Zurbarán was born in Fuente de Cantos, a small village in Extremadura, in 1598. He trained in Seville in the studio of Pedro Díaz Villanueva where he established contacts with Francisco Herrera the Elder, Diego Velázquez and Alonso Cano. At the end of his apprenticeship in 1617 Zurbarán moved to Llerena in Extremadura, where he lived for more than ten years. In 1618 he married María Páez, a wealthy widow ten years his senior. He returned to Seville in order to execute a commission for the Dominican community at San Pablo el Real of a series of paintings on the life of Saint Dominic. His first dated work from this period is The Crucifixion (Art Institute of Chicago). Despite his youth, these works reveal a remarkable ability to reproduce textures, an enormous expressivity in the faces, and a rich, delicate palette that includes a wide range of shades of white. Zurbarán also worked for the Shod Mercedarians, painting Saint Serapion (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford). By this point Zurbarán had become one of the most celebrated and famous painters in Andalucía with a large and active studio
In. 1634 he moved to Madrid and was recommended by Velázquez to undertake the decoration of the Salón de Reinos in the Buen Retiro with a series of ten canvases on The Labours of Hercules and two on The Defence of Cadiz. This period corresponds to Zurbarán’s artistic maturity and was his most prolific phase, during which time he executed his great series, including one for the Carthusian monastery at Jerez de la Frontera and another for the monastery at Guadalupe
Zurbarán’s. last years saw a decline in his popularity, possibly due to the growing fame of the young Murillo. He continued to remain active, however, and sent numerous works to South America, including Mexico, Lima and other important centres. In 1658 he returned to Madrid but experienced economic difficulties and died there in near poverty in 1664. His last works represent the ultimate refinement of his style and were executed without workshop assistance.