Agnus Dei, Francisco de Zurbaran, c.1635-40

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One the great pleasures of visiting a major gallery like the Prado in Madrid is discovering little masterpieces of which you had no previous awareness. This small, austere picture by Zurbaran of the ‘Lamb of God’, a young ram, slaughtered and with its feet bound in meek submission, is a case in point.

This is a picture which truly demonstrates that less is more. The entire focus is on the lamb itself, painted with such exquisite attention to detail that in the original every crease and tuft of wool is detailed and the lamb just begs you to reach out and touch it.

Zurbaran was a native of Seville where he learnt his craft as a painter, developing a style influenced by Carravagio and similar in many ways to the art of the Dutch golden age, that he retained throughout his life. His best works are simple compositions, still life’s or single figures usually against a plain dark background. Living as he did in a period dominated by Velasquez, he never enjoyed great royal favour during his life time and it is only more recently that his technical ability and the genius of his simple compositions has been fully appreciated.

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