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

The chapel of Santa Ana de Tudela: Baroque apotheosis for the joy of celebrating and the pleasure of feeling.

Mon, 27 Jul 2020 11:49:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

"The new chapel erected to our Patron Saint Anne, a true marvel that has admired our Spain and has been celebrated as a wonder by foreign nations". The phrase, wrapped in rhetoric, does not fail to translate the state of opinion towards that recently inaugurated artistic ensemble. It was written barely ten years after its completion. It belongs to a printed document that criticizes the attitude of the bishop of Tarazona, who wished to annex the full jurisdiction of the deanery of Tudela, considering it as a "Ginebrilla chica", or place of great debauchery. 

A devotion in crescendo

The vows that the cities made to commemorate and honor the protector saints, against all subject of calamities, had different developments with the passage of time. Some, like that of Saint Saturnino of Pamplona, in 1611, derived in the board of trustees of the saint over the city and something similar happened in Tudela with Saint Ana. In 1530, the capital of La Ribera made "a vow to perpetually keep and celebrate the feast of Our Lady Saint Anne, every year, in perpetuity, with a very solemn and devout procession and carrying in the procession the holy image of Our Lady Saint Anne with the illuminations that appear to the mayors and aldermen...". Decades later the board of trustees of the saint was an indisputable fact, becoming a sign of identity of the city, which was in crescendo, integrating in its celebration all the elements of the festival: music, bells, giants, gunpowder, bulls and great sermons.

The milestones of that growing devotion can be pinpointed to specific dates. In 1589, the regiment commissioned the bust of St. Anne Triplex from Juan de Ayuca, according to model by Blas de Arbizu. Between 1590 and 1591 it was gilded and polychromed by Juan de Lumbier. In 1656, the precious relic of the saint arrived from the cathedral of Zaragoza and was received with triumphal arches and all subject of festivities. In 1680, the town council approved the concession of board of trustees of the old chapel in favor of the city.

A project citizen

It is significant the expression used by the regiment in 1712, in the prolegomena of the construction, indicating the intention to build the "most ostentatious chapel that can be found in the whole region". The context could not have been more appropriate at purpose in a society in which some cities emulated others in the worship of their patron saints. Pamplona was already well advanced with the chapel of San Fermín (1696-1717) and Estella had just done the same with that of its patron saint San Andrés (1699). In this environment, the agreement of Tudela fits perfectly. Those were times when the cities competed with their main squares and the chapels of their patron saints. Not so long ago they have been doing so with their soccer stadiums and contemporary art centers and, during the leave Age average, they had done so with their cathedrals.

Years ago we put the authorship of the project in relation to Fray Bernardo de San José, a tracer of the Discalced Carmelites, who issued a report on the stability of the tower in 1713, when work on the chapel began. Among the Tudela masters who were able to advise on the design, we should not lose sight of José Ezquerra, one of the best architects in the city who had worked on important buildings in Viana and Pamplona.

The current chapel was built and decorated between 1712 and 1725, for which various means of financing were arranged, from the collection of alms with a cajeta through the streets, to the formal request to absent Tudela citizens with important political and ecclesiastical positions, without forgetting some municipal taxes, prior to licence of the Real committee. Among the private donations, those of Juan de Mur y Aguirre, in 1716, and the testamentary bequest of the Marquise of San Adrián, in 1723, stand out. The first of these, Juan de Mur, a knight of the order of Santiago, belonged to a noble family and at that time held the post of governor of San Marcos de Arica, in New Spain. The contribution of the Marquise of San Adrián came at a crucial moment, when the complex was being completed and funds were scarce, due to the innumerable expenses incurred for the decoration of polychrome plasterwork.

The construction was carried out in three stages: the first, between 1712 and 1716, in which the site and the layouts were chosen and the stone, plaster and brick materials were planned; the second, between 1716-1720, in which the actual building was constructed; and the third, between 1723 and 1725, in which the whole was decorated with plasterwork and the stone plinth and the grille were put in place. Throughout that process, the delegates of the collegiate and municipal chapter were aware of all the details and contracts necessary for the successful completion of the works. Years later, in 1737 and 1751, the altarpiece-baldachino was contracted with Juan Bautista Eizmendi and José Ortiz respectively, giving as result one of the most interesting projects of that typology in Navarra, both for its plan and elevations, and for the combination of rich materials, colored jasper, gilded wood and spectacular columns of black marble from Calatorao.

We know several names of artists from Tudela and Aragon who worked on this ensemble, such as Juan de Lezcano, Juan Antonio Marzal, Juan de Estanga, authors of the stone, marble and jasper pedestal and the masonry. Regarding the plasterwork, its authors could have been either Juan de Peralta, one of the most famous sculptors of the first decades of the 18th century, or better yet, José de San Juan y Martín, also from Tudela and author of the disappeared design decorative plasterwork of the chapel of San Fermín in Pamplona, in 1708. For the latter, he spent twenty-five days in the Navarrese capital making the project which he valued at 3,000 ducats and which, in the end, was awarded to Fermín de Larráinzar, having made an offer of 2,340 ducats.

A traditional baroque ensemble destined to captivate the senses

The chapel of Santa Ana belongs to the so-called "castizo" baroque, due to the role played in its interior by ornament and color, which become the true protagonists, together with a carefully studied light. It is conceived as a centralized organism covered by a monumental dome on drum whose pendentives rest on gigantic foreshortened machones; outline that has been put in relation with the tabernacles of the Andalusian Baroque and that keeps analogies with some Aragonese chapels of the same period. These classical Structures are baroque by a theatrical lighting and, above all, by a lavish decoration of polychrome plasterwork in which flowers, garlands, fleurons, children, angels, curtains and a wide iconographic program aimed at extolling St. Anne and the Virgin coexist, from the machones and pendentives with the holy Fathers and the Evangelists as the true support and foundation of the church, to the close relatives - St. Joseph and St. Joachim - and the kings of Judah, members of Christ's genealogy.

With respect to the altarpiece-baldachin, it is necessary to point out its exceptional nature, both for the materials with which it is built and for the typology and the artist who made it. The final result is a templete, unusual in these lands, not entirely Exempt, like the one in the chapel of San Fermín in Pamplona or the baldachin baldachin of the Cristo de la guide in Fitero, a work from Tudela of Aragonese origin.

The grille, unlike the iron ones found in other places, is a complement to the whole. It is made of azófar and is the work of the brass worker Roque Asín, in 1724. Its gilding and metallic sheen, together with the colored marbles, make the Tudela example one of the most ostentatious of the time.

The set of marble, plaster and polychrome wood was ideal for the Baroque, as an expression of a rhetorical culture and an aesthetic designed to captivate the senses, moving behaviors, in a society in which the means of dissemination were mainly oral and plastic. 

The chapel seen at plenary session of the Executive Council 18th century

Around 1735, the city of Tudela sponsored a memorial in defense of its decanal jurisdiction against the bishop of Tarazona, which contains passionate paragraphs about the chapel, equating it to a real heaven on earth: "Work worthy of a monarch and with the sole forces of this people paid for, and without having been necessary more Indias than the hidden treasuries of fine devotion explained here by the large daily alms that ask for more than thirty thousand pesos consumed in this factory. It is not of our School to draw the miraculous primors. In two words it can be said, without exaggeration that its pavement and plinth to a state of high is all precious stones and the rest of gold. Its statues compete with those of Phidias, its carvings, foliage, military trophies, moldings, sculptures and gilding form all that beautiful and varied brotherhood that can be desired for heaven, being able to imagine that, if the glorious Santa Ana no longer lived in the empyrean, she would choose this celebrated chapel as the paradise of her delights, which has been admired by foreign nations that have managed to see it and have put in their praises the tongues of all the curious of our Spain. Here in the patron saint Santa Ana we have to drag the world ..., more true magnet that with more gentle force attracts the souls to their obsequious adoration".

Another enthusiastic description is found in the Relación de la visit of the Queen Dowager of Carlos II, Doña Mariana de Neoburgo to Tudela, in 1739. In its text we read: "the primors of the art, which rushed in the construction of the chapel, the lines of Vitrubio, the compasses of Viñola and the proportions of Arfe. It is the shell, which reservation, to the Lady Santa Ana...... in its construction are Doric and Tuscan columns, on sturdy pedestals, roses splitting the crest, in the Ionic; and in the composite order, distributed, fillets, ribbons, goals, boceles and dentellones. In what is masonry, there is no voussoir, formwork, incumba or truss, which is not the no more of the art of civil architecture. And everything that is images, flying balconies and symmetrical fleurons, is so covered with gold, that the gold is seen to stand out even in the covering. The horizontal floor is burnished; and so much, that it makes the feet slip, to the one who enters incautious".

Ventura Rodriguez's opinion

Times changed and at the end of the 18th century, Ventura Rodríguez, the author of design of the façade of the cathedral of Pamplona, visited Tudela in 1782. Some prebendaries requested, perhaps with ulterior motives, his opinion regarding the chapel. Don Ventura replied, diplomatically: "This work is and will be an eternal monument to the piety and devotion of the people of Tudela". One of those who had asked the question, specifically, Don Joaquín Ruiz de Conejares, added on his own in the story, that the chapel was sumptuous in his time, but that then it already lacked merit, interpreting the architect's answer, to conclude "that in it generosity shone more than good taste". There is no doubt that the doctoral Conejares, with this last expression, identified himself with the classical academic art that, at that time, triumphed among the elites, in tune with the guidelines imposed by the Academy of San Fernando.

These were times of denigration of the traditional baroque. The opinions of the secretary of the Academy, Francisco Ponz, were about to be published in 1785 about other Navarrese ensembles. Let us remember that he was, to a great extent, manager of the neoclassical reform of the chapel of San Fermín in Pamplona and of the war against other works, since he wrote: "I am sorry to have seen in the parish of San Lorenzo the monstrous ornamentation of the chapel of San Fermín, and the unspeakable woodwork of the piled up and extravagant altarpieces of San Saturnino. There is nothing reasonable to turn our eyes to in the church of Carmen, since starting with the classic monstrosity of the main altarpiece, both in architecture and sculpture, the others follow in the same vein".