April 11, 2008


Sesma, its artistic heritage and its artists

Ms. María Concepción García Gainza
Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

Few places in Navarre, not to say any other, gathered in the same time among their children so many illustrious and creative men as Sesma that had in the XVIII century, four bishops and four artists some, men of intelligence and sanctity that exercised diverse positions and orders and presided over different dioceses others, creative sculptors and to the day that assumed the risk of moving to Madrid to work in hard skill with other artists and to be formed in the last tendencies of the art. The former as patrons and the latter by means of projects and execution of artistic works would turn the parish of Sesma into a small sculpture museum in which one can follow step by step the evolution of the altarpiece and the image modulated by the ups and downs of taste, in a century open to international currents.

Four bishops
Juan Antonio Pérez de Arellado, born in 1694 and bishop of Cascia (in partibus infidelium), opens the list of bishops. It is probable that the three excellent sculptures in the church of Luis Salvador Carmona - Saint Raphael, Our Lady of the Rosary and Saint Francis of Assisi - whom he would have known in the Madrid congregation, are due to his patronage. His gift is the reliquary of San Blas with registration and the bishop's coat of arms. The other three bishops of Sesma must have belonged to the same family because they have in common the surname Escalzo. The first was Don Matías Escalzo y Acedo, born in 1690, became bishop of Astorga. Don Juan José Martínez Escalzo, was bishop of Segovia in whose cathedral he is buried and finally don José Cipriano Escalzo y Miguel, born in 1718, who was bishop of Cádiz-Ceuta in 1783. The Escalzo bishops would have also favored the parish of their native town, probably with the execution of the neoclassical altarpieces such as that of San José.


Luis Salvador Carmona, "San Rafael".

Luis Salvador Carmona, "San Rafael", c.a. 1747


Four artists
The figure of Roque Solano, born in Sesma in 1654, offers the interest of appearing as a sculptor and neighbor of Madrid, as mentioned by Ceán Bermúdez and disputing in company of others of his official document before the committee of Castile the payment of the contribution for the militias. The sculptors won the lawsuit since that supreme court declared that sculpture was exempt from any contribution as liberal art. It is surprising the participation of Sesma's sculptor in this discussion , encouraged by painters and sculptors of the time to obtain the consideration of his official document as liberal art, product of an intellectual activity and not only guide. Sculpture would take longer to achieve this recognition than painting, since its handling of materials and tools required a high dose of physical effort. Sculptor, therefore, up to date with the great issues of the time, his art is inscribed within the Baroque tradition to which he belongs in the passage between two centuries. Thus sample in the image of San Fermín, titular of the congregation of San Fermín de los Navarros, of which he was a congregant, or in the bust of the Dolorosa de Sesma signed by Roque Solano in Madrid in 1703, just a year before his death, a work in which he follows the Dolorosas of the Granada school, well represented by those of Pedro de Mena that could be seen in the Madrid convents of the Descalzas Reales or the Mercedarias of don Juan de Alarcón. A significant change occurred with the activity of Silvestre de Soria (1715), undoubtedly the most important artist of Sesma. We also find him working in Madrid and in a distinguished work, the Royal Palace, one of the most important constructive enterprises of Felipe V and Fernando VI where Soria appears as a carver and ornamentalist among the numerous artists working in the royal workshop, in the sculptural program. There he learned an exquisite art of cutting design and refinement that he brought to Navarre when the diaspora of artists took place when Charles III arrived from Naples and ordered the interruption of the works in the Palace. Already in Navarre, Soria will take over the art market but not before going through the humiliation of having to be examined in the guild of San José de Pamplona as a modest carpenter and assembler, terms of another bygone era. From then on we will see him involved in architectural projects such as in San Gregorio Ostiense where he acted as an appraiser or in the cathedral of Pamplona where he renovated the temple in the Rococo style in the Sacristy of the canons, the Library Services Capitular and the project of the transcoro (1760) which would not be completed. Skilled in the art of the design his altarpieces offer moving lines in the structural and exquisiteness in the ornament as can be seen in those of San Gregorio Ostiense -art of court on the top of a mountain-, Azpilcueta or Goizueta and several in Vizcaya. He enjoyed great success in his time and also worked for Sesma in the project of the chapel of Christ and probably in the altarpieces of Santiago and San Francisco de Asís. Silvestre de Soria was responsible for the change in the altarpiece and in the image that took place in Navarre from 1760 onwards, just when the path of classicism began in Madrid.

To complete the topic there are still two more sculptors born in Sesma, the Villodas, Dionisio de Villodas and Ramón Villodas, father and son. In order not to break with the local tradition and perhaps advised by Soria, Ramón would go to Madrid where as student of the Academy of Fine Arts he would obtain a second award in the triennial competition of 1732, with the sculpture of the Gladiator in terracotta where sample the study of the human body inspired by the ancient statuary. Some of the sculptures in the parish of Sesma, such as the Crucifixion of the Chapel of Christ, are by Ramón Villodas, as is the Saint Joseph of the neoclassical altarpiece of this dedication, the design of which is due to the academician Juan de Villanueva, the architect of the Prado Museum.