Francisco Gerónimo Simón (1578–1612) was parish priest of San Andrés in Valencia. In 1612 he had a miraculous vision: here he is shown kneeling in front of the towering figure of Christ carrying the Cross, tears streaming down his face, as he reaches out to embrace him. Christ is followed by a procession of trumpeting Roman soldiers, Saint John the Evangelist and the Virgin. The soldiers appear squashed and only part of the Virgin is visible now because the painting has been reduced along both vertical sides, and probably along the top.
Ribalta’s signature is placed prominently on a piece of paper lying at Christ’s feet. The picture is dated 1612, the year of Father Simón’s vision and death. A period of fervent devotion to Father Simón followed, until his cult was banned in 1619.
Ribalta worked in Valencia in his late career. His art was strongly influenced by the Italian painters Sebastiano del Piombo and Caravaggio, some of whose works were known in Spain.
Francisco Gerónimo Simón (1578–1612) was a priest of the parish church of San Andrés in Valencia. He led an ascetic life and was renowned for his piety and charity. In 1612, the year of his death, Father Simón had a miraculous vision: here he is shown kneeling in front of the towering figure of Christ carrying the Cross, tears streaming down his face, as he reaches out to embrace him. The figure of Christ is very three-dimensional and recalls the polychrome sculptures of the Passion which were carried through the streets during Easter week processions. Christ is followed by a crowd of trumpeting Roman soldiers, Saint John the Evangelist and the Virgin. The soldiers appear squashed and only part of the Virgin is visible now because the painting has been reduced along both vertical sides, and probably along the top. The scene may be set in the Calle de los Caballeros, the street in Valencia where Father Simón is reputed to have had his vision and along which condemned criminals were led to their execution. A tower and church portal can be seen in the distance, with a carriage and small figures going about their daily duties, seemingly ignorant of what is happening in the foreground.
Ribalta’s signature is placed prominently on a cartellino (or paper) lying at Christ’s feet. The picture is dated 1612, the year of Father Simón’s vision and death, and was probably commissioned by the priests of San Andrés for the chapel where his body was laid to rest. The altarpiece was completed and placed on the altar in the new chapel on 5 September 1612. A period of fervent devotion followed Father Simón’s death, until his cult was banned in 1619 following a failed attempt to have him officially declared a saint. Certain religious orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, were against venerating Father Simón and images of him were purposely destroyed. This is one of the few remaining large-scale paintings in which he appears: Father Simón’s pale face resembles a true effigy and Ribalta may have seen the priest’s corpse since he was living in Valencia at the time of his death. Despite everything, Father Simón remained very popular in Valencia and continued to be venerated by leading state and church figures: Ribalta himself painted three other portraits of Father Simón for King Philip III of Spain, the King’s minister the Duke of Lerma and for the Pope.
The original church of San Andrés was sacked and rebuilt, making any attempts at reconstruction very difficult. The National Gallery’s painting remained in private collections in Valencia until 1831, when it was acquired by Richard Ford (1796–1858), the English travel writer known for his books on Spain. Sometime after 1836, when the painting was sold from Ford’s collection, the figure of Father Simón was painted out and it was only revealed again when the picture was cleaned in 1945–6.
Ribalta worked most of his late career in Valencia. He was strongly influenced by Italian painters such as Sebastiano del Piombo and Caravaggio, some of whose works were known in Spain. Ribalta’s composition here seems to have been inspired by Sebastiano del Piombo’s Christ Carrying the Cross (Prado, Madrid) as well as a painting of the same subject by Luis de Morales (Real Colegio Seminario de Corpus Christi, Valencia), which was owned by Ribalta’s patron, Juan de Ribera (1532–1611).
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