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Past exhibition

21 October 2009 – 24 January 2010

Admission charge
Location: Sainsbury Wing Exhibition

‘The Sacred Made Real’ presents a landmark reappraisal of religious art from the Spanish Golden Age with works created to shock the senses and stir the soul.

Paintings, including masterpieces by Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Zurbarán, are displayed for the very first time alongside Spain’s remarkable polychrome wooden sculptures.

Inspiring devotion

The religious artists of 17th-century Spain pursued a quest for realism with uncompromising zeal and genius, creating works to inspire devotion among believers.

By displaying works side by side, this exhibition explores the intense dialogue between the arts of sculpture and painting, revealing that they were intricately linked and interdependent.

Image credits: (left) Jusepe de Ribera, ‘The Lamentation over the Dead Christ’, early 1620s © The National Gallery, London. (right) Details from Gregorio Fernández and unknown polychromer, ‘Dead Christ’, about 1625–30. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. On long term loan to the Museo Nacional Colegio de San Gregorio, Valladolid © Photo Imagen M.A.S.


Sculptors often went to extraordinary lengths to achieve greater realism, introducing glass eyes and tears, as well as ivory teeth and human hair to their sculptures. The separate skill of polychroming, performed by specially trained painters, added to the effect with remarkable flesh tones.

‘The Sacred Made Real’ offers the opportunity to see an art form rarely seen outside Spain, featuring masters of polychrome sculpture, including Pedro de Mena, Juan Martínez Montañés and Gregorio Fernández. At the same time, it demonstrates that the painters of the Spanish Golden Age were able to achieve the same disconcerting realism on canvas.

An audio guide is available for this exhibition. Ask at exhibition Audio Guide desks. Price: £3.50

The exhibition is organised by the National Gallery, London and the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Supported by the American Friends of the National Gallery as a result of a generous grant from Howard and Roberta Ahmanson