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Baroque Painted Sculptures Joined for the First Time by Great Spanish Religious Painting
Spanish Ambassador Jorge Dezcallar, left, and Vatican Ambassador Archbishop Pietro Sambi, sign a guest book with Earl A. Powell III, Director of the National Gallery of Art, after touring the "Sacred Made Real" exhibit of Spanish art during its installation at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin.

By: Brett Zongker, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON, DC (AP).- Depictions of Jesus Christ's wounds and suffering on the cross are on rare display at the National Gallery of Art as the museum presents its first comparison of painting and sculpture from the Roman Catholic Church.

Eleven paintings by Diego Velazquez, Francisco de Zurbaran and others will be displayed Sunday for the first time alongside 11 hyper-realistic painted wood sculptures from the 17th century in "The Sacred Made Real."

"This interaction between painting and sculpture led to some really spectacular pictures," said curator Xavier Bray of London's National Gallery, who coordinated the exhibit. It took several years for him to negotiate with churches and monasteries to borrow some of the best examples of Spain's religious sculpture.

Famous painters from the period may have taken inspiration from the less famous sculptors working nearby. During a tour of the exhibition, Bray argued Velazquez likely worked off of sculptures by Juan Martinez Montanes in his painting "The Immaculate Conception."

The softly lit gallery is a walk through several key Christian themes, from the Immaculate Conception to the passion of Christ and the depiction of saints. The pieces are most notable for their extreme realism.

Visitors can walk behind a life-size figure of Christ to see depictions of the awful wounds on his back after he had been whipped.

"It's realism that goes further than realism," Bray said of the 1621 sculpture by Gregorio Fernandez, "Ecce Homo" ("Behold, the man"). When the piece was on view in London, some visitors knelt and prayed.

"Realism is what does that," Bray said.

"This is a product of a very clever marketing department in the Spanish church," he said, an effort at the time to counter Protestantism and shock people with a personal connection to Christ.

The exhibit will remain on view during Holy Week (March 28 to April 3) and through the end of May. The National Gallery of Art will be the only U.S. venue for the exhibition.

Another unique collection of sacred Spanish art recently ended its run at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, because many of the pieces needed to be returned to their home convents and parishes in time for Lent, which began Feb. 17.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

National Gallery of Art | Baroque Painted Sculptures | Diego Velazquez | Francisco de Zurbaran |

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