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Ricardo Fernández Gracia, director of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art.

Images for the history of Navarre: paintings and engravings.

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 13:00:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Francisco Umbral said that "Painting is the great slate of history" and he was right, because from any painting of past centuries we can extract historical knowledge. In the votive offerings we appreciate popular furniture and clothing; in the portraits, in addition to physical features, we notice characters and expressions of passions, as well as elements of power and symbolic character; in the landscape we are presented with fields dominated by man, valleys, rivers and plains with villages, farms and ruins; finally, still lifes or still lifes also translate idiosyncrasies of the people. But in the theory of the hierarchy of genres, the historical was considered the truly serious or "great genre". Technically, it was considered the most difficult, since it required the painter to be a portraitist, landscape painter ... etc. and, of course, an intellectual, with culture and historical sense. Religious, mythological, historical or allegorical themes were qualified as "history painting" from the 17th century onwards, in line with the writings of the Frenchman A. Felibien (1619-1695), who argued that art should not only please the eye, but also elevate the spirit with themes of a serious nature that would instruct the viewer. The painter had to take care that the characters seemed plausible and convincing from the historical point of view.


Some portraits of kings of Navarre in painting

Hardly any period portraits of the kings of Navarre have come down to us, with the exception of some miniatures and funerary sculpture. The examples we have are recreation works and late in time. The series do not exist, if there were any, they must have been destined to very precise places linked to the monarchy of Navarre, such as institutional headquarters or a monastery related to royalty.

The great set of those of all the kings of Navarre, from García Ximénez on, can be found in the Throne Room of the foral palace. With the exception of this example from the second half of the 19th century, no other serial galleries of the monarchs are known, with the exception of an engraved series that was never published and of which, exceptionally, the only known copy was found a few years ago.

To the first third of the 17th century belongs a drawing by Vicente Carducho in which is represented the figure of a crowned king with the scepter holding a shield with the arms of Navarre. In La Rioja, in the monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla, two canvases are kept, painted by Friar Juan Rizzi, the most outstanding painter of all those who worked for that house, son of the Bolognese painter Antonio Rizzi, who professed as a Benedictine in Montserrat and became master painter to Prince Balthasar Carlos. The two canvases of monarchs from Pamplona are those of Sancho the Great and García of Navarre, from the abbey's hall of kings. Both paintings, together with those of Count Fernán González, King Alfonso VII the emperor and others formed a set, for which the series of the Gothic kings of the Buen Retiro palace, made around 1635, was taken as a reference, although unlike the rhetorical tone of the courtly series, in the paintings of San Millán de la Cogolla, moderation and portrait interest dominate.

Iconographies of kings were not lacking in other venues such as the monasteries of Navarre. The inventories of Leire in 1809 note in the conference room of its palace "ten portraits of princes and kings" and in the bedroom of the same place "two portraits of king and queen". Although no identification subject is given, it must be thought that among those portraits were those of the Pamplona monarchy that had favored the monastery, or had even entered it, such as King Fortún García.


An engraved series destined for the destroyed edition of the Annales

The large serialized set of Navarrese kings was included in the reprinting of the Annals (1755-1757), which the Cortes of Navarre ordered to be destroyed in its entirety in 1757. The search for draftsmen and engravers was at position of the promoter of the edition, Miguel Antonio Domech, who entrusted most of the work to the Aragonese master José Lamarca. The idea of illustrating with portraits of kings was in tune with what had been done since the 16th century with the histories of different dynasties in different publishing projects.

The series consisted of forty etchings made with engraving and etching. Among all the engravings that make up the collection, stylistic differences can be appreciated. The two by the Navarrese silversmith Antonio Navaz, specifically those of García Ximénez and Sancho el Fuerte, are the most traditional, due to the subject ornamentation and, above all, the horror vacui that presides over the compositions, including the greater carving and detail in the etching. The rest are the work of José Lamarca, and despite some defects and the haste with which they were executed, they show a certain stylistic advance, in the Rococo world, as well as a greater lightness in their interpretation.

A common characteristic of all the portraits is the presence of prisoners and slaves, along with weapons and military trophies that evoke the triumphs of the kings and the Pamplona and Navarrese monarchy of the Middle Ages average. The compositional outline is always repetitive, with the oval more or less ornamented and of mixtilinear disposition in almost all the examples, to house the figure or figures of the monarchs. In the case of marriages or mother and son, they are generally located in the same cartouche, with the exception of those of don Felipe and doña Juana and don Juan and doña Blanca, in which we find separate ovals for each of the figures. In some cases, in the lower part, on both sides of the architecture or the coat of arms, there are specific passages of feats that identify the monarchs. On other occasions, in addition to the heraldic coat of arms, there are also particular currencies or companies of each sovereign.

Another common element in all the compositions is the presence of the sun next to their portraits, except for those who did not die a natural death, in which case the knife, sword or some object that identifies the violence of the death appears. These are authentic solar kings. Undoubtedly, the series is a good testimony of monarchs who reign under the sun, symbol in different cultures of positive and beneficial qualities and virtues, so the rulers, kings and emperors used it for their representation, thus identifying royalty with the solar image.


The Battle of Las Navas in painting from the 16th century to the present day

With respect to the historical scenes of Navarre's past, as might be expected, it was the battle of Navas de Tolosa in 1212 that aroused the interest of patrons and promoters. José Mª Muruzábal has studied a good issue of paintings with the topic. In the monastery of Las Huelgas in Burgos, pantheon of Alfonso VIII of Castile and foundation of Tulebras, and place where the so-called banner of Las Navas is kept, is located the great painting of the battle executed by Jerónimo and Pedro Ruiz de Camargo, in 1594. In the center of the composition are Alfonso VIII and Archbishop Ximénez de Rada and at their sides the monarchs of Aragón and Navarra. In the Town Hall of Baeza there is a painting from the beginning of the sixteenth century by Juan Bolaños el Viejo. Among the rich eighteenth-century paintings of Aragonese filiation that decorate the Araciel chapel of the collegiate church of San Miguel de Alfaro, the topic was also chosen, undoubtedly because its patron, Archbishop Manuel Pérez de Araciel, was considered a descendant of Rodrigo Ximénez de Rada. Painters of the category of Maella and Bayeu confronted the topic, sometimes with degree scroll of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, whose feast day was celebrated on July 16, the date of the battle.

A little-known canvas was executed in 1817 by the French painter Horace Vernet (1789-1863), with a large horseman in the foreground. The large version by Francisco de Paula Van Halen, now in the Senate, dates from 1864. Other painters who also painted the scene were Marceliano Santa María, Ramón Vallespín, José Mongrell, Inocencio García Asarta and Javier Ciga.

In addition to painting, other arts also reflected the battle, such as the tapestry of the Provincial Council, made in 1950-1952, or the stained glass window of the conference room chapter of the collegiate church of Roncesvalles, a work of the prestigious Maumejean House of 1906.


The deeds of princes and the identity of Navarre in the 1766 reprint of the Annals of Navarre.

"The history that I have undertaken is made up of two parts: the pen and the engraver's point are engaged in a noble combat as to which will best represent the objects treated". This is how F. Mezeray expressed himself in his Histoire de France, published in 1685. With the same criteria and in plenary session of the Executive Council Century of the Enlightenment, when the editions illustrated with rich engravings were gaining prominence in Spain, the Annals of Father Moret were republished. The alliance between pencil and burin, between texts and images, were directed towards the same end, in a general context of the history of the book and in a particular status of Navarre.

Regarding the context of the illustrated book, it should be pointed out that for both reeditions the idea was to illustrate them, in harmony with the history of the book in the Age of Enlightenment, when institutions such as the Royal Academy of San Fernando promoted everything related to the renewal of the arts and of engraving in particular, obtaining as result magnificent and luxurious editions according to the French taste, both in literary, historical and scientific works.

With regard to the Navarrese context, it should be noted that the kingdom saw its status endangered by the centralist reforms of the Bourbons. In the previous century, the first edition of the Annals was intended to counteract the centralizing attempts of the monarchy of Philip IV, to rescue a glorious past, as the foundation of a renewed "foralism", as well as an evident commitment to the vindication of the historical conscience, seriously altered by foreign authors, at a time when the "fueros" seemed to be in some danger, ultimately written request, the very entity of the kingdom. In plenary session of the Executive Council Century of Enlightenment, the "fueros" constituted a sign of identity for the Navarrese, as a sign of collective affinity, at a time when for many the status of Navarre constituted an uncomfortable archaism, especially in the reign of Charles III, when the attacks became a permanent attitude and, in a very special way, from 1766 onwards, when the Count of Aranda came to power and Campomanes did not discuss concrete matters of economic or military subject , but the very foundation of the foral regime. The Diputación del Reino must have thought that the books by Moret and Alesón would come in handy as historical support in that context, in which the Enlightenment spirit was gradually permeating some of the social elites. In addition, the publication was to be illustrated with engravings, so that propaganda and persuasion were, if possible, even more assured.

After the failure of the edition with the illustrations of the portraits of the kings, a second project, this time with historical scenes engraved by José Lamarca, was published in Pamplona, in 1766, under the supervision of the Diputación del Reino. The drawings and state proofs, the work of the Aragonese master José Lamarca, are preserved. Drawings and engravings constitute a set A for its content in Europe.

The message that we have to read under all the illustrations of the 1766 edition is multiple, always with the intention of highlighting some facts and, above all, some ideas about the different stages and reigns. In the first place, we find some images that have to do with the rooting of the faith, the foundation on the Church of all the reality of the Kingdom, even representing miraculous events, such as the finding of the body of San Fermín or the battle of Simancas. There is no lack of allusions to the geographical configuration of the Kingdom and the reconquest, to the preeminence of the Christian kings over the Muslims, and even those that go beyond our borders, such as the participation in crusades and the Navas de Tolosa. In others, the bravery of the Navarrese people is exalted, as evidenced in battles, sieges of cities and other singular deeds of arms and, of course, the love and respect of the people for their sovereigns, who are depicted, never better said, as adorned with all the Christian and moral virtues. All of these keys are discovered in the depiction of certain facts, intentionally sought after, which reveal the desire to sing the glories and excellences of sovereigns, peoples and armies.


At the Palacio de Diputación

Images of the history of Navarre and portraits of Navarre's monarchs returned to the limelight a century later, in a very different context, but with some similarities. We refer to the decoration of the Throne Room of the Palacio de Diputación, a work that was undertaken when Navarre had passed from Kingdom to Province, after the convulsion of the Carlist War, when, by virtue of the Ley Paccionada, numerous singularities were still preserved on the basis of a peculiar past, which would be worth remembering on the occasion of the visit of Queen Isabel II to Pamplona, which, by the way, was not carried out.

The salon contains numerous themes that J. J. Martinena has documented as the work of Madrid painters from 1864 onwards. Martinena as the work of painters from Madrid from 1864 onwards, including the invention of the relics of San Fermín, the battle of Olast, the payment of tribute to Sancho el Mayor by the Muslim kings and the testament of the same monarch by Alejandro Ferrant, the liberation of Carlos II el Malo from the prison of Ailleux by Constancio Corona, the battle of Roncesvalles by Francisco Aznar, and the privilege of the Unión de los Burgos by Constancio Corona. For its correct reading, a list of the contents of the throne room was published on successive occasions at the end of the 19th century (1887 and 1899), with descriptions of the paintings and authorship of portraits of kings and historical passages.

Most of those themes had already been represented graphically in the chapter headings of the Annals (1766), following their texts faithfully. The same literary source was used for the realization by Ferrant, Espalter and other masters of the nineteenth-century paintings. Its correct reading requires a contextualization, valuing the importance that history painting gained in those moments of the 19th century, studied by Carlos Reyero in a monograph.