S??nchez Cot??n was born in the town of Orgaz, near Toledo. He was a friend and perhaps pupil of Blas de Prado, an artist famous for his still lifes whose mannerist style with touches of realism, the disciple developed further. Cot??n began by painting altar pieces and religious works. For approximately twenty years, he pursued a successful career in Toledo as an artist, patronized by the city??s aristocracy, painting religious scenes, portraits and still lifes. These paintings found a receptive audience among the educated intellectuals of Toledo society. S??nchez Cot??n executed his notable still lifes around the turn of the seventeenth century, before the end of his secular life. An example (seen above) is Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber (1602, in the San Diego Museum of Art).
On August 10, 1603, Juan Sanchez Cotan, then in his forties, closed up his workshop at Toledo to renounce the world and enter the Carthusian monastery Santa Maria de El Paular. He continued his career painting religious works with singular mysticism. In 1612 he was sent to the Granada Charterhouse, he decided to become a monk, and in the following year he entered the Carthusian monastery at Granada as a laybrother. The reasons for this are not clear, though such action was not unusual in Cot??n??s day.
Cotan was a prolific religious painter whose work, carried out exclusively for his monastery, reached its peak about 1617 in the cycle of eight great narrative paintings which he painted for the cloister of the Granada Monastery. These depict the foundation of the order of St. Bruno, and the prosecution of the monks in England by the Protestants.
Although the painter??s religious works have an archaic air, they also reveal a keen interest in the treatment of light and volumes, and in some respect are comparable with certain works by the Italian Luca Cambiaso whom Cotan knew at the Escorial. While Cotan's religious works are unexceptional, as a still-life painter he ranks with the great names of European painting.
In spite of his retreat from the world, Cotan??s influence remained strong. His concern with the relationships among objects and with achieving the illusion of reality through the use of light and shadow was a major influence on the work of later Spanish painters such as Juan van der Hamen, Felipe Ramirez, the brothers Vincenzo and Bartolomeo Carducci and, notably, Francisco de Zurbaran. Sanchez Cotan ended his days universally loved and regarded as a saint. He died in 1627 in Granada.
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