Francisco de Zurbaran was a Spanish painter that rose to prominence during the reign of the Murillo family in Seville. Influenced by Caravaggio, Zurbaran’s paintings are distinct and known for their tenebrism. A very religious painter, Zurbaran most famous paintings are of saints, religious practices, and other religious symbolism. Francisco de Zurbaran was educated in Seville till 1617 and then spent time in his native province of Llerena. In 1629, Zurbaran became the Seville’s official painter (The National Gallery) and spent his later years painting mythological scenes for the Buen Retiro, Philip IV’s palace. His popularity and patronage declined during his final years and he died in poverty.
A Cup of Water and a Rose is one of the only still life paintings created by Zurbaran. Reminiscent of Northern European art which is highly symbolic, A Cup of Water and a Rose presents Catholic beliefs in the form of two very simple pieces of everyday life and nature. The cup, which is placed in the center of the painting, represents the Virgin Mary. The cup is highlighted by a light source coming in from the left side of the painting and also the stark contrast with the darkened wall behind it. The cup, which is the focal point of the painting, is made out of earthenware which conveys that Mary was fully human and lived on this earth. What makes Mary so unique and special is that she, as a virgin, was consecrated by God to bear the Savior of the world and this is showcased through the cup being filled with water. In Christian art, water symbolizes purity and showcases that Mary was a pure virgin who is held up by the Catholic Church as a saint. She is filled to the brim with purity and cleanliness and is without blemish.
The flower also refers to Mary as the “Mystic Rose” (The National Gallery). Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said, “Eve was a thorn, wounding, bringing death to all; in Mary we see a rose, soothing everybody’s hurts, giving the destiny of salvation back to all. Mary was a rose, white for maidenhood, red for love; white in body, red in soul; white in her seeking after virtue, red in treading down vice; white in cleansing her affections, red in mortifying her flesh; white in her love of God, red in compassion for her neighbor” (The Mystical Rose). Mary brings healing, virtue, beauty, and compassion to the dying world that Eve brought about. She is both earthly (cup) and heavenly (rose) because although she is from this world and is made of human flesh, her purity and virtue is beyond this world.
The silver plate holding the rose and the cup of water is known to have been imported from Peru to Spain. Silver, in ancient art, was associated with the moon which symbolizes feminine energy (in contrast with the sun which is masculine). In a Christian context, silver symbolizes the Word of God and redemption, both key themes in this painting (The Symbolism of Silver). Because the plate anchors the rest of the pieces within the painting, Zurbaran conveys that redemption is relational to the Virgin Mary, who gave life to Jesus Christ so that the rest of the world could share in the gift of eternal life.
1. The National Gallery. “A Cup of Water and a Rose.” The National Gallery. The
National Gallery, 2011. Web. 27 Mar. 2012.
2. Shrine of the Mystical Rose. “The Mystical Rose.” The Mystical Rose. The Shrine
of the Mystical Rose, 2011. Web. 27 Mar. 2012.
3. Trun, Troy. “The Symbolism of Silver.” Ezine Articles. Ezine Articles Worldwide,
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