The restoration of the carving of San Francisco in a parish church in the Segovian town of Villacastín confirms that its author is the brilliant image maker from Murcia
Francisco Salzillo (1707-1783) is to carving what Velázquez is to painting. So discovering a piece of the great Murcian imagery is quite an event. And that is what has happened in the parish of San Sebastián, in the Segovian town of Villacastín. They knew that his San Francisco was of exceptional quality, but not that it was the work of Salzillo, as the restoration of the piece has revealed.
It was the restorer Clara Delgado who discovered the Salzillo's signature when she was working with the image in her workshop. Under the left foot and hidden by centuries-old layers of dust and sediment emerged "the signature and a damaged but recognizable date: Francisco Salzillo, year 1763."
"We knew it was quite good, but we did not suppose it would have this caliber," Delgado said when presenting his work, according to the Diocese of Segovia. He began working with the carving at the end of 2021 commissioned by Juan García Gorgojo, the parish priest of Villacastín, and with the support of his parishioners.
The image came to the church from a disappeared Franciscan convent after the Confiscation of Mendizábal in 1836 and was placed in a small altarpiece in the nave of the Gospel. The expert José Miguel Sánchez Peña already suggested in 1986 the authorship confirmed now by the restoration. “We didn't know anything, but I remember that when I saw it I thought: “What a beautiful carving!” exclaims the priest.
Carving of San Francisco in the altarpiece of the Segovian parish /
Delgado carried out a first cleaning of the superficial dust "and that was when the treasure appeared," explains the restorer. After finding the signature and date, she proceeded to seal the cracks. She believes that the wood "was not prepared for the humidity" of the mountain town, and that the dust that got into the cracks "damaged its conservation." The Christ that the saint carries in his hand is the most punished part, as it is attached to the hand by a stem.
Once the carving was stabilized, the restorer proceeded to stucco it to restore its original color. "For the signature, the process has been that of chromatic restoration, since that of the Murcian sculptor cannot be reproduced," they indicate from the Segovian diocese.
Delgado highlights "curiosities" of the piece such as "glass eyes as if they were a light bulb"; his rockery, "made of sticks -pine bark- glued together, clothed and polychrome", and the saint's belt, "embedded with a nail" that cannot be removed. All details that confirm that it is "a jewel".
The son of another sculptor and image maker, Nicolás Salzillo, Francisco is considered the best image maker of the Baroque and devoted almost all of his artistic work to religious themes, transmitting the changes of the time with his style.
From his father he inherited the influence of Italian, French and Spanish sculptors and a characteristic arrangement of the hands in some of his carvings as a significant feature of his work. Murcia has a museum dedicated to this genius with his own style, who created a school and whose production also highlights a Nativity scene.