An enthusiastic visitor to the Louvre, Alphonse Legros was greatly influenced by two paintings by the Spanish Golden Age painter, Zurbarán that had come from the former collection of Soult, one of Napoleon's generals. Of the two, the large, square painting Saint Bonaventure at The Council of Lyon particularly attracted his attention. He put forward a beautiful version in An Honourable Penitent for which he received a medal at the 1868 Salon.
From Zurbarán's painting, Legros took the square format, the style and the attitudes of the monks and the bishop. However, the scene is simplified, and contains fewer characters. The subject, too, is developed. In the 1860s, the painting in the Louvre was wrongly entitled Saint Pierre Nolasque and Saint Raymond de Pennafort, and was said to depict an ecclesiastical assembly in Barcelona. Today we know that in fact it shows a meeting between emissaries from the Greek and Roman churches. In An Honourable Penitent, Legros, for his part, chose to represent a religious tribunal during the Inquisition. In the 1860s, Spanish themes were one of the main elements of Realism, clearly revealed also in the works of Manet and Ribot.