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

Spectacular organ cases in Navarre

Fri, 27 Jan 2017 12:38:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Once the simple boxes of the medieval instruments and even the Renaissance ones have disappeared -only the one of the Salvador de Sangüesa is preserved-, those of the XVII and XVIII centuries form a very rich, grandiose and striking ensemble. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, very important examples of disentailed convents were destroyed. Their relevance and uniqueness are shown in some documents. In addition, on many occasions in that century and part of the 20th century, many instruments were renovated and rebuilt in the light of romanticism. Their new cases were made according to eclectic and neo-gothic patterns, without personality in their design and execution.

Complement of outstanding instruments

In the panorama of Hispanic organ building in the Baroque centuries, Louis Jambou highlights the Lerín workshops among the most important in the diffusion of an instrument such as the Iberian organ subject , which, as is known, has its own characteristic ingredients compared to the European ones: sweet and timbre sounds, split registers, which allows the playing of two tonalities with two hands and the trumpets horizontally.

Regarding the baroque boxes, they must be correctly contextualized and interpreted together with those valuable instruments that they contain and that make authentic breaths of air and life sound through their tubes. Orozco Díaz pointed out in his study the progressive theatricalization of the temple in its psycho-sociological aspect, unleashed as a consequence of the Tridentine rules and regulations and as a parallel phenomenon to the artifice of life. Recently, in a synthesis on the art of those centuries, Professor Blasco Esquivias insists on the same and recalls that the Church justified the ornamental pomp of the temples and the splendor of its ceremonies in the need to honor the real presence of Christ and to encourage the devotion of the faithful by suspending their rational Schools and stimulating their senses, already predisposed by the collective atmosphere and the formality of the liturgy, the richness of the ornaments, the calculated illumination of the space, the vapors of the incense, the oratory of the sermons and the music, that induced to the alienation or spiritual excitement.

There is a lack of a monographic study on the Navarran cases in their entirety and from different points of view: financing, partnership of the author of the piece of furniture with the organ builder, designs, sources of inspiration, artists who worked on them ..... etc. Numerous data were published in Sagaseta-Taberna's monograph, but when it comes to studying this piece of furniture it is necessary to re-read the contracts and documentation, as well as to make new inquiries that will lead us to knowledge of the true authorship of many of them, which are still unpublished.

Location, scenography and power

Regarding the location, practical, technical, acoustic and aesthetic reasons were taken into account. Most of the instruments are located in the choir loft or in a tribune extending the choir along the central nave. Some cases are more exceptional, such as that of the monastery of Fitero, located in the section immediately next to Wayside Cross of the central nave, for obvious acoustic reasons.

In any case, it is evident that the organs in their stands and cases became true scenographic elements within the liturgy and sacred space in the Counter-Reformation period. The striking baroque cases organize their plans according to a theatrical conception. Their elevated, almost aerial location occupies an intermediate space between the celestial vault and the earth, giving it a theatrical and unstable appearance, with a dynamic upward movement. To this fantastic atmosphere cooperates the multiple presence of angels and the ascensionality of its towers. The impression is amplified by the decoration with its statuary and symbolic elements that make the ensembles authentic expressive architectures. The sounds of the organ became part of the elements of power within the temple, while also being heard, as a metaphor for the angelic hierarchies. 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 means for the fascination of those who attended the ceremonies.


As for the promoters, in general it was the parish patrons, as well as those in charge of monasteries and convents who took the construction of the instruments and their cases very seriously. On some occasions models were imposed, as happened in Villafranca (1739), where Rafael Vélaz, a local master, was obliged to copy the model of that of Santa María de Tafalla, the work of Juan Ángel Nagusia from Estella (1735).

In all those patronages there was no lack of people, ultimately responsible for the execution of the projects, which we are getting to know little by little. In the case of Peralta, the person who was very aware of what was being done in the parish - organ case, pulpits, altarpieces, embroidery, etc. - was Don Tomás de Marichalar. His name appears in those initiatives destined to the ornamentation of the temple. He himself left written in his will that he had taken care, like his ancestors, of the accounts of the parish's first fruits, with an interest and zeal for everything related to divine worship.

There was no lack of private individuals who provided the musical instrument, as occurred in Villava, paid for by Mateo Juanarguin (1777), or in the cathedral of Pamplona, due to the munificence of the archdeacon of Roncal Pascual Beltrán de Gayarre (1741), the same one who paid for the sacristy of the beneficiaries and had several bodies of saints brought from Rome for the cathedral and the parish of Garde. The old organ of Santa María de Sangüesa was paid for, in 1767, by the son of the locality and archbishop of Burgos Don José Javier Rodríguez de Arellano. The one that disappeared from the parish of Roncal was possible, between 1749 and 1750, thanks to Fray Antonio Necoch, born in the town in 1720. A cartouche with part of those data is preserved, as the only memory of the old instrument that was sold a century ago.

The artists

The masters who made position of the boxes were - as in other regions - the same ones who made the rest of the liturgical furnishings, such as altarpieces or pulpit lecterns. Usually, the commissioners advised themselves on the most suitable person or workshop for the execution of the piece of furniture. In general, we can affirm that the great retablists of the different Navarrese workshops were in charge of the organ cases, with some examples of foreign masters, such as Diego de Camporredondo from Calagurri, recommended by his fellow bishop of Pamplona, Gaspar de Miranda y Argaiz. In 1759 the aforementioned prelate addressed Los Arcos in these terms: "I highly praise the idea of promote for the greater honor and splendor of your church with the organ and cases of the sacristy to be made by the good hand of Camporredondo, that there is no other of more skill, security and satisfaction".

A remarkable issue of organ case makers, apart from the master organ builders of Pamplona, resided in Lerín, a great center of organ builders. In this regard, it is worth asking if in the context of the success of the organ builders of Lerín, there was a certain specialization in that subject of liturgical furnishings, which were the organ cases. In any case, and as Eduardo Morales Solchaga has proven in a very well documented and acute study on the construction of organ cases by examined masters, it should be noted that the instrumentalist and the author of the piece of furniture did not always proceed in the same way. The great organ builder of Lerín José Mañeru y Ximénez declared in 1718: "In thirty years he has exercised the official document of organ builder, in this town as well as in the Villa y Corte of Madrid, and different places of the Kingdom of Castile, as well as in the city of Zaragoza and other places of the Kingdom of Aragón, he has made use of the official carpenters that he has seen fit, although they were not examined, and with them, and by himself, he has worked everything that belongs to the said School of organ builder".


Evolution in the 17th century: from classicism to baroque

As far as the forms are concerned, it is very easy to analyze the boxes in the light of the different phases of the Baroque, from the Classicism of the first half of the 17th century, to the resurgence and triumph of decoration in its Castilian phase, to the Rococo and Academicism aesthetics. We have excellent examples of all these moments in Navarra.

The one in Ablitas belongs to the classicist period, the work of a famous retablist active in the second quarter of the century and established in Tarazona, Jerónimo de Estaragán. His clear and straight lines will become curved in the boxes of Santo Domingo de Pamplona (1658-1659) and especially in the spectacular one of the monastery of Fitero. The first was made in the priory of Fray Juan de Beruete (1657-1660). Its payments date from 1658 and 1659 and the gilding was paid for by a great benefactor of the convent -Dona Estefanía de Ripa- who gave several pieces of sumptuary arts and paid for the collaterals.

Fitero (1659-1660) is enriched with side flutings with rich reliefs of musical angels among fruit pinjantes. It is the work of Riojan sculptors, although the model is of French descent and the presence of the mermaids, located as corbels on the lateral wings, recall those of the Parisian organ of St. Etienne du Mont, the work of Jean Buron (1631-1633). There is no doubt that either through an engraving, or better still through the indications of the French organ builder Nicolas Briset, who became position of the instrument itself, the sirens were incorporated, evoking the legend of Jason and the Argonauts and the well-known passage from the Odyssey (XII,39) of Ulysses. For the French historian M. B. Dufourcet "The whole box paints a joyful peasant feast of Navarre, after an abundant and copious harvest. It announces the rejoicings proper of Christmas, however, something pagan (popular instruments to dance, fruits etc.) evoking the ancient cults of Ceres and Bacchus is also detached".

The organ case of the collegiate church, now the cathedral of Tudela, was made by Francisco San Juan y Velasco, born in Lerín in 1639 and died in the capital of La Ribera in 1705, author of the major altarpieces, now disappeared, of the parish of Lerín and of the high school of the Anunciada of the capital of Navarre, works made around 1690.    


The lavish eighteenth-century boxes

The decorative baroque style was deployed at the end of the 17th century and particularly in the first decades of the following century. sample The examples of Corella, Lerín, Tafalla or Villafranca give a good example of how ornamentation, carving and some sculptures became masters of the Structures. It is interesting to note that, among their authors, there are artists from the Lerín organ workshop, such as José de Lesaca and Juan José Vélaz. The former, trained in Lerín from 1705 onwards, made the ones for the parishes of Miranda de Arga (1734-36) and San Miguel de Corella (1732), following in the latter the design of Marcos de Angós and with the partnership in the round sculptures of José Serrano. Both have been preserved and are magnificent examples of the prevailing uses throughout the third and fourth decades of the 18th century. In addition, he designed the spectacular boxes for the parish churches of Santa María de Tafalla in 1735, the work of the Estellan sculptor Juan Ángel Nagusia, and of his town, Lerín, which went to position by Juan José Vélaz, in 1738. As noted by Sagaseta in his monograph on Navarrese organs, the three masters who worked on the instrument were from the town, the organ builder José Mañeru and the authors of the design and the material execution of the case.

In the cases of Miranda de Arga, Tafalla and Lerín, the instrument itself was also made by a master from Lerín, José Mañeru y Ximénez, which indicates more than a sporadic partnership between the sculptor's workshop and the organ builder, which will have to be evaluated in more detail. In all these examples we find a true scenography that occupies, in many cases, the back of the wall to which it is attached, made with spectacularity and formal complexity in plan and elevations, with dynamism, ostentation, sumptuousness and fusion of the arts (architecture, sculpture and painting), highlighting the metal pipes and wooden cons with large masks in the mouths. In addition, the fact that they are covered with gold and color give them great richness, while their decoration is based on symbols of abundance, triumph and glory, housing celestial or allegorical characters playing percussion and string instruments. All this, together with the rhetoric of the preacher and the liturgy, seeks to generate an authentic caelum in terris, a miraculous and hallucinating space, typical of the Baroque, an art that wants to captivate through the senses, much more vulnerable than the intellect.

The mid-18th century boxes of the cathedral and San Saturnino of Pamplona have not reached our days. The first was executed by the overseer of works of the diocese José Pérez de Eulate (1741-42) and the second (1753) followed the design by the prestigious sculptor from Jaca Juan Tornes, who was judged by some of his contemporaries, exaggeratedly, as "the most A master in Aragon, Castile and Navarre". The organ case of the parish church of San Nicolás (1769), a very spectacular work by Juan José Echarri and Ignacio Aizpurúa, architect and carver, and Fermín Rico, gilder, had better luck.

Of the lighter and more international examples of rococo art, the Sesma box (1771) is the most delicate. It is attributable to Dionisio de Villodas and his son-in-law Lucas de Mena. Of great interest are those of Los Arcos (Diego de Camporredondo, 1759) or that of Cárcar (José Arbizu, 1766). Of Borrominesque lines are those of Mendigorría (Miguel de Garnica, 1782), Larraga (Miguel Zufía, 1775), Olite (León Gómez, 1784-85) and Cáseda (1785). Of particular interest is that of the parish of Peralta, one of the very few that is not contemporary to the instrument, since it was made to prevent its deterioration in 1783 by the famous Italian master Santiago Marsili.

The classical and academic aesthetics increased from the last years of the Age of Enlightenment, in works such as the boxes of Lodosa, the work of Ramón Villodas with project by Francisco Sabando (1796), Andosilla, the work of Miguel Zufía (1799) or the missing one of Huarte-Pamplona that we know from an excellent drawing with its layout (1797), signed by Martín de Andrés.