José Villegas Cordero (26 August 1844 – 9 November 1921 was a Spanish painter of historical, genre and costumbrista scenes.
After 1877, he often lived in Venice and produced works designed to be of interest to wealthy American buyers. By 1887, he was able to build a house, which he designed himself. It soon became a gathering place for high society. He also began accepting a small number of students.
In 1878, the Spanish Senate commissioned him to paint a large-scale historical work on the subject "Hernán Cortés' interview with Moctezuma". The commission was cancelled four years later, but it inspired him to embark on a series of historical paintings. Later, a Dutch publishing company approached several major European artists to produce illustrations for a Magna Biblia. Villegas was entrusted with depicting the prophecies in the Book of Isaiah.
The 1890s began quietly but, in 1896, his younger brother Ricardo (who was also an artist) drowned after he fell off a boat on the Guadalquivir. This plunged him into depression and he began painting works of an ecclesiastical nature. Two years later, he was appointed Director of the "Academia española de Bellas Artes en Roma". In 1901, in recognition of his work there, he was named Director of the Museo del Prado; abandoning his studio in Rome and returning to Madrid. He held that post until 1918 and presided over a major reorganization. During that time, he also established a new reputation as a portrait painter. He resigned due to negative publicity following a jewelry theft by one of the museum's guards. [source]