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Misplaced jewels (5). Two singular displaced pictorial sets


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Diario de Navarra

Ricardo Fernández Gracia

Director of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

The abundant canvases of painting that the monasteries and convents of Navarre treasured before the nineteenth-century exclaustration were very damaged, to the point that almost all of them disappeared. The inventories are quite eloquent in this respect. Portraits of kings, sibyls, illustrious personages, in addition to religious themes, dressed the walls of the different rooms. We are going to examine a couple of sets located out of context but which, exceptionally, have reached our days.

From the sacristy of the monastery of La Oliva

In the first decade of the XVII century, once the sacristy of the monastery of La Oliva was finished in 1606, with a purist architecture project , it was decorated with a beautiful chest of drawers made by Juan de Berganzo, between 1607 and 1608. That furniture was largely destroyed, when another new chest of drawers was made in 1781, with inlays of different woods, at position by a layman of the monastery, called Fray Baltasar Gonzalez.

The Seo-Classic backrests of the chest of drawers, beautifully arranged and articulated between an order of classical columns with their corresponding pedestals and entablatures, had a better fate. They are paintings, made around 1610, most probably by Juan de Frías Salazar or Francisco Adán, that contributed to the whole of the sacristy a grade of beauty and color. In them an apostleship was represented, executed in a tardomanierismo, not Exempt of certain realistic characteristics and of incipient tenebrism in the treatment of the lights. In the bases, richly polychrome, we find a series of anchorite saints.

All the paintings were moved in the 19th century to the parish of Murillo el Fruto, along with other belongings of the monastery. In the middle of the 20th century, they were installed in the chapel of a house of nuns in Pamplona. Fortunately, the only series of the time of these characteristics in a parish or convent sacristy in Navarra was saved. 

The anchorite and penitent saints are unique in these lands, as we know of no other similar series. Their choice is in harmony with the success of the prints by Sadeler, Collaert, Leu and Leclerc and, particularly, with the 27 plates that illustrate the Oraculum Anachoreticum, with models by Martin de Vos and edited at the end of the 16th century in Venice by J. Sadeler. The presence of those fathers of the wilderness had become fashionable since repertoires of that subject were made for El Escorial and other singular destinations. Father José de Sigüenza, chronicler of El Escorial, justified their presence because "they bring to the religious some object that recreates the sight and awakens devotion in the soul, so that no idle step is taken, nor thoughts are vainly spilled".

The series of St. Elias of the Carmelitas Calzados de Pamplona, today in Leire

In 1704, the presence in Navarre of the Italian painter Pedro Jacobo de Bari is documented. Curiously, a century before, another Italian, Orazio Borghiani, had also been in Navarre.

Among Jacobus Bari's work in the capital of Navarre, the series of the history of St. Elias, which he contracted for the Carmelitas Calzados and which is currently in the cloisters of the monastery of Leire, after having passed through the old monastery of the Augustinian Sisters of St. Peter and the warehouses of the Diocesan Museum of Pamplona, stands out. 

The Carmelitas Calzados of Pamplona made two contracts, one with Bari and another with Antonio Rico Sánchez from Pamplona, with whom he lived in "house and company", who came out manager and guarantor of the previous one, because Bari was a foreigner and did not have property located in Navarra. The guild legislation was very clear in this respect and prohibited the hiring of teachers who had not been examined. The document is quite exceptional because hardly any contracts referring to easel painting are preserved in the Baroque centuries. The price of each of the twenty-five canvases was 100 reales per unit. The most important clause is the one that fixes the subjects to be represented, which would be done "according to the prints that the said father prior will give him, which he must copy according to the art and with all the possible perfection, with the finest colors that the images and other bodies to be copied from the said prints, which the said prior must indicate at his will". We have been able to find out the models chosen by the prior, Friar Alberto de Senosiain. They are the engravings that illustrate a very beautiful book of Father Daniel de la Virgen María, graduate Speculum Carmelitanum sive Historia Eliani, published in Antwerp in 1680. The compositions of the engravings were the work of Abraham Van Diepenbeeck.

In the convent of the same Carmelite order in Tudela, another identical series was conserved that could be due to the brushes of the same Italian master. Today it is kept, in part, in the Museo Decanal of the capital of Tudela. 

Dated and signed by the same painter Jacobus Bari and in the same year of 1704, there is a canvas of St. Augustine in the sacristy of the Parish of Elcano, which makes pendant with another of similar size and style representing St. Anton.