February 21, 2006

Global Seminars & Invited Speaker Series


A hidden art. 16th century brushwork

Dr. Pedro Echeverría Goñi.
University of the Basque Country

Church of San Román de Arellano. Detail of San Cristobal.

Church of San Román de Arellano. Detail of San Cristobal.

With the degree scroll of "A hidden art. La pinceladura del siglo XVI", Pedro Echeverría Goñi, Senior Associate Professor of Art History at the University of the Basque Country, offered a lecture on this unknown pictorial specialization program . The term "pinceladura" refers to the period name used by the painters themselves and their patrons in the 1500s to designate the tempera mural painting of churches. Its purpose, he said, was to give a Renaissance architectural finish to Gothic masonry masonry, to give the walls and vaults an "old-fashioned" ornamentation and to illustrate a catechesis by means of mock altarpieces, "skies", medallions and images. Throughout his exhibition he used the language of the period to refer to the architectural frames, pigments, motifs, location and meaning of the paintings. In some buildings whose constructive history allows it, it is not strange to document a pictorial stratigraphy with windows or fragments of Gothic painting, Renaissance ceilings and grisaille, Baroque and Neoclassical pavilions and different renovations until the last marbling, made before the 30s of the last century.
After the splendor of Gothic fresco painting, especially during the reign of the monarchs of the house of Evreux, this procedure declined markedly and gave way in the sixteenth century to a more popular dry painting. No temple was considered finished if its walls had not received mortar, plaster and grisaille, so it can be affirmed that all the buildings built during this century had more or less pictorial work. Even though it is quite widespread in the north of Spain, the brushwork in our geographical area is a genuinely Alava specialization program , since "masters of painting churches", such as Pedro de Gámiz, Tomás de Oñate or Pedro de Frisa, were requested by Navarrese patrons and painters to carry out some of the best decorations of our temples or to examine and appraise these works. Some of them even moved and set up their workshops in the Old Kingdom, such as Andrés de Miñano in Estella or Juan Beltrán de Otazu in Olite.

The only church complex completely painted in the 16th century that has been discovered and restored in Navarre is that of Arellano, made by Diego de Cegama, a painter from Guipuzcoa living in Munain de Álava, a place from which he carried out numerous commissions from this subject in towns in the eastern Llanada, Tierra Estella and other areas of Navarre. Other examples in view are those of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love of Nuestra Señora de Arquitas in Zúñiga, the crypt of the church of San Salvador de Gallipienzo or the church of Yesa. Recently, part of the paintings that decorated the Ibiricu de Egües parish church have been recovered. Other fake altarpieces, painted on the walls, are also appearing behind carved altarpieces, such as those of Endériz, Azqueta or Dicastillo. The art of brushwork should include works of greater artistic quality or complexity of program, located in palaces such as the paintings from the palace of Oriz, which are kept in the Museum of Navarre with a great variety of themes, the mythological ones with "strong women" in the stairwell of the palace of the Marquis of San Adrián de Tudela, the work of Pietro Morone, and those recently discovered in the old chapel of the palace of Marcilla. 

The examples cited are but a timid example of what was the interior decoration of our churches and palaces. Other paintings are still hidden under plaster, repainting and altarpieces that, paradoxically, have preserved them from being torn out. The only temples that will not be able to recover their mural paintings are those that have not been chopped. I would be satisfied," he said, "if only 10% of what was painted could be recovered, which would be enough to give us an idea of what was a brilliant pictorial heritage. If many of the paintings have disappeared due to the deterioration and ruin of the churches that supported them, more have been eliminated by indiscriminate interventions such as the fashion of "removing the stone", perpetrated for the most part between 1960, as a negative repercussion of the Second Vatican Council, and the present day, where the chipping to bring to light masonry and exposed stone factories has been taken up again as a new minimalist fashion, in some cases. He concluded by pointing out that the finding and recovery of these paintings is a priority of our historical-artistic heritage and a debt to previous generations who, over the centuries, opted for color in the pictorial coating of churches and hermitages.