Spain’s Golden Age. The age inaugurated by the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, and influenced by the mystical writings of Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross. An age of prosperity, when the New World was opening up. It was in this unusual and fertile context that the painter Francisco de Zurbarán emerged; born in Extremadura in 1598, he was trained in Seville and spent much of his life there. Whereas his contemporary and friend Diego Velázquez painted portraits of the royal family and of members of the nobility for the court, Zurbarán devoted himself almost entirely to the domain of the sacred, carrying out commissions from religious orders to adorn convents and churches. Christ on the cross, portraits of saints and depictions of scenes from their lives, the Agnus Dei, the Virgin Mary, miracles, and apparitions succeed one another in chronological order in this prestigious exhibition, in which walls and picture rails painted dark grey and low-intensity lighting underscore the baroque painter’s skilful orchestration of chiaroscuro (the treatment of light and shade). As with Caravaggio, whose equal he is when it comes to depicting drapes, flesh, and textures (don’t miss his subtle still life with pottery), Zurbarán’s figures often stand out against a dark, almost monochrome, background. Unlike the hot-headed Italian master, however, with Zurbarán a certain calm prevails. The features of a face are almost always peaceful – as in the extraordinarily modern portrait (from around 1635) of Saint Francis of Assisi, a star among founders of orders. The saint is depicted in a habit, with its raised hood plunging his face into shadow. One of his bare feet is ahead of the other. He contemplates a skull, which he holds in his hands and which, capturing our attention at the centre of the painting, is like a mirror facing his lowered face, recalling our mortal condition and, beyond that, the hope of resurrection. The painting is one of the highlights of this very impressive exhibition, which is supplemented by a series of musical events.