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Ricardo Fernández Gracia, Chair of Heritage and Art of Navarre

Images of St. Joseph in Navarra

Fri, 20 Mar 2015 10:49:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Among the most successful themes in the Catholic art of the 17th century, those related to Saint Joseph stand out, especially those spread by the Discalced Carmelites, following Saint Teresa. To this cooperated the texts of the Apocryphal Gospels, the work of the Dominican Isidoro Isolanus Summa de donis Sancti Josephi (1521), inspired in those and very particularly in the book of Father Jerónimo Gracián de la Madre de Dios Sumario de las Excelencias del Glorioso San Joseph, spouse of the Virgin Mary, edited for the first time in Rome, in 1597, reedited in numerous occasions, with the degree scroll of La Josephina, that happens to be one of the most important instruments in the devotional impulse towards the Holy Patriarch.

Among the first testimonies of the devotion to the saint in Navarre, we have to mention the determination in 1524 by the diocesan synod of Pamplona in order to introduce the official document of the saint on March 19, and the realization of an interesting table that is preserved in the cathedral of Tudela a few years later. The presence of the children of St. Teresa fell, therefore, on fertile ground, in terms of admiration and worship of St. Joseph. The aforementioned saint says in this regard: "And I took the glorious St. Joseph as my advocate and lord and I entrusted myself to him a lot. I saw clearly that, as much from this necessity as from other greater ones, of losing my fame and my soul, this my father and lord delivered me better than I knew how to ask for it. I do not agreement me to this day of having begged him for anything that he did not grant me".

From the end of the 16th century onwards, his images would multiply in many altarpieces throughout the entire region, always of a higher quality than the painting, issue . Regarding the cycles, the only one that is preserved is the one that decorates the nave of the church of the Discalced Carmelites of Pamplona, made around 1760, under the care of Father Fray Bernardo de la Madre de Dios, prior of Pamplona on several occasions and provincial, with a copious alms that his brother Don José Francisco Bigüézal, bishop of Ciudad Rodrigo between 1756 and 1762, had sent him.

Guilds and brotherhoods

An important group of carpenters' guilds is documented throughout the region from the 16th to the 18th century: Pamplona, Tudela, Estella, Sangüesa, Corella, Fitero, Cascante and Corella, among others. Saint Joseph was their patron saint in almost all cases. Eduardo Morales Solchaga has studied his patron saint in various works.

Along with these professional associations, others of a marked devotional nature were also founded, among which those of Pamplona and Tudela stood out, all of them in the 18th century. The one in Tudela was located in the convent of Carmen Calzado and was founded in 1731.

The confraternity was founded in the convent of Carmen in the capital of Navarre in 1716 and its titular image -today in the parish of San Agustín- was the only one that was printed in an engraving in the second half of the century. In its organization it had a prior, two deputies, two nurses and four stewards and two monitors, positions that were elected annually. As in other brotherhoods, if a brother fell ill, he was helped spiritually and economically. The feast was celebrated with great solemnity in the liturgical and recreational aspects with bonfires and voladores.

Another brotherhood dedicated to San José and the Desposorios had its headquarters in San Saturnino since 1717, year in which it gave the image of the saint Pedro Castellos. This brotherhood had some tensions with another Josephine brotherhood established in the parish of San Lorenzo.

A special table in Tudela cathedral

In the sacristy of the chapel of the Holy Spirit in the cathedral of Tudela there is a panel from the Early Renaissance and datable, like others of the altarpiece in which it is inserted, around 1540 and of Aragonese origin. The set is made up of part of a predella and attic of an old Renaissance altarpiece, to which another panel of later chronology and style of landscape dimensions was added in the lower part. The painting of Saint Joseph is of great interest. In the first place for being one of the first of the XVI century in the Comunidad Foral in which the saint is depicted young, abandoning the medieval subject of an old and elderly man who hardly participated as an active member of the Holy Family. The general outline , as Professor Criado observed, is based on a print by Agostino Veneziano of 1516. A pair of unidentified donors, small in size, give the panel its interest. The male figure appears to be a civil servant and carries a green-bound book, which by its size is not a breviary. The imagination runs when contemplating it and brings to report the famous Green Book of Aragon which, as is known, was a manuscript of 1507, very diffused throughout the Five Hundreds, in which all the genealogies of Aragonese families with converso antecedents appeared. However, a historical analysis needs documentary and reliable evidence to establish any relationship in this regard, so it is necessary to know data historical information about the piece and its donors, which we still do not know.

A large square identifies the saint as a carpenter. However, it is the compass, strategically placed in the central part of the seat, next to the donors, an element that seems to want to go further than indicating the official document of the saint. A table that keeps its little secrets to be solved and that needs a very deep research .

Remarkable sculptures of different origins

In cities and different localities of Navarre there are countless sculptures of the saint, often in altarpieces of which he is the patron saint. In the seventeenth century, those in which the saint holds the Infant Jesus by the hand predominate, while in the following century he holds him in his arms. From the 16th century there is a sculpture of the Carmelitas Descalzas de Salsipuedes and the head of their altarpiece in the cathedral of Pamplona. Among the most outstanding of the XVII century we can mention the one of the Discalced Carmelites of Pamplona for its quality, being undoubtedly a work imported from Castile, as well as the one of the collateral of San José de Recoletas, in this case more attached to Andalusian models and a little later.

The Neapolitan image of the saint in the cathedral of Tudela belongs to the late seventeenth century, a gift from the dean Don Sebastián Cortés y Lacárcel along with another of Santa Teresa that he gave during his lifetime, before his death in 1703. After this date, the Tudela chapter claimed the sculpture of Saint Joseph from the executors of the Dean's will, and it was taken to the capital of Spain at the chapter's expense.

Works by local sculptors, ranging from the Romanesque carvings of the Imberto family to the more baroque works, can be found in the altarpieces of San José de Mendigaña in Azcona, Luquin, Azagra, Viana, Peralta, Ciordia, Mendigorría and Corella, among other examples. Many of these altarpieces belong to the Baroque workshops of Pamplona, Estella and Tudela, and some of them are of a neoclassical style, such as the one in the parish of Sesma, designed by the academic architect Juan de Villanueva in 1787.

The most notable carvings of the 18th century come from the great sculptural centers of the Court of Madrid and Aragon. From Saragossa, a delicate carving of the saint presiding over its collateral arrived around 1768 at the Comendadoras de Puente la Reina, together with other images, all works by José Ramírez. From Madrid and from the workshop of Carmona is the beautiful image of the saint of the parish of Lecároz, paid for by Don José de Echeverría y Larreche between 1756 and 1758. The beautiful sculpture of Carmen de Tudela, commissioned by her brotherhood in the middle of the 18th century, is also of an academic style.

Of greater rarity, due to its overseas origin, is the sculpture of the saint from the parish of Aranaz, which together with the Virgin of the Rosary were sent from the Indies in 1736 by Don Martín de Aróstegui, knight of Santiago and later president of the Havana Trading Company.

The topic of transit: advocate of the good death

Among the numerous josephine thematic that appears in altarpieces, sacristies, convents and private houses, the passage of the saint's transit was opening way that, from the end of the XVI century and still more, in the XVII century, took true letter of nature. As much the authors before mentioned as the Mother María Jesús de Ágreda dedicated in their works some paragraphs to the topic, giving place to that the saint became an advocate of the good death, since at the moment of leaving this world, he was accompanied by nothing less than the Virgin Mary and Christ.

In the Carmen of Tudela there is a delicate canvas of the topic signed by Vicente Berdusán in 1673, of which there is a replica in the parish of the Magdalena of the same city and another similar painting in the parish of Maluenda (1684). The aforementioned painter had faced the same topic in 1663, in another canvas preserved in a private collection in Navarre.

The painting of the Carmen de Tudela presides over an altarpiece of classicist lines and stands out for its careful composition, typical of a period in which the painter had already matured and was giving the best of his production in the series of the conference room capitular of Tudela, the monastery of Veruela and the altarpieces of Huesca. The baroque style is well present in the search for the diagonal line to organize the essentials of the topic. The appearance of God the Father and the angels in the upper zone contribute to topic the celestial, marvelous and visionary content that could not be missing in a painting of these characteristics. The archangels Michael and Gabriel accompany the Virgin and Christ who takes the hand of his adoptive father, blessing him, always following the text of Father Gracián when he states:"and he had his hand between mine... and Joseph made signs as best he could, that I would not leave him, keeping his eyes fixed on me ..... and meanwhile I prayed to my Father, when the prayer was finished.... and I blessed his body so that he would not be able to leave". The successive moments narrated in the text of Father Gracián, in which Christ himself speaks in the first person, following oriental sources, have been unified in the canvas of Carmen de Tudela. The transit, the arrival of the angels with the crowns of flowers of glory and triumph, the appearance of God the Father in a break of glory and the blessing of Christ, are visible in the painting, which sample together with the prodigy and the celestial, delicate details of daily life, both in the attributes of the saint's carpenter and in the still life objects of the table.