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

Works and days in Navarrese art (19). Evoking the five senses

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 16:20:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The 17th century was rich in the specific and allegorical representation of the five senses. Among the most outstanding paintings were those of Jan Brueghel at the Prado. M. Emmans considers that these representations, which he calls cabinet d'amateur, were a specific Flemish genre that was born in Antwerp in the seventeenth century and was projected in numerous painters. We do not possess something similar in the Navarrese heritage, although it is very possible that in the noble collections there were examples, in tune with the sensuality and symbolism of the Baroque.

On the other hand, we can trace the role of the five senses in some well-known figurative representations, always with the aim that artists and patrons reached a greater empathy with those who contemplated them. Let us look at some examples.


The smell

The paradigmatic work in Navarrese art of the representation of smell, specifically of bad smell, is the capital of the Resurrection of Lazarus in the cloister of the cathedral of Tudela. It is one of the best capitals of the whole, both in technique and composition, and belongs to the first construction phase, from 1180. The detail and anecdote of one of the characters who attends the event holding his nose is glossed in the text of St. John: "Remove the stone". Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied: "Sir, it smells bad; he has been dead for four days".

The good smell is insinuated in the large vases of the easel painting of the Baroque period and in those painted in fresco in some sets, such as the interior of the parish church of Los Arcos. Jasmines, lilies, roses and carnations can be found quotation in painting, often as sub-themes, especially in canvases of the Immaculate Conception, but also in gardens and balustrades, as in the canvas of San Fermín de las Comendadoras de Puente la Reina. To the symbolic character of these flowers, we must add, obviously, the merely sensorial and evocative nature of their beauty and scent.

Another call to smell is found in the knob that accompanies Mary Magdalene as an attribute, which is referred to in the texts of Matthew, Mark and Luke as an alabaster vessel, because of its suitability for preserving aromas, although only Mark states that the perfume was pure nard. In almost all his representations, whether as a penitent, with the angels, in his death and transit, in the burial of Christ, on Calvary or wiping the feet of the Lord, the knob always has its particular prominence.

A special chapter is made up of pieces of gold and silverware directly related to scent: censers and incense burners for containing incense from different periods, as well as perfumers.  


The ear

The calls and winks to the ear are numerous and are present in all artistic periods. The instrumental ensembles of Gothic sculpture and painting stand out in a special way. The cloister of the cathedral of Pamplona offers a rich repertoire of instruments studied by Clara Fernández-Ladreda and Enrique Galdeano. The precision of the instruments and the hands of the musicians on them give an impression of great realism. The mural of the cathedral refectory (Juan Oliver, 1335) also presents an important group of stringed instruments, evocative of late medieval melodies, which were played with them.

The varied musical instruments that accompany the glories of so many paintings, from the birth of Christ to the multiple visions of saints, particularly those of Santa Teresa, place us in evocations of the celestial, impossible to contemplate without special sounds. Let us recall the instrumentalist angels of works by Berdusán (Asunción de Viana, 1687 or transverberation of Saint Teresa of Fitero, 1691), the glory of the canvas of the Foundation of the Trinitarian Order of Carreño in the convent of Pamplona (1666) today in the Louvre, or the angels of some eighteenth-century domes. The paintings of the baroque domes of the chapels of the Sartolo family in San Jorge de Tudela and of San Román in Santiago de Sangüesa (Miguel Pimpinela, 1725) contain sets of stringed and wind instruments that call to a reverie with their sounds.

The trumpets of Fame that illustrate so many frontispieces of books and the façade of Pamplona's city hall or the throne of Santa Ana in Tudela also place us before a rhetoric of symbols and very specific music, those that proclaimed the history and deeds of cities and protector saints.

Another meaning has the apocalyptic trumpets sounded by the angels in the scenes of the Last Judgment, very visible in the mural paintings of the renaissance choir of the cathedral of Tudela. It is also possible to relate the admonitory trumpet with texts of the prophet Ezekiel (33:5-6) that gave rise to the edition of don Juan de Palafox of his book graduate precisely Ezekiel's Trumpet.

The trumpet, alone or wielded by an angel who blows it, accompanies St. Jerome in his many Renaissance and, above all, Baroque representations. The aforementioned Father of the Church was represented as an intellectual and man of letters, a scholar of the classics, but also as a penitent. During the Counter-Reformation he was seen as model of penitents and the admonishing angel with the trumpet is always present in his representations. The musical instrument must be related to that of the Apocalypse or to the trumpet of Amos, which with its sound warned the people of Israel against idolatry, recalled in the texts and prayers of the Hieronymites: "Sive leges, sive dormies, sive scribes, sive vigilabis, Amos tibi semper luccina in auribus sonet". The trumpet heard by the saint can be found in the pendentives of the parish churches of Los Arcos (Juan de Mendoza, 1704) or the Rosary of Corella (Vicente Berdusán, 1670) and in canvases of several convents and the sacristy of Milagro. In some sculptures, such as the titular of his altarpiece in the cathedral of Pamplona (Francisco Jiménez Bazcardo, 1682), a small trumpet is incorporated next to the ear of the saint.

We cannot fail to mention the great organs with their fantastic cases where the pipes and instrumental angels remind us that their sounds, especially in the Baroque period, became part of the elements of power within the temple, while also being heard as a metaphor for the angelic hierarchies. Their voices and organ sounds constituted one of the most sensual means for the fascination of those who attended the ceremonies inside the temple.


The view

Art and its perception through sight, as the principal of the senses, was the subject of reflection by artists and treatises. Let us recall Leonardo's words: "Painting is a poetry that is seen without hearing it; and poetry is a painting that is heard and not seen; they are, then, these two poetries or, if you prefer, two paintings, which use two different senses to reach our intelligence. For if one and the other are painting, they will pass to the common sense through the nobler sense, which is the eye; and if one and the other are poetry, they will have to pass through the less noble sense, that is, the ear", or the reflection on painting in his Curso de pintura para príncipes (1676) extrapolated to the images of the painter Roger de Piles: "Painting must call the spectator... and the surprised spectator must come to it, as if to engage in conversation".

The sight will have its special reference letter in some passages like the doctor examining the urine, visible in so many images of the saints Cosme or Damian, or in the blind man of Jericho who recovers his sight in the cover of San Miguel de Estella of the end of the XII century, or in a tenebrist canvas of the cathedral of Pamplona. The healing of a blind man by San Veremundo in one of the reliefs of his chest (1583), preserved in Dicastillo, is also a good example.

Likewise, we have to mention other passages of blind people like the visit of Ananías to San Pablo blind in one of the capitals of the cloister of Tudela or the relief of Samson blind guided by a lazarillo of the gothic door of the Amparo of the cathedral of Pamplona. In both cases it is very clear what the loss of vision means.

We must not forget that in the figures and, especially in the portraits, the eyes monopolized the maximum expressiveness and therefore should be very careful parts in all images subject . In the capital of Navarre, in 1786, the Conversaciones de escultura (Conversations of Sculpture) was published, a work by Celedonio Nicolás de Arce, where rules are collected to represent the just man, the foolish, the foolish, the lustful... etc., always showing special interest in their looks.



The scene that best translates the role and value of touch in our heritage is that of the disbelief of the apostle St. Thomas, when he introduces his fingers into the wound of Christ. We have outstanding examples such as the late 12th century Tudela cloister capital, the sculpture of the Caparroso altarpiece in the cathedral of Pamplona (1507), the late 16th century Romanesque relief of the main altarpiece of Anocíbar, the work of Blas de Arbizu, or the Tenebrist canvas of Arróniz from the second third of the 17th century. In all these compositions the fingers of the apostle's hand and the side of Christ form the center of the compositional interest of the passage.

Other themes such as the visit of the Virgin to Saint Elizabeth also lend themselves to the idea that Mary takes her hand to the womb of her cousin, as if to corroborate what the biblical text narrates. This occurs in a panel of the altarpiece of the Assumption of the monastery of Fitero, from the last third of the 16th century.

In Navarre we do not have paintings in which the touch is refined to find out what the hand touches, whether they are sacred like Isaac and Jacob, when the latter, covered with sheepskin to pretend the rough coat of his brother Esau, obtains, with deceit and the complicity of his mother Rebecca, the blessing of his father Isaac. Nor do we have fables or genre paintings with blind people or portraits like the one of the philosopher Carneades who, having become blind, recognized by touch the bust of Paniscus. On the other hand, in the context of some miracles, such as that of St. Bernard the thaumaturge in Constance painted by Berdusán for the monastery of Veruela (1671), we can see the special role of the hands of the saint who imposes them on a child and on a blind man whom he heals. The hands of Saint Cecilia (Museum of Navarre, 1691) on the keyboard, by the same painter, are also another evocation of touch.

Moreover, it will not be superfluous to remember that the hands, together with the faces, were parts reserved in the workshops to the master sculptors and painters, given what they represented in the final result of the works. The hand is a speaking and eloquent organ, capable of transmitting different shades of meaning and emotion, something that was well known since Antiquity and that Quintiliano made very clear in his Institutio oratoria. An English doctor and researcher published in London (1644) his Chirology or the Natural Language of the Hands by John Bulwer, the most important guide of gestural language addressed to orators.

Hands of crucified, of judges of the poor in all painting and sculpture, a fortiori in that of the great masters have left a great variety of attitudes and moods.


The taste

The flavors were mostly hinted at in the well arranged tables with seasoned and well presented food. In general, we tended to find more quantity than quality when it came to representing tables set for dining.

Some foods, due to their detailed and repeated representation, undoubtedly constituted a call to the flavors. This was the case with grapes, especially those polychrome ones such as those on the façade of Santa María de Olite or those on the Solomonic columns of altarpieces such as those of the Yugo de Arguedas (1679) or the Musquilda de Ochagavía (1672).

Vegetables and fruits such as lettuce hearts and artichokes or apples, figs and pears of the baroque altarpieces are, likewise, other appeals to the flavors. Think of great examples, especially from 17th century workshops in Tudela, such as the Dominicas de Tudela (1689), the Romero de Cascante (ca. 1700), or Recoletas de Pamplona (1700) and how in their Structures plagued with the aforementioned foods, always with rich polychromies that revalue their sensuality.

The still life is the genre that can be most closely related to the sense of taste. The food, game, desserts and fruits represented in them were, undoubtedly, a lure for the appetite. However, they hardly exist in our artistic heritage, although several inventories include some examples. It will be painting, from the 19th century onwards, which will provide us with excellent representations of grapes and various fruits, sample .

The markets will also be another call to food. Canvases such as those of the Elizondo de Ciga Market , (Pamplona City Hall, 1914), or the Vendedora de verduras ( Museo de Navarra, c. 1933-34) by Miguel Pérez Torres give a good account of this, as do some photographs of markets, especially that of Estella, documented since the 12th century, and collected among other objectives by Hauser and Menet (1903) and Nicolás Ardanaz (1960).