THE life of the ” Michael Angelo of Spain,” as Cano has been called because of his ability to practise the sister arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture, presents many points of interest.
When about fifty years old, he determined to become a priest, and leaving Madrid, took up his abode in his native city of Granada. ” The stall of a minor canon in the cathedral falling vacant, he suggested to his friends in the chapter, that it would be for the advantage of that body were an artist appointed, and permitted to exchange the choral duties of the preferment for the superintendence of the architecture and decorations of the church; and, on these terms, obtained a recommendation in his own behalf to the Crown. Philip IV., always ready to befriend a good artist, at once conferred the benefice upon Cano.” “The remonstrances of the chapter of Granada against Cano’s appointment as a minor canon, on the ground that his learning was insufficient, afforded Philip an occasion, which he did not let slip, of vindicating the dignity of art against the arrogance of the cloth. ‘ Were this painter,’ he said, ‘a learned man, who knows but that he might be Archbishop of Toledo ? I can make canons like you at my pleasure, but God alone can make an Alonso Cano.’ Thus, backed by royal favor, he took peaceable possession of his stall on the 20th of February, 1652, and soon justified his election, and conciliated the canons by the diligent exercise of his pencil and his chisel for the embellishment of the stately cathedral.”
Cano also worked for other churches and convents. At one time “the bishop of Malaga, being engaged in improving his cathedral-church, invited Cano to that city, for the purpose of designing a new tabernacle for the high altar, and new stalls for the choir. He had finished his plans very much to the prelate’s satisfaction, when he was privately informed that the intendant of the works proposed to allow him a very trifling remuneration. ‘These drawings,’ said he, ‘are either to be given away for nothing, or to fetch two thousand ducats,’ and packing them up, he mounted his mule, and took the road to Granada. The niggardly intendant, learning the cause of his departure, became alarmed, and sending after him, agreed to pay him his own price for the plans.”
Cano was wont to accept commissions from private individuals as well as from religious bodies, and was once employed by an auditor of the Royal Chancery, ” who ordered the canon to model for him a statue, about a yard in height, of St. Anthony of Padua, desiring him to put forth all his skill. The work being finished, he went to see it, and after expressing his satisfaction, he carelessly asked the price. Cano demanded one hundred doubloons. Greatly astonished, and after a long pause, the auditor next inquired how many days’ labor it had cost. ‘ Twenty-five,’ replied Cano. ‘Then it appears,’ said the patron, ‘that you esteem your labor at four doubloons a day ? ‘ ‘ You are but a bad accountant,’ retorted the artist, ‘for I have been fifty years learning to make such a statue as this in twenty-five days.’ ‘ And I,’ rejoined the auditor, ‘have spent my youth and my patrimony on my university studies, and now, being auditor of Granada, a far nobler profession than yours, I earn each day a bare doubloon.’ The old lay leaven began to work in the canon, and he remembered the words of Philip IV. ‘Yours a nobler profession than mine ! ‘ cried he ; ‘know that the king can make auditors of the dust of the earth, but that God reserves to himself the creation of such as Alonso Cano ! ‘ and without waiting for further argument, he laid hold on St. Anthony, and dashed him to pieces on the floor, to the dismay of his devotee, who immediately fled, boiling with rage. To put such an affront upon a man in authority, says sagacious Palomino, was highly imprudent, especially upon an auditor of Granada, who is a little god upon earth; and still more when the matter might have been brought before the Holy Office, where small allowance would be made for the natural irritability of an artist, and for his sacristan-like irreverence, engendered by daily familiarity with saintly effigies. The outraged functionary, however, took another sort of revenge. By his influence in the chapter, Cano’s stall was declared vacant, because he had not qualified himself to hold it by taking orders within the given time.”
The artist-canon was now obliged to appeal to the king, who, with his usual kindness toward men of talent, reinstated Cano in his benefice.
It is told of Cano that, when he lay on his death-bed, he put aside with disapprobation the rudely sculptured crucifix which was placed in his hand by the attending priest. “‘My son,’ said the good man, somewhat shocked by the action, ‘ what are you doing ? This is the image of our Lord the Redeemer, by whom alone you can be saved.’ ‘ So do I believe, father,’ replied the dying man, ‘yet vex me not with this thing, but give me a simple cross, that I may adore it both as it is in itself and as I can figure it in my mind.’ His request being granted, ‘he died,’ says Palomino, ‘in a manner highly exemplary and edifying to those about him.’ ” Cano died in comparative poverty, his last years having been spent in religious exercises and in giving aid to the poor. If, as was often the case, he found his purse unable to meet the demands made upon it in charity’s name, he would present the needy applicant with a sketch which could readily be sold for a fair price.
The brush of the late Mr. Burgess, an English painter who depicted many scenes from Spanish life, has admirably realized for us an episode of this kind in Cano’s career. The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1886, and is now the property of the Reading Art Gallery. Its painter, John Bagnold Burgess, R. A., who came of a family of artists, was born in London in 1830, and died in 1897, leaving behind him many meritorious works. Among them are ” Bravo, Toro ! ” “The Spanish Letter-writer,” “Pensioned Off,” “The Student in Disgrace,” ” The Barber’s Prodigy,” and “The Meal at the Fountain.” “Licensing the Beggars, Spain,” is in the Royal Holloway College.