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The balance, attribute and symbol


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Diario de Navarra

Ricardo Fernández Gracia

Chair of Heritage and Art in Navarre

As with other objects, in the case of the balance, its use and function determined that, since ancient times, it has taken on certain meanings that have passed through different historical periods and different cultures. According to Tervarent, we know that the scales are an expression in profane art of the goddess Themis, of moderation, prudence, melancholy, time, fame, virtue, dialectics and fortune. However, first and foremost, it accompanies the virtue of justice. In the strictly religious art it is associated, among other saints, with St. Michael, St. Antoninus or St. Maurus and St. Clare of Montefalco.

We will provide some examples of Navarre's heritage around the presence of the scales, to reread some images and interpret them in their context, in the light of the thought of Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, who speaks of discovering "the arcane of things that seem vulgar and are marvelous" .

With justice

The identification of the allegory of justice is given by several attributes. It often appears blindfolded and is frequently accompanied by the sword and the scales, the latter as a symbol of balance and equity. The codifier of allegories, Cesare Ripa, states in his Iconology ( 1593) that it could also be accompanied by a bundle of rods, a flame of fire and an ostrich, for various reasons that he argues. In the French edition (Gravelot-Cochin, Paris, 1791) of Ripa's work, it is described as follows: "The emblem generally accepted to designate Justice is the scale that weighs the rights of the citizen and the sword that serves to avenge these same offended rights". The blindfolded eyes speak of justice that must act without eyes for anyone, because the judge's opinion will always be hidden until the sentence is passed.

Its presence is important in the reliefs of the Romanesque altarpieces, and even in some earlier and early Baroque ones. Together with their titulars, the Virgin or the martyrs, it came very well to make a catechetical and even commendatory speech of them, always adapting each virtue to the saint in question, for example, fortitude and justice always with Saint Michael ... etc. Sometimes, justice and the rest of the cardinal virtues, as in the altarpiece of Ezcároz and the one of the monastery of La Oliva, reached the category of large round lumps, but the usual thing is to find them in reliefs that represent them lying down, adapting to the rectangles of the benches of the successive bodies of the altarpieces. The ashlar of the parish of Aguilar de Codés, from the second third of the 16th century, is a good and early example of the representation of allegories, as can be seen in its panels. In the main altarpieces of Cábrega, Learza, Ugar, Olazagutía, Berrioplano, Tirapu, Arellano and Muruzábal and in collateral altarpieces of Azagra, Ochagavía, Garisoain, Lumbier, Villatuerta or Mañeru, among others, one can contemplate the theological and cardinal virtues with their corresponding attributes. Justice, almost always, carries the scales as an attribute that allows us to identify it.

In the 18th century, we can highlight the allegories of the façade of the Pamplona City Hall and the wooden sculptures of the chapels of Santa Ana de Tudela and the Virgen del Camino de Pamplona.

St. Michael weighing souls

Among the most widespread iconographic types of the figure of the archangel Michael, given his great fame as earthly guardian and savior of souls, stands out the one represented with a scale on which the souls are weighed at the Last Judgment. With the Greek term psychostasis, the weight of the spirit is indicated, for the sake of eternal salvation or damnation. To the holy archangel would correspond that action of the good and bad actions, in a scene that usually appears the devil, using all subject of tricks to tilt the scales in his favor.

The sculptural reliefs of the weighing of the souls of the parish of San Miguel de Estella, Santa María de Sangüesa and Larumbe belong to Romanesque art. During the Gothic period we find the scene in different arts and supports. From the 16th century, we should mention the triptych panel of the Visitation of Olite, of the most beautiful invoice, as well as the painting by Juan del Bosque of the altarpiece of Burlada. Both works can be seen in the Museum of Navarra. In the baroque images it is not usually frequent, but we find it in the great eighteenth-century sculpture of the castle of Javier.

The scales were the reason why Saint Michael was acclaimed by patron saint by the trades that made use of this element: confectioners, waffle makers, spice merchants and haberdashers.

Clare of Montefalco: the scales with Trinitarian evocations

Of the rest of the saints that carry scales as an attribute, we only have to highlight the presence in Navarre of the Augustinian penitent nun Clara de Montefalco (1268-1308), famous for her visions and ecstasies before the Passion of Christ, experiencing some signs of it. Her beatification in 1737 caused her to be represented both in sculptures and paintings, especially in the convents of the Order of St. Augustine.

Among the attributes that identify her is a scale with three small stones. The issue three must be placed in consonance with the Trinitarian iconography of St. Augustine, but in this case there is a legendary fact that speaks of the three stones found in her gall bladder. A biographer of the 15th century (Carrara) explained how by arranging the round stones in different ways on the scales, they always weighed the same, so that "they signify that in the Holy Trinity there is only one God and three persons". Various historians of the order, such as Cariolano and Orozco, picked up the story and popularized it. The commendatrixes of Puente la Reina keep a canvas (c. 1737) and a sculpture of the saint, this one is the work of Francisco Pejón (1756) in their main altarpiece.

In the series of Augustinian saints of the Augustinian convent of Marcilla, painted by the Sevillian painter José María Romero between 1890 and 1891, we find Saint Clare of Montefalco, visionary and participant in the Passion of Christ, who appears conversing with a Nazarene, evoking the Seville style. As we have indicated and because of her Trinitarian devotion, she is accompanied by the scales with the three stones that always weighed the same, in spite of their arrangement in the saucers. sample also her heart with the arma Christi.

The canvas of the Christ of the Rescue of Valencia in Tudela

From the Antonianos of Tudela, an interesting canvas from the mid-17th century is preserved in the staircase of the palace of the Marquises of Huarte, which represents the story of the Christ of the Rescue that received secular worship since 1539 in the disappeared Augustinian convent of San José and Santa Tecla and is currently in the parish of San Esteban de Valencia.

It narrates the acquisition of a sculpture in Muslim lands in North Africa by a Christian. In the background, a bonfire appears in which the sculpture was going to be destroyed and burned, in the center the weight and the sale of the sculpture and in the lower part the Christian knights Pedro and Andrés de Medina who observe the miracle of the balance that does not admit "neither more nor less" than the thirty silver coins, since it had been agreed that the Crucified would be given to the Medina brothers for its weight in silver coins.

The poor artistic quality of the canvas is compensated by the details of all subject that can be seen in the painting: costumes, attitudes, faces, headdresses and the great scale.

The history of the image of the Cristo del Rescate was well known in its time. According to the oral and written account collected in the tradition, at the beginning of the 16th century, the pirates of Algiers boarded a ship in the Mediterranean Sea on its way to Barcelona, seizing the cargo and the crew. The crew members were sold as slaves in the Algiers market and among the seized cargo was the carved wooden image of a Crucified Christ. The pirates threw the carving of Christ into the fire and were surprised to see how the fire did not consume the wood.

In Algiers, at that time, the brothers Pedro and Andrés de Medina were negotiating the liberation of a sister of theirs, who years before had been kidnapped in an attack of pirates in the Valencian coast. When the brothers learned of the miracle that had occurred with the Christ, they appeared before the pirate chief with the intention of paying a ransom for the image. They agreed that the price of the ransom would be the weight of the carving in silver coins. Placed the Crucifix on a scale, again a miracle was worked, because the weight plate only admitted thirty silver coins, not one more, so the pirate, much to his regret, had to submit the image to the Medina brothers, who embarked to Valencia in 1539.

Weighing: silversmiths' trades and scales

In the one of the Judgment of Tudela the bad practice of the butcher, deceiving in the weight and perhaps in the own kind of meat, is protagonist of one of his dovelas where as in the case of the money changers he realizes the sin of the avarice, trying to obtain illicit gains. The butcher puts his hand on the scales, tilting it in his favor, and the meat he sells may be that of the dog next to him. In this way, merchants who manipulate quality and weight, as well as lying and perjury, in order to obtain higher profits than they should, are censured. Thus, it is justified with the close representation of the punishment to the butchers, in which two characters with big knives introduce the hands in the mouth of an infernal being, that as B. Mariño has identified, acts as the Bocca della Verità that, like the one of Rome, closes on the hand of the perjurers.

Some town councils have preserved together with the weights, measures and scales with which the revisions were carried out in establishments and stores of their localities. In the Fitero Town Hall there is a large scale with a wrought iron scale, dated 1713.

Finally, we must mention some wooden cases with small weights and scales that silversmiths, coin dealers, jewelers or diamond cutters used to accurately weigh gold and silver coins. Some are true collector's and museum pieces. Their interest is increased in some cases because their weights include the names of the faithful contrasts that appear marking the silver, as happens with the cases with their scales, where the silversmiths Pedro Antonio Sasa (1745-1831) and Joaquín Vicente Sasa, marker between at least 1818 and 1826, include next to the scales the weights conveniently marked, the coat of arms of Navarre.