Luis de Morales (ca. 1519-1586) is known as "El Divino" (the divine) in Spain because of the in tensely religious nature of his paintings, which reflect the almost fanatical piety of the Counter Reformation in his native land.
Luis de Morales was born presumably at Badajoz in the province of Estremadura. He may have studied at Évora, Portugal, but it is more likely that he received his training as a painter in Seville. Flemish Renaissance artists at work there were the major influence in his development. Pedro de Campaña (Pieter de Kampeneer), a native of Brussels, had lived and worked in Bologna and Rome previous to his 25-year sojourn in Seville, and his style combined Italian High Renaissance elements with a native Flemish bent for precise objective rendering.
The dark shadows throughout Morales's pictures, particularly in the modeling, contribute greatly to the establishment of a sense of drama, a technical device which is derived at a considerable distance from the dark shadows (sfumato) that characterize the work of Leonardo da Vinci, and particularly that of his followers in both Italy and Spain. A number of Morales's paintings of the Madonna and Child have this feature, as well as the profoundly tragic rendering which forecasts the later sacrifice of the Infant Christ.
Most celebrated are Morales's cult images of the Passion of Christ, in which emotion is expressed with searing intensity. The Pietà (Madrid), one of his masterpieces, shows the Madonna grasping the bruised body of her dead son in despairing anguish; the elongated figures are placed in the foreground with only the lower part of a vertical cross visible in the background. Scenes of the Flagellation, Christ Carrying the Cross, and the Ecce Homo abound in his work. One of the most eerie and imaginative in its almost surrealistic expressiveness is Christ Meditating on the Passion (Minneapolis).
Morales painted in oil, frequently on panel (wood) but sometimes on canvas. His activity was concentrated in Estremadura, where he provided altars for the churches of Badajoz, Plasencia, Arroyo de la Luz, and Higuera la Real, and in Évora. Legend holds that he was called to the court at Madrid about 1560 but failed to please and remained a very short time. There he would have seen the Italian Renaissance masterpieces in the royal collection, and thus would be explained the increased idealism which characterizes pictures such as the Holy Family (Roncevaux) and the Madonna and Child with the Infant Baptist (Salamanca).
Morales passed the last years of his life at Badajoz, apparently in a declining state of health, which did not prevent him, however, from continuing to paint altarpieces for the conventual churches at Alcántara and devotional works for the Cathedral of Badajoz. Legends of an impoverished old age in a state of approaching blindness are doubtless exaggerated.
Further Reading on Luis de Morales
The most complete account of Morales in English is Inajald Bäcksbacka, Luis de Morales (1962), which includes a catalog of all his known works, a complete bibliography in all languages, and 170 illustrations. The only other study in English is a brief work by Elizabeth Du Gué Trapier, Luis de Morales and Leonardesque Influences in Spain (1953).