The San Diego Museum of Art has purchased a two-foot-high figure of San Diego de Alcalá—the saint the city is named for—by the Spanish Baroque sculptor Pedro de Mena y Medrano. A recent $7.4 million bequest from the estate of Donald W. Shira funded the acquisition.
At SDMA the Mena will join magnificent paintings by El Greco, Sanchez Cotan, Zurburan, Cano, and Murillo. Americans revere the great Spanish baroque painters, but the sculptors have always been a hard sell. “The Sacred Made Real,” a 2009-2010 exhibition in London and Washington, explored the two-way influence between sculpture and painting in 17th-century Spain. Pedro de Mena, a pupil of Alonso Cano, was a stand-out.
It’s said that some Mena sculptures were made for Latin American churches. As far as I can tell, San Diego de Alcalá is only the second Mena sculpture to enter a North American museum. The Hispanic Society, New York, has Mena’s bust of Saint Acisclus (right). A Hollywood-handsome martyr, in a Tim Burton mode, his head is already half-severed from the neck.
UPDATE. Caroline Guscott of the Cleveland Museum of Art points out that the CMA also has a Mena sculpture, St. Peter of Alcantará (below). It’s about the size of the San Diego figure and is also a relatively recent (2009) addition to the collection.