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Women in the Arts and Letters in Navarre (10). The female portrait: the visibilization of women


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Diario de Navarra

Pilar Andueza Unanua

Professor at the University of La Rioja and member of the Chair de Patrimonio y Arte Navarro.

Diario de Navarra, in partnership with the Chair of Heritage and Navarrese Art of the University of Navarra, addresses, monthly, with the help of specialists from various universities and institutions, aspects on the relationship of women with the arts and literature in Navarra.

Leaving aside religious and mythological painting and sculpture, where the female figure was abundantly lavished, throughout history, practically only portraiture has been able to turn specific women, with names and surnames, into protagonists of some part of the artistic field. In fact, with a few exceptions, until a few decades ago women have been silenced as artists, as patrons and promoters of the arts, as collectors or as managers of art workshops, a secular invisibilization that fortunately has begun to revert by turning them into the center of numerous investigations.

Since Antiquity, human beings have shown their desire to be represented through the arts. Classical Greece gave birth to a portrait subject aimed at defeating death and perpetuating the individual through the fame and glory acquired by his works. After the Age average, where this genre declined enormously, the Renaissance, nourished by Humanism, recovered this idea of the report. As a result, and thanks to the power of images, portraiture spread from the 15th century onwards among royalty, nobility and the high ecclesiastical hierarchy, opening up to other social groups, such as the bourgeoisie, and definitely giving entrance to women, although in issue significantly less than men. Verosimilitude, rigor, dignity and respect would be the recommendations given by the treatise writers for its development.


The first female portraits preserved in Navarre date back to the Middle Ages average. It is a limited group that is manifested through two formulas: as a donor and through her effigy on her tomb.

sponsor The donor of a work was used by some notable people to represent themselves next to a sacred image in a propagandistic act that showed at the same time their particular devotions. These medieval representations placed the donor in a marginal area of the scene, in small size, from profile, kneeling, richly dressed and without any physical resemblance. The first women portrayed are found in several Gothic altarpieces painted in the first half of the 15th century. They appear accompanied by their husbands, flanking the titular saint. Without wanting to cite all the examples, we highlight Toda Sánchez de Yarza, who appears with her husband Martín Périz de Eulate, mazonero of the royal works, both in the altarpiece of San Nicasio and San Sebastián (1402), today in the National Archaeological Museum, and in the one dedicated to Santa Elena (1416), which they commissioned for the chapel they owned in the parish of San Miguel in Estella, where they also placed her tomb, in which they were represented again.

Another significant example can be found in the cathedral of Tudela, which houses the altarpiece of Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza, at whose feet the painter Bonanat Zahortiga represented Isabel de Ujué and her husband, the chancellor Francés de Villaespesa, in 1412, also for their own funeral chapel. This model with the donors was prolonged in time, as can be seen in Jerónima de Ezpeleta, who with her husband Gaspar Enríquez de Lacarra, lord of Ablitas, is situated in the attic of the main altarpiece of her parish, adoring the Ecce Homo (1657).

The funerary portrait

The representation of the deceased lying on his sarcophagus was marked in medieval Navarre by the guidelines imposed by the monarchs. In the cathedral of Pamplona is the splendid sepulchre Exempt of Carlos III and his wife Leonor, made by Jehan Lome between 1413 and 1419, whose influence was B in those years. In a prayerful attitude, and quite hieratic, the full-length portraits are placed under gothic canopies and rest their feet on a lion, symbol of power, and on two greyhounds that dispute a bone, alluding to human life gnawed by time. While the monarch wears the ceremonial attire of his coronation and sample a face of a certain realism, that of the queen is more idealized. She wears a very long and low-cut skirt, a surcoat enriched by a vertical band of goldwork and a crown under which a hairnet adorned with goldwork appears.

The tomb of Juana Beunza and her husband Pere Arnaut de Garro, located in the cloister of the Pamplona church, corresponds to the same courtly environment and to the same dates. Again in a praying attitude, he wears armor as a knight, while she sample wears a long fashionable dress, a double necklace with a medallion and a headdress of horns with a veil.

The majestic polychrome tomb of the aforementioned Isabel de Ujué and her husband Villaespesa, located in their chapel in Tudela, dates from the twenties of the 15th century, but is not related to the aesthetics of Lome and in connection with Aragon. He is dressed as a lawyer, she is adorned with a long dress -hopalanda- tightly belted, with a V-neckline and high neckline at the back, wide hanging sleeves and a beautiful roll headdress. Between her fingers she slips two-strand prayer beads topped by a cross that hangs from her shoulders.

The arrival of the Modern Age promoted a new modality in the burials, where the portrait of the deceased left its recumbent position to be kneeling and praying, following the typology imposed by Pompeo Leoni in the mausoleums of Charles V and Philip II in El Escorial. Located under an arcosolium, in Navarre we only have two examples of this subject in which women appear in effigy. These are the funerary monument of Sancho el Fuerte and his wife Clemencia de Tolouse, a work from the beginning of the 17th century preserved in the collegiate church of Roncesvalles, and the tomb of Martín Carlos de Mencos, Admiral of the Ocean Sea and General of the Navy of Naples, and his wife María Turrillos, in the convent of the Conceptionist Recollects of Tafalla, which they sponsored. With great baroque apparatus, the latter is dated 1739, although the portraits are dressed in an anachronistic costume, like the monarchs, typical of the previous century.

The modern portrait in painting

Unfortunately, female portraits of the Modern Age are also very scarce. Outside the funerary sphere, the most outstanding ones correspond to Catalina de Alvarado, Marquise of Montejaso, and Manuela Munárriz, Marquise of Murillo. Both were executed in the Villa and Court of Madrid, next to those of their respective husbands, Juan de Ciriza, secretary of Felipe III, and Juan Bautista de Iturralde, minister of Finances with Felipe V. They were destined, with a clear communicative purpose, to the convents that both couples sponsored in Navarre: the Augustinian Recollect nuns of Pamplona and the Poor Clares of Arizkun. Of extraordinary quality are the canvases of the Marquises of Montejaso signed by Antonio Rizzi in 1617, who followed with precision the elegance of the courtly models. In contrast to the austerity of the man, that of Catalina de Alvarado denotes great virtuosity and meticulousness. With a realistic face, she appears with a black sackcloth with slashed sleeves under which the silver-embroidered sleeves show and are finished with lace cuffs that match the large ruff. She completes her image, like the queens and infantas, with a diadem and abundant and extraordinary jewels. The Marquise, who, thanks to the use of the cotilla and the green hair, conveys a majestic hieratism, caresses a white dog, symbol of fidelity, placed on a buffet dressed with a crimson carpet. Much simpler, like that of her husband, is that of Manuela Munárriz, a work attributed to Antonio González Ruiz, who must have arrived from Madrid to Baztán around 1739. The lady, seated in front of a table with a large curtain in the background, wears a dark green velvet dress adorned with a golden braid and is adorned with a diadem, earrings and a cross on her neck, all made of gold and diamonds. A prayer book in her hand and a prayer card of St. Dominic on the table show her deep religious convictions.

The desire to show society the professional, economic and social prestige achieved can be seen in the paintings of those who were part of "the Navarrese time of the 18th century", mainly businessmen and military men. The portrait of Mª Antonia de Goyeneche e Indaburu from Madrid, of Baztan descent, daughter of the Marquises of Belzunce and the Counts of Saceda, and granddaughter of Juan de Goyeneche, who came to Pamplona to marry Joaquín Vicente Borda y Goyeneche, belongs to these families. It was painted in Madrid in 1768 by an unknown author. Of a little more than half a body and seated, she was dressed in a French style dress, in orange yellow with embroidered flowers. Undoubtedly, the most significant part of the painting are the jewels she wears: a large louse adorning her hair, and an adornment consisting of earrings and a throat piece formed by a diamond ribbon sewn to a black velvet ribbon around her neck. This adornment, as well as the carnation sample in her hand - symbol of fidelity - are surprisingly similar to those offered by Mª Luisa de Parma in the portrait of her painted by Anton Raphael Mengs three years earlier.

Throughout the Modern Age also enjoyed some representations of female cloisters, while some women were present, albeit in a very popular and naive way, in the votive offerings given in some sanctuaries.

The advent of photography

The 19th century extraordinarily expanded the development of portraiture with the introduction of photography as an artistic technique, favoring with it the proliferation and extension of the female presence, either individually, as a couple or within the family group . They were initially made in a studio, with a fixed backdrop, and among the authors were photographers such as Coyné, Dulcloux, Pliego, Zaragüeta, Roldán, Mena, Ibáñez and even amateurs such as Altadill, who portrayed his wife and other family members on numerous occasions. At the same time, the female portrait continued development, now demanded, as was the case with photography, by the bourgeoisie. García Asarta, Nicolás Esparza, Enrique Zubiri, Javier Ciga or Miguel Pérez Torres offered female representations, but it is necessary to emphasize that their issue was substantially inferior to the male one. The genre would be prolonged in the second half of the 20th century by artists such as José María Ascunce or César Muñoz Sola.

In recent decades, women have also entered the galleries of institutional portraits, a modality with many centuries of history that, fortunately, both the Parliament and the Provincial Council were able to recover. While Tomás Muñoz Asensio executed those corresponding to the Presidents of the Parliament of Navarre, Lola Eguren and Elena Torres, Monika Aranda portrayed Ainhoa Aznárez. On the other hand, Elena Goñi's brushes produced the portrait of Yolanda Barcina, first president of the Navarrese government, while Iñaki Lazcoz offered the portrait of the second woman in the position, Uxue Barkos. New times, new mentalities, new artistic languages for a millenary artistic genre capable of doing justice to women.