Maybe The temptation of Saint Thomas Aquinas be one of the least known public exhibition paintings of those signed by Diego Velázquez. On the one hand, its attribution to the artist is relatively recent, since it occurred in the 90s. On the other hand, it is found in the Diocesan Museum of Orihuela (Alicante), "the smallest city in the world" that has a Velázquez in its heritage, as assured by the technical director of the oriolana pinacoteca, Mariano Cecilia. "There are only twenty-eight cities in the world that have a work of this genius," says Cecilia, "always in large collections and museums."
"A series of lawsuits" confronted the Dominicans with the cabildo of the Oriolan cathedral, in the first third of the seventeenth century, according to Cecilia. As a result, "the confessor of King Philip IV, the also Dominican Fray Antonio de Sotomayor, entrusts the palace painter with a painting for the congregation." The painter is Velázquez. The painting, "one of the few works of a religious nature" that came out of his brush. The canvas arrives in 1633 at the College of Santo Domingo, which was then the university headquarters, destined to preside over the room of degrees. In it, St. Thomas Aquinas appears faint, after having expelled from his cell "a prostitute who had sent his own family, to leave the congregation of the Dominicans." Velázquez shows the moment when two angels grant him the gift of chastity, while the woman flees to the bottom of the canvas. "The intention is for it to be an inspiration for the students," says Cecilia.
For three centuries, the painting continues in the same location, until the Civil War breaks out. "The Artistic Treasury Board of the Republic sent an official of the body of archivists, Justo García Soriano, to protect the patrimony of the city", strongly linked to the Church, "in the first moments of anticlerical exaltation". "In 1936, he created the War Museum, where, among others, Santo Tomás de Velázquez is guarded," continues Cecilia, "until the end of the war." In 1940, Franco closes the republican center and Velázquez moves to the Episcopal Palace, current headquarters of the Diocesan Museum, where it remains until 1960. "The building is deteriorating and, in addition, the bishop moves to Alicante", so the work just hanging on the Cathedral. In 2011, the city rehabilitates the museum of which Cecilia is technical director and the piece becomes its biggest claim.
Despite the ignorance of the general public and its location away from major circuits, Santo Tomás Velazquez is a piece coveted by experts. "At first, it was attributed to Velázquez's workshop," explains the Oriolan specialist, "but in the 90s, the historian Javier Sánchez Porta found the documentation in which all the details of the painting appeared." "From that moment, nobody doubted his authorship," although "he went through all the authentication tests carried out by the Prado Museum" Since then, it is one of the jewels of the Sevillian artist's catalog. "It's from the time when Velázquez returns from his first trip to Italy," says Cecilia, "painted two years after La Vulcano's Forge." However, "because of the layout of the figures and the treatment of the spaces", the Orihuela canvas is considered "a precedent of Las Meninas", signed almost two decades later. "Velázquez did not paint too many pictures of religious themes, so, together with the Crucified of Seville, can be considered the best in this specialty." The trips made for exhibitions in "Rome, Brazil, twice in the Prado, the National Gallery in London or the great exhibition on Velázquez in Paris in 2015" testify to their recognition, according to Cecilia, who closed with a talk on Saint Thomas the cycle Look at a painting, organized by the Provincial Council of Alicante.
In Spain, Madrid, Seville and Barcelona are distributed most of the works made by Velázquez. However, the Oriolan box is not the only one that is exhibited in the Valencian Community. The Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia has two others. One of them, the only preserved autograph autograph, along with the one that appears in Las Meninas. The other, the venerable Father Fray Simón de Rojas deceased, is in deposit and belongs to the collection of the Dukes of the Infantado.