain, to stimulate visceral devotion in Christian viewers. Sculptors carved and prepared the wood while artists, specialised in the technique of encarnación, brought the figure to life using realistic flesh tones and facial expressions. Other artists were specialists in estofado, the gold and oil paint decoration that resembles rich textiles. Real hair eyelashes and glass eyes were often added to heighten the realism. In this swirling composition, the Prophet Elijah is shown defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.

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