Polychrome Sculpture as Canon


Francisco Pacheco’s Arte de la Pintura (1649) notes “Because sculpture in the round has more naturalism and substance, it is so that sculpture has existence and painting appearance.” The customary discussion of the parangón is complicated by the unique status of polychrome sculpture within the hierarchy of the arts in Spain, as it is a popular art form that fuses both the arts of painting and sculpture. In his treatise, Pacheco describes in detail the best way of approaching the painting of sculpture arguing for a matte finish, which he deems more natural, over the use of a glossy one for flesh tones. He discusses at length the specific techniques of the encarnación (flesh painting) process. Sculptures that had yet to be painted were considered literally, “en blanco,” or in a blank state of lifelessness. This element of flesh is often highlighted by the further addition of postizos such as glass eyes, cork for flesh, and horn for nails, which come together to create hyperreal sculptures. Gregorio Fernández, Pedro de Mena, and Juan Martínez Montañés created works that can fool the eye as well as the mind. Polychrome sculpture is its own category within the Spanish canon of art as it occupies both three-dimensional space and is painted to create a mimetic experience. Furthermore, these collaborative creations illustrate important ideas of perception, illusion, and devotion particular to seventeenth century Counter-Reformation Spain.


Polychrome, Sculpture, Canon, Art, Spain, Pacheco, Painting, Techniques


Arts Theory and History


Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


  • Dr. Ilenia Colon Mendoza
    • Associate Professor of Art History, School of Visual Art and Design, United States FL, United States
    • Associate Professor of Art History at the School of Visual Arts and Design at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, United States.