In sixteenth and seventeenth century Spain, sculptors and painters combined their skills to depict, with astonishing realism, the great Christian art themes. Wooden sculptures of the saints, the Immaculate Conception and the Passion of Christ were painstakingly carved, gessoed, and intricately painted, even embellished with glass eyes and tears and ivory teeth. Sometimes shockingly graphic in their depiction of Christ's sufferings, or beautifully clothed, as if brought to life, these were objects of divine inspiration to the faithful.
Painter and sculptor worked together in a unique relationship. Velazquez's teacher and father-in-law, Francisco Pacheco, often painted the flesh and drapery of wood carvings by the celebrated sculptor Juan Martinez Montanes, and taught a generation of students. The skill of painting these hyperrealistic Christian art sculptures was an integral part of an artist's training, enhancing his sensitivity to visual impact and physical presence evident in religious paintings of the period.
The technical challenges involved in making polychrome sculptures, and the artists' ingenious solutions, are described, explained and fully illustrated in The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600-1700, which was published to accompany the Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture Exhibition at the National Gallery in 2009-2010.