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The first painting of the Virgin of the Way in 1675


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Diario de Navarra

Ricardo Fernández Gracia

In a article that we published in this same newspaper on May 11, 2012 we made a evaluation and some reflections on the Virgen del Camino as a sign of religious identity of Pamplona: its ordinary and extraordinary festivals, rogations, chapel, demand, some of its images disclosed mainly in engravings and the name of Camino for the girls of the city, which began with María Camino Sierra y Ayerra (22-IV-1769), sponsored by Don Miguel Jerónimo Elizalde, secretary of the committee de Guerra.

From the 17th century until a few decades ago, it was the most popular Marian devotion among the people of Pamplona. Donations in the form of jewelry, cloaks, money and other prizes leave no doubt class, both among residents in the city, in its different social strata, and among those who had emigrated to other parts of the peninsula and particularly to the Indies.

The trompe l'oeil of 1675

The great Marian icons were reproduced in past times on canvases, prints and embroideries, in great detail, sometimes in their altarpieces or niches, which inspired the same respect, devotion and piety as in the chapels and temples where they were venerated. With the trompel'oeil (trompe l'oeil) painted trompe l'oeil was intended to intensify the reality, so that its contemplation did not leave a shadow of doubt, that is to say, that one did not even suspect that he was being deceived. The usual thing was to present them in a framework or box to make believe in something real enclosed.

To the known eighteenth-century Pamplona and New Spain canvases based on the copy of the engraving of the image with Saint Fermin and Saint Saturnine of 1721, the work of the silversmith Juan de la Cruz, we will add on this occasion a delicate canvas conserved in the Dominican Sisters of Jarauta Street, to whom I am grateful for their facilities for its study.

The singularity of the piece lies in the fact that it predates the representations of the image, all of them from the 18th century. sample the image as it was venerated in the second half of the 17th century, specifically in 1675, a year that coincides with the arrival of a silver medallion that the image has worn since then: the average moon sent in 1675 by Don Juan de Cenoz, treasurer of the Province of Yucatan, according to a registration that the piece has. The fact that the painting bears the aforementioned immaculist symbol and at the same time allusive to the burgh of San Cernin, makes us think about the possible destiny of the painting for the generous donor.

The painting lacks signature and preserves a long registration, dated 1675, in which indulgences are granted by the bishop of Pamplona fray Pedro de Roche.

The image in its scenography

Religious images, particularly those of the Virgin, which today look like static objects, give the impression that they have always been presented in the same way, which is not true, since aesthetics, taste and mentalities have changed their uses and forms. The venerable medieval Marian sculptures, simple and majestic, did not seem to satisfy, in the 17th and 18th centuries, when they were transformed into vestments. It was then when the seated virgins with the Child in their lap were reconverted into slender standing images, mutilating them in those parts that were in the way to dress them with aprons and cloaks and stuffed in bell-shaped clothes. The alterations in clothing, adornment and headdress were adjusted to fashion and taste, as well as to the vision of the sacred that the people had.

Since the XVI century and even more in the following centuries, the custom and fashion of dressing the images was generalized throughout Spain, in spite of the reticence of the diocesan authorities. The Synodal Constitutions of the bishopric of Pamplona, published in 1591, prohibited the custom of placing on the images "dresses and headdresses and curls which they never wore". 

As a typically baroque image, Our Lady of the Way appears on the canvas, with a rich mantle and apron, crown and rosette of gilded silver and stones, without missing some jewels, such as a huge chain and a large jewel. The pedestal is not the present one, but an earlier one from the middle of the 17th century, very similar to the one that the Virgin of Roncesvalles also had. Neither is the image of the Child Jesus. In both aspects the painting is a unique testimony of how the image was presented to the faithful at that time, when it was venerated in a chapel under the choir.

As is known, the current silver pedestal was made by Hernando de Yábar and Daniel Gouthier between 1701-1702. Subsequently, the silver image was covered between 1720 and 1721, due to its deterioration and woodworm and in imitation of San Fermin, the Virgin of the Tabernacle, San Fermin or San Miguel in excelsis. Finally, the current figure of the Infant Jesus dates from 1848 and was made by the silversmith Eugenio Lecumberri, according to a plan prepared by the painter Miguel Sanz Benito.

On the altar, there are also two angels, very similar to those of the Virgin of the Sagrario in the cathedral of Pamplona, as well as the typical hanging lamps.

Nor did they omit the uncovered curtain, an element that came from medieval times, when the velum was part of the staging of the altar image. The action of veiling and unveiling made concrete in those times the dialectic of the presentation of the images, of agreement with the liturgical function and the feast to be celebrated. The Virgin of the Way in her dressing room in the old chapel was always veiled, especially since 1705. The restrictions to unveil it were dictated by Bishop Miranda y Argáiz since 1744.