August 22, 2008

Global Seminars & Invited Speaker Series


The cloister of the monastery of Fitero: a lesson in Renaissance architecture in Navarre

Ms. María Josefa Tarifa Castilla.
Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

The cloister of the Cistercian monastery of Fitero is one of the most significant architectural works of Navarrese art undertaken in the 16th century, as it provides a didactic and singular evolution in stone of Renaissance art in Spain. sponsorship The lower cloister was built under the direction of the abbots Fray Martín de Egüés I (1503-1540) and Fray Martín de Egüés II (1540-1580), beginning its Building by the eastern bay (c. 1530-1545) in which the Guipuzcoan stonemason Luis de Garmendia (a native of Alquiza) worked on the architectural structure and the French master Baltasar de Arrás on the stonework, masonry and bulks, while the other three remaining bays were erected with Roman models under the direction of the Guipuzcoan stonemason Pedro de Arteaga during the years 1561 and 1572. The Renaissance factory was erected on the space occupied until then by the medieval cloister, part of whose stone material was reused in the new construction, in addition to using local sandstone that is easily eroded by the action of moisture, as evidenced by the serious deterioration of the cloister, which is currently being intervened.

Lower cloister of the monastery of Fitero. East Gallery

Lower cloister of the monastery of Fitero. East gallery. Luis de Garmendia and Baltasar de Arrás, c. 1530-1545.

The supports, vaults and sculpted decoration in the different bays of the lower cloister show an evolution of style and invoice typical of Spanish Renaissance architecture. The pillars vary along the four bays and mark an evolution that goes from late Gothic schemes with supports of subject Reyes Católicos, with fasciculated shafts and running capitals, to others of subject classicist style located in the north gallery. The vaults are particularly interesting, both for their richness of design and for their decoration, from the modality of terceletes to other more complex star-shaped coverings that are enriched with concave and convex cambered vaults of different designs.

The ornamental language sculpted on the capitals, corbels and keystones of the vaults of the east bay reflects the novelties imported from the Italian Renaissance, being one of the few groups of riverside architecture that preserves this language of the early sixteenth century with the omnipresent grotesque, formed by plant, human and animal elements that metamorphose, carving fine decorations with candelieri compositions, based on frontal faces, garlands, angels' heads, masks, monsters and fantastic animals, with elements from link such as suspended cloths, ribbons and phylacteries, an artistic style that evolves in the south, west and north galleries towards "fantastic Mannerism" of Raphaelesque and Michelangelesque inspiration, with the use of correiform cartouches, hanging cloths or skulls. This decorative program alternates with religious scenes such as the capitals dedicated to The Creation and a profane Christianized speech through the emblems, with themes such as the chariot of death. On the main keystones of the vaults are carved the coats of arms of the abbots who promoted and financed the different cloister galleries.

Lower cloister of the monastery of Fitero. East and North Galleries

Lower cloister of the monastery of Fitero. East and North galleries, XVI century

When sculpting this rich decorative program, the artisans used Italian or French prints as sources of inspiration, along with engravings that illustrated the books that were printed at the time, as reflected in the formal coincidence of some of the corbels sculpted in the east gallery of the Fiteran cloister with the drawings engraved by Juan de Vingles in the borders of the book Juan de Icíar, Orthographia Pratica (Zaragoza, 1548), or the capitals of the north gallery analogous to those drawn by Diego de Sagredo in his treatise on architecture Medidas del Romano ( Toledo, 1526) and to the drawings of capitals in the Codex Escurialensis, or the buccaneer from whose horns hangs a curtain whose end ends in balls and which seems to be copied from the similar illustration in book IV of Architecture by the Italian treatise writer Serlio. 

In contrast to the rich decoration of the lower cloister of the Fitero monastery, the austere severity of the upper cloister contrasts, built between 1590 and 1613 during the abdicates of Fray Marcos de Villalba (1590-1591) and Fray Ignacio de Ibero (1592-1613), by outstanding Cantabrian artisans linked to Juan de Nates Naveda of Valladolid, Juan de Naveda and Juan González de Sisniega, bearers of the Herrerian language that emanated from the Court in the last third of the 16th century after Building of the Monastery of El Escorial, who built the cloister in a new classicist language, making this work the first in the whole of Navarre in which Classicism was imposed. Throughout the four galleries there are semicircular arches, articulated by attached pilasters mounted on recessed parapets, with geometry predominating, as opposed to decoration, which is totally banned. All the sections are covered by half-barrel vaults lowered with lunettes, separated from each other by sash arches that rest, on one side on the pillars of the arches and on the other on the Tuscan masonry pilasters attached to the perimeter walls.

View of the lower cloister and upper cloister

View of the lower cloister and upper cloister, 16th century.

Corbel of the lower cloister. East Gallery

Corbel of the lower cloister. East Gallery, c. 1530-1545