November 14, 2006

Global Seminars & Invited Speaker Series


Medieval art in Santa María de Tudela

Dr. Javier Martínez de Aguirre.
Complutense University of Madrid

Interior of the Cathedral of Tudela

Interior of the Cathedral of Tudela

The research carried out during the restoration of Tudela's cathedral, as well as the renewed presentation of several of its movable works, allow us to contemplate and know in an optimal way the splendor of its medieval art. 

To understand its construction history we must go back to the time of the conquest of the city by the Christians in 1119, when the aljama mosque, built in the ninth century and expanded in the eleventh century, was converted to Christian worship, with hardly any modifications. A few decades later it was decided to build a new, larger temple Building , in accordance with late Romanesque style. We do not know the name of the architect, but it can be deduced (from the location of the staircase and the presence of double niches in certain chapels) that he was inspired by the Cistercian church of La Oliva, which at that time was being built according to plans drawn up by the builder of the cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. After acquiring the plots of land, work began around 1170. In the first phase, the five chapels and part of the facades of the transept, which remained unvaulted, were built. The altar could be consecrated in 1188. Masters trained in the ornamental repertoire developed around Paris around 1150 were involved. In addition to its inspiration in La Oliva, new solutions can be seen in several elements, especially in the arrangement of the windows of the main chapel, where it combined late Romanesque windows with decorated oculi probably inspired by the disappeared cathedral of Pamplona.

There was still a second late Romanesque phase, which covered the perimeter walls and six pillars, in which they adopted a design very much in vogue in the north of the peninsula, with twin half-columns on each front. Sculptors of B quality intervened here, in parallel to the construction of the cloister. It is very possible that part of the financing was paid for by an important lineage from Tudela, the Baldovín family, who left their emblem (mules) on capitals facing the transept.

The completion was done with gothic formulas. It included the last two pillars, the upper part of the main nave with its windows organized in double lancet and oculus, the high capitals and the missing vaults. The Gothic architect knew how to integrate his work without an abrupt break with what had gone before, which gave the temple an interior harmony B , as well as a very successful luminosity. We know that the final phase was already underway in the time of the Theobalds (from 1234) because the arms of Navarre and Champagne appear on the capitals of the western pillars, as well as on some of those of the main nave.

Throughout the 14th century, minor works were undertaken. There are features of the radiant Gothic style in peripheral outbuildings (foot turret). Charles III left his coat of arms on the last core topic, probably after a reform that affected only the western part. 

The interior of the temple showed a new face from the moment in which the main lineages of Tudela, or certain canons and deans, began to reserve chapels as a privileged burial place. This happened in the second half of the 14th century and especially in the first decades of the 15th century. In their interest in arranging tombs that would make their memory last and help them in the hard ordeal of Purgatory and the Last Judgment, they incorporated monumental sepulchers and altarpieces that would show their devotions. Our attention is especially focused on the altarpiece of Santa Catalina, about whose promoter interesting references have just been published; on the magnificent tomb of Dean Sánchez de Oteiza, who commissioned it to members of the workshop of Johan Lome (perhaps to the Johan de Borgoña that quotation documentation); and on the Villaespesa chapel, which the chancellor of Charles III commissioned for himself and for his wife, Isabel de Ujué, from Tudela. The altarpiece, dedicated to Nª Sª de la Esperanza, San Francisco de Asís and San Gil, is a work of B quality within the Aragonese painting of the international Gothic, and the sepulcher constitutes one of the summits of the Spanish funerary sculpture of its time, for its very rich iconography and for the perfection of its workmanship. 

Of course, there are many other elements of interest within the medieval art present in the Tudela church, such as the Judgment Gate, the cloister or the great main altarpiece, but their restoration is either yet to be undertaken or was carried out previously, so they have not been dealt with in this lecture.