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Ricardo Fernández Gracia, Director of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art.
Heritage and identity (17). Origins and hypotheses about the movable heritage of Leire.
The disentailment and suppression of the great monasteries of Navarre brought with it a loss of cultural heritage, difficult to evaluate, but undoubtedly enormous, given that, within the walls of their temples and outbuildings, important libraries, documentary and musical archives had been built up over the centuries, as well as a collection of furniture, paintings and outstanding liturgical furnishings, in many cases of a quality superior to that of regional art. The only monastic church of those colossal monasteries that preserved its movable heritage was that of Fitero, as it remained as a parish church of the town.
Some of the most fortunate pieces of Leire, Irache, Iranzu and La Oliva began, after the disentailment of Mendizábal in 1836, a pilgrimage to other temples, being saved in some cases, such as the main altarpiece of La Oliva that ended up in Tafalla or the main altarpiece and collaterals of Irache, transferred to Dicastillo. The paintings, textiles, gold and silver work that still remained after the wars of the Convention and Independence and, in general, the sumptuary arts suffered the worst fate.
The inventories kept at file General of Navarre and the records of the awarding of various works of the Diocesan file of Pamplona are the sources for reconstructing and assessing all that cultural heritage and what has been preserved of it.
We will make some reflections and considerations about some pieces that returned to the monastery of Leire after a particular pilgrimage, excluding others such as the famous ivory chest of the Museum of Navarre, once reliquary of Saints Nunilo and Alodia, and various pieces that are still in the cathedral of Pamplona and other temples, far from their secular presence in the ancient abbey of Navarre.
The coral masonry
An attribution by Don Tomás Biurrun, without documentary or formal basis, placed the Leire stalls in 1580, as the work of the master Pedro Pontrubel, established in Sangüesa, to whom he also attributed the main altarpieces of Isaba and Tabar, something that does not hold up, as they are documented works by other artists. That evaluation has been repeated up to the present day. However, the clearly decorative outline of the panels of its seats, responds to candilieri compositions, with grotesques, medallions and laurels with busts, which leads us to revise that chronology, This leads us to revise that chronology, putting it back two or three decades and to relate it to the production of other masters of the Sangüesa workshop and various stalls such as those of San Martín de Uncastillo (1554-1556) or San Esteban de Sos del Rey Católico (1552-1556), made by Medart Picart who, together with other masters such as Juan Charles and his disciple Jacques Pontrubel, had the same French origin.
As Professor Pedro Echeverría recalls in a study on the leading role of the Gallic masters in the introduction of the Renaissance in Navarre, it was in the choir stalls where those masons and carvers showed their specialization in the organization of the work, while introducing an ornamental repertoire in accordance with the new tastes in bracelets, mercy chapels and panels.
The altarpiece of San Bernardo: heraldry and engraved fountains
If to a Navarre altarpiece we can apply a didactic explanation of how sculptors and painters, far from creating and inventing, copied, for the convenience or imposition of their patrons, engraved prints in their compositions, that is the altarpiece of St. Bernard of Leire. Made at the end of the third decade of the 17th century by Juan de Berroeta and polychromed, most probably, by the monk Juan Bautista Perurena (c. 1582 -1664), it has a heraldic repertoire of crosses of various military orders, among which the Spanish and Portuguese orders of Cistercian affiliation stand out: Calatrava, Alcántara, Montesa, Avis, Cristo and Ala de San Miguel. The most important ones are placed under the cross of the Inquisition, next to a Latin registration in which the relation of the latter with the previous ones is glossed. The reason for this association must lie in a specific fact, since the abbot who ordered the altarpiece to be made, Fray Antonio de Peralta y Mauleón, was the son of the secretary of the Holy Tribunal of Navarre. In addition, other Cistercian monasteries, in the 17th century, had paintings of the Cistercian saint and inquisitor Pedro de Castronovo, murdered in 1208, in the context of his action against Cathars and Albigensians.
The reliefs of the altarpiece faithfully copy the engravings of the great edition of the illustrated life of St. Bernard, produced in Rome in 1587, with the degree scroll de Vita et miracula divi Bernardi Bernardi Clarevalensis abbatis, which was made possible thanks to the Cistercian Congregation of the Crown of Castile and the sponsorship of Cardinal Jerónimo Rusticucio, protector of the Spanish Bernardines. The models of its prints are due to the famous Antonio Tempesta and their execution to Querubino Alberti, Filippo Galle and other notable engravers. The scenes of the altarpiece focus on various visions of St. Bernard: Christmas Eve, the souls in purgatory, his healing in the presence of the Virgin, St. Benedict and St. Bernard, as well as the lactatio and the embrace of the Crucified. The relief of the attic recreates the saint abandoning the world and embracing the cross and the arma Christi, before the Virgin and the Crucified, plus six mitres at his feet, alluding to the dignities he refused. This composition, which copies the last of the engravings in the book, is inspired by another print of St. Augustine, the work of Antonio Lafreri.
In the reading of the altarpiece, it should be noted the choice of passages that fit with the monastic life and its great challenges, such as the rejection of the world, the love of Christ and the Virgin, without forgetting the intercession for the souls in purgatory, themes very typical of the post-Tridentine era. In final, the exaltation of sanctity through the purity of faith and the fight against its enemies are glossed, as well as the contemplation of those who have retired to live in the solitude of the monastery.
The altarpiece of Saints Nunilo and Alodia and a hypothesis about their titular saints
It was made by the sculptor Juan de Berroeta in 1633 and is located in the chapel of the Holy Sacrament of the monastic church. In its contract of execution, published by Juan Cruz Labeaga, it is clearly indicated that the saints' bundles were already in the monastery. The question about their chronology and style arises immediately and a careful analysis of the carvings shows that they do not correspond to the hand of the rest of the reliefs and that they do not match the aesthetics of Romanism or Michelangelesque Mannerism practiced by Juan de Berroeta, based on the models of Juan de Anchieta.
The elegant forms of both bulks take us to a time prior to the aforementioned style, to a refined Renaissance and to the orbit of an author of great quality, who can be none other than Friar Juan de Beauves (c. 1525-c.1592), author of the Unzu altarpiece and much sought after by clients and artists throughout the Early Renaissance period and the transition to Romanism. Discussing this hypothesis with Professor Pedro Echeverría of the University of the Basque Country, with whom we studied the aforementioned sculptor, we have come to this conclusion and, above all, to the reflection that, in order to evaluate the pieces, it is necessary to do so from different historical and formal considerations.
Their wide faces, large eyes, delicate superimposed clothing, as well as the classicism that both carvings breathe lead us to the aforementioned master, son of Peti Juan de Beauves who worked in the choir stalls of Pamplona. Between 1533 and 1537 he apprenticed with Gabriel Joly in the Aragonese capital, becoming familiar with the Italian models. Uprooted, adventurous and hermit (San Jorge, outside the walls of Pamplona, San Salvador de Villanueva de Araquil and Santa Teodosia de San Vicente de Álava) he lived off the work provided by other masters who subcontracted the sculpture for different altarpieces, as they were required to have the images "by the hand of the friar". Pierres Picart, his father's companion in the Pamplona ashlars, associated him with his works in the altarpieces of Huarte-Araquil (1557-59), San Juan de Estella (1563), Santo Domingo de Pamplona (1570-74) and Irañeta. His hand is also present in the reliefs and bulks of those of Esquíroz and Lumbier.
The hypothesis of his authorship for the carvings of the martyrs of Leire becomes stronger if we take into account that, after his time in the inquisitorial prison in Logroño, in 1570, the adventurous hermit, not very fond of following rules, had decided to retire to the monastery of Leire, which leads us to suppose that he knew the monks, possibly because he had worked for them. The testimony of the sculptor Lope de Larrea in June 1571 states: "that it may be a summer and a half, a little more or less, that Frai Joan de Beaubues at this time, being determined to go to Sant Saluador de Leire, monastery of the Bernardos in the kingdom of Nauarra, to collect himself".
The fact that both carvings have not been correctly catalogued is due in part to their polychromy, coeval with that of the altarpiece and work of 1638. With great probability it is due to the monk of Narvarte, Juan Bautista Perurena who professed in 1616, according to the stone registration published by Father Ramón Molina and was related to Cristóbal Carrasco, the best painter of Sangüesa at the time. His work outside the monastery brought him some sums of money, with which he founded a foundation of masses, as Luis J. Fortún reports in his monograph.
As the sculptures of the saints no longer have the polychromy and incarnation of half a century ago when they were carved (with a greater profusion of gold and without natural motifs), the unity that characterizes polychrome sculpture has been lost. In other words: the polychrome language no longer keeps unity and harmony with the style of the sculpture itself, which always makes a correct cataloguing difficult.
From the rich collection of paintings
Very few of the paintings that adorned the rooms of the monastery have been preserved. Among them were the portraits of kings. Specifically, in the inventory of 1809, "ten portraits of princes and kings" are noted at conference room in the abbey palace and "two portraits of king and queen" in the dormitory of the same place. However, other canvases have come down to us, such as those of St. Bernard and St. Benedict in the sacristy and that of St. Virila, remarkable for its quality and iconographic rarity.
Only one is signed with a very lost registration , so far uninterpreted. It is a canvas of the Rest at the Flight into Egypt, topic clearly of the Counter-Reformation, full of intimacy and tenderness, which gave artists the opportunity to depict trees, ruins, clouds, blue distances and luminous rivers, in a context in which, as E. Mâle observed, austerity seemed to have banished the landscape of religious art, so that nothing would distract from the piety in the contemplation of sacred scenes.
An analysis of the registration provides at least two clues, the Latin name of Zaragoza, where the canvas was made in 1637, as well as the surname Aranegui. The identification of the latter with Fray Juan de Arranegui, procurator of the monastery and its secretary that same year of 1637, does not seem to leave any doubt. Regarding the author, the last letters before the f (fecit) and the ending of the author's surname , specifically "van", would lead us to the painter born in Luesia and established in the Aragonese capital Juan Galván (1596-1658). The formal analysis of the composition and its coloring, as well as the mastery of chiaroscuro and its dimensions, fit with the works of the aforementioned painter, whom his fellow countryman Jusepe Martínez refers to as a fan of "large paintings in the Italian manner". After a stay in Rome, he returned to the Aragonese capital, where he became painter of the Diputación of that kingdom. Galván knew how to give great prominence to the figures of the Holy Family, placed in the foreground, highlighting the reds of the clothes of Mary and the Child who, by the way, plays with a goldfinch. Thematically, it is also a double Trinity because, above the Holy Family, we find God the Father and the dove of the Paraclete. The large landscape with numerous details acquires, as we have pointed out, true protagonism in the whole.
Among the paintings of the 17th century, there is another one very close in time to the one we have just mentioned. It is a Nazareth Workshop, without the presence of the Virgin. It is interesting B because it can be read in the light of some contemporary texts that present the Child as in the painting: picking up splinters and putting two of them together in the form of a cross. An example of this is the work of the Valencian comedian Guillén de Castro El mejor esposo, composed between 1618 and 1625, in which there is a moment in which St. Joseph sends his officers away and is left alone in the workshop with the young Jesus. While sawing and planing one of the boards to make a door, two small splinters cross by chance and form a cross, and seeing thus the timbers, Jesus quickly takes them and recites some allusive verses, which read as follows: "How well they look like this / how much I rejoice in hair / For by my divine being / so important they will be / that in this form in which they are / gates of heaven they must be / through my pious blood / for me on them poured / Blessed cross, my bride, / for that blissful day / you will be my royal throne / and the immortal Chair / where I suffer, / of my love I will read / the heavenly doctrine."