Following a spectacular debut in Madrid, Zurbarán returned to Seville and dominated the market for religious paintings. His portraits are extremely rare. The full-length format of this one conveys the lofty status of its subject, possibly Juan de la Lanza on the occasion of his appointment as Chair of the Law Faculty at the University of Sigüenza.
Seventeenth-century Spanish art captivated American collectors and artists, and Gardner went to great lengths to acquire this portrait. After seeing it at the Ehrich Galleries in New York, she “made an offer, just out of pure love!” As part of her negotiation, Gardner invited Louis Ehrich for a private tour of Fenway Court. Enchanted, Ehrich confessed in a follow up letter to remaining “under the spell of your enchanted palace... as to the ‘Zurburan’... Other parties - as I informed you – are interested, but I would prefer it to go to you.” Archer Huntington, founder of the Hispanic Society of America, was among the rival collectors who lamented their loss of this painting.