This painting of the Annunciation, one of the most prominent works of art (approx. 8 feet high x 5 feet wide) in the Assembly Room at Hearst Castle, is a masterpiece by the Spanish painter Bartolomé Pérez de la Dehesa (c. 1634 – 1698). Primarily known for his floral still-lifes, Pérez was named painter to King Charles II in 1689. Only a few large-scale figural compositions by him exist. His style is characterized by bold contrasts of pearlescent, pale areas against somber backgrounds.
The painting at Hearst Castle is signed on the base of the Virgin’s lectern with an abbreviation of the artist’s name and his title: “B.me P.z./Pic[t]or Reg[is].” This monogram is identical to the signature on a small painting in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Although Hearst Castle’s painting had been treated twice in the past for conservation, the monogram was not reported until it was noticed by two of Hearst Castle’s guides in 2017.
An inscription in the lower left corner provides the patron’s name and the date: “Este colateral.deNra. Sra. dela Encarnacion puso por s[u] devocion Joseh. de Barrios criado de su Mag.d en su Guarda Vieja, ano de 1690.” Colateral refers to a whole collateral (side) altar, and the Guarda Vieja was the “old guard” of pensioner soldiers who were still able to serve the royal family, thus: “This collateral [altar] of our Lady of the Incarnation was set up through the devotion of José de Barrios, servant of His Majesty in his Old Guard in the year 1690.”
The Annunciation and its pendant in the Assembly Room, the Crucifixion with John the Evangelist, Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, which was likely painted by another artist, were purchased by William Randolph Hearst in 1927 from Cannell and Chaffin, a decorating firm in Los Angeles. Because the earlier history of Hearst Castle’s two altarpieces is still unknown, the church for which they were intended remains a mystery.