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

Some representations of artisans and artists in the cultural heritage of Navarre

Fri, 18 Nov 2016 14:08:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Craftsmen, artists, useful and liberal arts

When dealing with the consideration of the arts and artists in the West, it is necessary to go back to the Greco-Roman period for a perfect understanding. The Western philosophical tradition formed a generic concept of art, derived from Aristotelian and scholastic notions: that of the Latin ars and Greek technique. Anaxagoras affirmed that man is the most intelligent of animals, "because he has two hands" and Aristotle turned this axiom upside down, imposing his intellectualist conception, by affirming that "man works with his hands because he is right". The Greeks used that term indifferently to designate any production made by man and the disciplines of know-how: carpenter, builder, weaver, flute player, painter..., but soon a differentiation between two great species appeared and Plato opposed the arts destined to pleasure (plastic, decorative and music) and the useful ones. In the Latin civilization, the arts were servile or liberal and were distinguished according to whether or not they required the body work : sculpture and painting were servile (Seneca) and music liberal, along with arithmetic and logic.

In the Middle Ages the liberal arts were aristocratic, proper to free and educated men, and implied a mental exercise more than guide (grammar, dialectics, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music). In a lower rank were the mechanics, today called plastic arts. Artisans had little or no social weight. In the Gothic period and in the cities, guilds of a corporate character appeared, for assistance, control and demand.

The concept of Beaux-Arts is much later, from plenary session of the Executive Council 18th century. Charles Batteaux, in his 1746 work Les Beaux-Arts réduits a un méme principe, coined the term Beaux-Arts, which he originally applied to dance, floriculture, sculpture, music, painting and poetry, later adding architecture and eloquence. Subsequently, the list would undergo changes according to the different authors who would add or subtract arts to this list.    


Some medieval examples


In the monumental sculpture of our medieval buildings we find several representations of artisans, of which we will point out some, as an example. A corbel in the church of La Magdalena in Tudela sample depicts a stonemason with a pot and a pointer. In the main apse of the monastery of Irache there are two corbels with stonemasons with their tools, specifically carrying hammer and picks with carving. On the façade of Santa María de Sangüesa, the famous blacksmith appears forging Siegfried's sword. In this regard, it should be remembered that in the twelfth century, when these works were made, there were no distinctions between architect, stonemason, mason, as they are understood today. The categories, headed by the master, were due more to an evolution in the apprenticeship process than to the profession itself. The master was in charge of the workshop, planned and distributed the work and was the manager of both the sculptural and the architectural itself.

In the Gothic period, within the 14th century, we must mention two descriptive capitals in the cloister of the cathedral of Pamplona that narrate the construction of Noah's ark, as well as the building of the tower of Babel. The first one begins with the figure of God on a cloud speaking to Noah and the construction of the ark itself with characters working with saw, axe and adze on a beam placed on a carpenter's bench. The one of the tower repeats the same motifs on both sides. In it appear workers with different instruments of work and it emphasizes above all the ascent of materials to the tower through ramps, with a woman carrying a container of mortar on her head, a stonemason with an ashlar on his shoulder and a carter collecting his salary and the submission of donations to the client of the work that appears seated. On one of the corbels of the façade of the Barbazana chapel, episodes from the life of St. Paul are narrated. Just behind the high priest who authorizes Paul to set Christians on fire, there is a sculptor with a mace and a kind of rounded chisel.

A pictorial version, dated 1800, by Diego Díaz del Valle, shows a sculptor working in the 15th century. It is the reliquary of San Sebastián de Tafalla, where the well-known legendary and miraculous story of the beret is narrated, which had as protagonist the master Janin de Lome when he was carving the sculpture of the saint back in 1426. According to what is narrated in the print that accompanies the reliquary: "While Juan Lome, stonemason, was carving Saint Sebastian in stone (who is venerated in the Royal Convent of Saint Francis of the Observant Fathers, and Patron Saint of the very Noble and Loyal City of Tafalla) he was offered to go home. When leaving he took off of his head the Cap (that is this same one of the buelta) and he put it on the head of the saint saying; SANTO GUARDA GORRA. The miracle happened in the year of one thousand four hundred and twenty-six. Bernardo López Marroquin y Sandoval, Franciscan Religious Observant, and Vicar of House of this Convent".


The compass and the square with Renaissance masters

Art became more erudite in the Renaissance, combining with great force optics, geometry, Anatomy, physiognomy, expression of passions, natural history, architecture, antiquarianism and mythology. The few representations we have of masters in the sixteenth century place special emphasis on placing the compass and square, to distinguish them from journeymen, stonemasons and masons.

In the main altarpiece of Ororbia (c.1523-24) we find painted stories of Saint Julian the Hospitaller, whose textual sources refer to the Golden Legend. The panel provides us with a chronicle of how construction was done in those decades, with great prominence of wood with the use of falsework, scaffolding, and elementary cranes. In the foreground, the patron San Julián converses with the master manager of the factory, who holds a small and delicate compass in his right hand, while an official cuts an ashlar, with the square, the compass and a brush next to him.

In the sacristy of the chapel of the Holy Spirit in the cathedral of Tudela there is an Early Renaissance panel that represents Saint Joseph in one of the first examples in which the saint is depicted as a young man. It is accompanied by a pair of donors and must be dated around 1540 and of Aragonese affiliation. A large square identifies the saint as a carpenter. However, it is the compass, strategically located in the central part of the seat, next to the donors, an element that seems to go beyond indicating the official document of the saint. It is a table that keeps its little secrets to be solved and that needs a very deep research .

In the altarpiece of the guild of carpenters and masons of the cathedral, we find Saint Joseph with his titular, Saint Thomas with the square in a relief from around 1560, belonging to an earlier altarpiece. The holy apostle, according to a third century apocryphon, would have been an architect, being commissioned by a king to build him a palace. Thomas received the money for the construction and distributed it among the needy. When the king wanted to see the palace, Thomas told him that, by giving the money to the poor, he had built him a palace in heaven. The king locked him up in prison, but later forgave him. The relief represents St. Thomas seated with his attribute, a huge mason's square, which responds both to the profession attributed to him in the legend and to the fact that he is patron saint of architects and geometricians.


An exceptional allegory of architecture in an academic context: Luquin 1763

The allegory of architecture that appears in the main altarpiece of the parish of Luquin is truly exceptional, especially because of its rarity in a sacred context. The fact that makes us understand its presence is related to its author, Lucas de Mena y Martínez, son and grandson of retablists who married the daughter of another artist, Dionisio de Villodas, in 1761, and went to the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid to perfect his art. He enrolled in that institution in October 1762, when he was twenty-five years old. Upon his return, with a cultural background and new airs, he contracted the Luquin altarpiece at the end of 1763, under the supervision of Silvestre de Soria, a work he would deliver in 1767. Its architectural lines and the quality of the imagery speak per se of a new style.

On the bench of the altarpiece we find some allegories, highlighting the geometry, accompanied by globe and compass and architecture. For the latter, design follows the recommendations of Cesare Ripa in his Iconology, when he describes her as a woman of mature age with bare arms, accompanied by compass and square - instruments of geometry - and a parchment on which a plant is drawn. She is also accompanied by two little genies who bring her a pencil holder, which speaks of the importance of drawing as the father of all the arts, and a square. He explains the age of the personification because "in the maturity of the age, to better show that the experience usually coincides in the man with the highest Degree of execution of his more ambitious works".

The allegorization is fully in tune with the generalization of the term "architect" with other connotations than those it had had until then. In Spain, from the middle of the 16th century, outside the theoretical-artistic context of some minorities, the architect was a quality assembler, capable of designing and planning an altarpiece, a choir stalls or the façade of a monumental organ. With the official document of architect, significant retablists are documented in all regions who handle with skill the gouges and, above all, those who are capable of tracing and planning, by means of a design, the two-dimensional or three-dimensional organization of altarpieces. The elaboration of tracings became so important that Madrid, as the capital of Spain, became in the 17th century a particularly renowned place for its elaboration, since it was in the Court where the best art was consumed. But it would be in the Age of Enlightenment when the discipline of architecture took on a new dimension with precise study plans contemplated as a result of the founding of the Royal Academy of San Fernando. Thanks to the control of the academies, a state architecture was imposed which, in the name of good taste, led to a certain uniformity, while also tackling regional peculiarities. The term "architect of the king" was even imposed to replace the outdated and old term "royal master builder".


Self-portraits of painters: two early examples and their generalization in contemporary times.

Some programs of study and specialists have wanted to see self-portraits of painters in some outstanding works of our painting of the fifteenth century, from the altarpiece of San Saturnino de Artajona, or the largest of Santa María de Olite or Cintruénigo, the latter works of Pedro de Aponte. They are still hypotheses that need more evidence for their correct reading and interpretation.

The true portrait of a master painter, as they were dressed in the second half of the 16th century, appears in the altarpiece of the Assumption of the monastery of Fitero, made around 1580-1590, which we once identified with Felices de Cáceres, but which needs to be revised. In any case, it is a special example from the time of Philip II, unique in the pictorial panorama of Navarre and very rare in the Spanish Renaissance. The painter, dressed as he is, wears the clothes that the apprentices of official document received on the day of their examination, constituting a magnificent example of how the artists of the brush adorned themselves, with their clothes, ferreruelo, greguescos, cap and stockings, all in black. The palette with the colors is another important testimony of the form of the mentioned object in those times.

However, to have a self-portrait with greater significance, with name and surname of its author, we will have to wait for the Age of Enlightenment. A Corellan artist who made his degree program in Madrid and Europe, Antonio González Ruiz (1711-1788), made a magnificent one. The painter went to the Villa y Corte, after the death of his parents, in order to perfect his art with Miguel Angel Houase. Later, he stayed for five years in Paris, Rome and Naples. His role in the creation and development of the Royal Academy of San Fernando was very prominent. He is the author of royal portraits and numerous cartons to be woven in the Royal Factory of Santa Barbara. The self-portrait is preserved in the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid and is an excellent work that stands out for its compositional balance and correct drawing. It is represented half-length with purple coat and curly wig, lively face and penetrating gaze. As a professed academic, he carries a folder full of papers and a pencil holder with charcoal and chalk to insist on the importance of drawing in the arts teaching . The self-portrait has been dated in 1760 by Arrese and in 1766 by Pérez Sánchez.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, self-portraits of painters are more abundant, in a context of social consideration of the painter, something that arrived in Navarre with a great delay with respect to other European countries and other peninsular territories. The XVII century had meant the passage of the professionals of the paintbrushes from the status of craftsman to that of artist. The painters signed their works, as a gesture of self-affirmation in their profession and even portrayed themselves, but that did not mean that those established in Navarre such as Vicente Berdusán, José Eleizegui, Pedro Antonio de Rada or Diego Díaz del Valle -the only one of all of them who practiced the genre of portraiture- made a self-portrait. They would have to blow other airs linked to the values of the contemporary stage so that in true test affirmative of their new status, they would take the brushes to leave us their own portraits.

Among the most significant self-portraits of high quality in their execution and perception are those of Javier Ciga, Emilio Sánchez Cayuela "Gutxi", Gerardo Sacristán, Gustavo de Maeztu, Martín Caro and Juan José Aquerreta, among others.