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

Angels musicians in the Navarrese Baroque


Mon, 23 Nov 2015 12:12:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The presence of musical angels is a constant in Christian iconography, with a great development in the Gothic period. In the Baroque period, they took on a particularly sensorial dimension, due to the style's attachment to color, scenery, visions, theatricality, movement and metamorphosis. We find them in domes and coverings, in the scenes of the Nativity, in the broken skies of the scenes of the martyrdoms of the saints, together with the heavenly visions of Saint Teresa, Saint Cecilia and other blessed ones and, of course, in the impressive cases of our organs.

In a similar parallelism with the written sources and the sermons of the time, the presence of the musical angels set the scene, in a particular way, those spaces of chapels and churches that appeared to the public as true heavens on earth and sacred scenographies. Candles, flowers and music appealed to the senses and made those interiors authentic paradises, as we read in many sermons and festive reports. When the sounds were not heard, the vision of the celestial interpreters compensated and took to the thought those sonorous sets of voices and instruments.

In tune with literary texts

Let us remember, as an example and as a literary reference letter for the contemplation of the scenes of Christmas, a text of Fray Diego de Vega in his book Paraíso de la gloria de los santos, published in Valladolid in 1607, where he writes about the birth of Christ: "In the Nativity God wanted to enter the world as Supreme King and came down with his Royal Chapel, and also so that men would understand that he came, not of war, but of peace, not to punish, but to forgive, not to use justice, but mercy. Finally, to show that he came conquered by love, he came to earth singing. It is very proper for lovers to walk at night with music. You are sleeping in your house, you hear at average night in the neighborhood a music of guitars and voices very well concerted and then, without more speech you say: music in our neighborhood, and at average night and with frost and cold: loves are these, that they kill me if some lover is not around here. A!, good God and if you give me on this occasion a language equal to the thought that could say everything that the thought conceives. Music and to the average night and in the greatest rigor of winter, when the world was all snowed. The music of angels in this corner of the world, where one hears nothing but cries and sad voices. What can it be but love, I'll bet it's God, who, fond of our nature, has come to the world in that disguise. Your loves, my God, are the masters of this music, which, fond of my soul, you go about laying it down. It is love, Lord, that brings you from heaven to the ground, love that has made you make such disguises, love that has brought you to the hospital and to so much poverty, that you are born today in a stable, that you are wrapped in poor blankets, that you are laid in a manger, that you are among beasts". The angels are sometimes joined by shepherds with instruments, such as the one playing the bagpipes in the Nativity relief on the main altarpiece of Los Arcos.

In large scenographic sets

Some places where angels with musical scores or instruments could not be absent are the domes and vaults of chapels and temples, for their atmosphere and celestial symbolism. Much has been lost and it is difficult to calculate how many of these fresco paintings are still under the nineteenth century whitewash. Among the preserved examples that contain musical angels, we will mention the most outstanding ones. The chapel of the Immaculate Conception in the old temple of the Jesuits of Tudela, today the parish of San Jorge. Next to the altarpiece and a frieze with the epithets of the litanies, in the heights of its dome there are a few musical angels. Its realization, in the first decades of the 18th century, is very close to the Aragonese frescoes of the Plano family, although it may also be the work of José Eleizegui, author of the paintings of the camarín of the Virgen del Yugo and the only painter established in the city capable of tackling such a set.

In Miranda de Arga, giving ambience to the main altarpiece, part of the mural decorations have been preserved, but not all of them, such as the famous "asomado" of which Iribarren speaks, and it is necessary to identify with some character on a balcony with latticework like the one in Viana or in the nearby chapel of Pilar de Calahorra, both works by Francisco del Plano. In spite of its partial disappearance, we can still contemplate on both sides of the attic of the sumptuous baroque altarpiece a group of singing angels and instrumentalists, made around 1760 by Pedro Antonio de Rada and José or Manuel del Rey, according to professor Echeverría Goñi.

Another dome that conserves this subject of scenographic decorations is that of the chapel of San Francisco de Paula de los Mínimos de Cascante. In this case, the painting is of a lower category, highlighting the representation of the organ, although it seems that the interpreter is Santa Cecilia herself.

Some attics of altarpieces, such as that of the Virgen del Camino in Pamplona (1766), become places where angels with stringed and wind instruments harmonize the celestial ensembles represented there with the presence of saints, the Trinity and other representations around the Virgin.

Organ cases

Organ cases became in the Baroque centuries signs of wealth, ostentation and luxury, and were part of the globalizing conception of the arts that attributed a primordial importance to sight. Image and music were associated with the sung word and with a more or less patent sensuality, in line with the aesthetics of the liturgy of the time, in order to move listeners and excite them to more piety. As it could not be otherwise, the angelic hierarchies populate the organ cases, since inside the pipes imitate their chants and celestial instruments. In the midst of the Baroque culture, so intimately allied with the senses, the voices and sounds of the organ constituted one of the most sensual and attractive means for the fascination of those who attended the ceremonies inside the temple. Box and instrument were called to keep a special harmony.

The most usual thing is that small sculptures of angels take the stringed or wind instruments and simulate that they are playing. The most populated box of these winged beings is undoubtedly the one of Tafalla, work of Juan Ángel Nagusia, made in 1735 according to design of Juan de Lesaca. In lesser Degree we find these small angels in the rococo box of Los Arcos, by Diego de Camporredondo.

However, in other cases, the sculpture takes on greater prominence by presenting us with authentic works of polychrome sculpture, as in the case of the flutes of the abbey organ of Fitero, completed in 1660, according to the large registration that crowns it. A decoration with palms, fruits and angels and young men with instruments speak of triumph, abundance, musical concert and celestial harmony.

On the tops of the organs it is common to find sculptures of angels or round allegories with wind instruments, as in Sesma, Fitero, Huarte Araquil, disappeared de Villava, Santesteban, Isaba, Larraga or Peralta, among other examples.

In easel painting

In easel painting, the angels, either singing or interpreting, will have a very special place in the upper areas of the compositions. Among the former, the angelic choir of the canvas of the Communion of the Virgin of the Discalced Carmelites of Pamplona stands out.

The production of Vicente Berdusán gives a good account of how his author knew the instruments through engravings, but also by observing what he could have contemplated in the music chapels of the cathedrals for which he worked, and even of the noble houses that commissioned him, without forgetting some paintings of the Madrid school, where he completed his training and very particularly the canvas of the Foundation of the Trinitarian Order of the convent of Pamplona, now in the Louvre, where his master Carreño incorporated delicate musical instruments in the hands of angels.

True instrumental chamber ensembles are reproduced in some of Berdusán's canvases, such as the Saint Martin and the triptych of the same saint in the cathedral of Huesca, the Coming of the Virgin of Pilar de las Capuchinas in the same city, one of the miracles of the life of Saint Bernard in the monastery of Veruela, the Assumption of Viana, the canvas of the attic of the altarpiece of the Dominican Sisters of Tudela, or the Transition of the Virgin of Viana, one of the miracles of the life of Saint Bernard in the monastery of Veruela, the Assumption of Viana, the canvas of the attic of the altarpiece of the Dominican Sisters of Tudela or the Transverberation of Saint Teresa of the monastery of Fitero.

Other paintings show details of precious instruments and attentive singing angels with their scores, such as the Imposition of the Necklace on Saint Teresa by Pedro Orrente in El Carmen de Corella, the Foundation of the Trinitarian Order by the aforementioned Carreño, the Communion of the Virgin of the Discalced Carmelites of Pamplona or Saint Joan with the Infant Jesus and a musical angel of the Poor Clares of Tudela. About this last painting, from the middle of the 17th century, it should be noted that it is the only representation in Navarre of the popular Franciscan tertiary (1481-1534), of whom biographies were published in the 17th century and some plays, among them one by Tirso de Molina. Moreover, it should be remembered that she enjoyed a fairly widespread iconography, especially in the Franciscan Order, which venerated her since the 17th century as a saint and great doctor, and even as a banner in favor of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception.