March 23, 2010

Global Seminars & Invited Speaker Series


The image of La Soledad in the arts and its Pamplona version

D. Ricardo Fernández Gracia.
University of Navarra

The devotion to the sorrows of the Virgin was promoted in the 13th century by the Servite Order. Its feast dates back to 1413, in Cologne, to replace the celebration of the Virgin of the Passion -whose iconography aroused controversy when theologians saw her syncope or fainting as not in accordance with Mary- and thus counteract the iconoclastic movement of the followers of John Huss. 

The cult and the feast spread throughout the Ancien Régime throughout Europe and Latin America. Until a few decades ago there were two festivities in the liturgical calendar dedicated to the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin: the first on Passion Friday, also called Friday of Sorrows, and the second on September 15, the day on which the Glorious Sorrows of Our Lady are commemorated. Both spread widely, although the first one was already very popular in plenary session of the Executive Council XVI century. The second was extended to the universal Church by Pope Pius VII in 1815, to commemorate her liberation from Neapolitan captivity. The duplication of the same invocation led recently to the suppression of that of Friday of Sorrows, although it is maintained wherever there is a deep-rooted devotion.

There are three main types with which figurative artists expressed the sorrows of the Virgin until the 16th century. The first, corresponding to the last scene of the Passion of Christ, at the moment of leaving his dead body in the tomb. Mary appears accompanied by St. John, the Marys, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, contemplating the corpse of her Son. Another way to effigy the topic of sorrows is the Virgin with her son in her lap after, according to the pious tradition, he was deposited in it by the holy men after untying him from the cross. It is a medieval topic with strength in the Renaissance. It is the well-known topic of the Pietà or of the Virgin of the Anguish. Finally, the third consists of presenting Mary at the foot of the cross, with seven daggers alluding to her seven sorrows, or a single sword as a recapitulation of all. Numerous engravings and paintings, especially from the Counter-Reformation period, made this subject their own. 

The topic of the Solitude of the Virgin is Hispanic and a new way of representing the sorrows of the Virgin. Outside Spain, the version of the Virgin alone, unaccompanied, self-absorbed, after having proceeded to the burial of Christ, dressed in widow's headdresses and not with a sword stuck in her chest, but at most contemplating or holding some of the instruments of the Passion was hardly represented.

With precedents in some Flemish prints and specific French sculptures by Germain Pilon, the topic would gain a great development in Spain from the sculpture that Gaspar Becerra carved in 1565, with the sponsorship of Queen Isabella of Valois and her chambermaid the Countess of Ureña, to whom the dress of the image was due to the use of Spanish widows, with monkish headdresses and large black cloak.

Throughout the following centuries the model was spread throughout the peninsular territories, always obeying the Madrid reference. Paintings, candlestick and round images, engravings, medals and scapulars are a good example of this.

"Solitude". Novohispanic painting by Blas Enriquez.

"Soledad". Novohispanic painting by Blas Enriquez, c. 1780 on silver framework punched in Mexico. Private collection. Pamplona

Numerous examples of this iconography of the Solitude are preserved in Navarre, mostly from the XVII and XVIII centuries, most of them in churches. Its images took on special prominence during Holy Week on the occasion of the Procession of the Holy Burial where it was paraded at the end, after the ecclesiastical and civil presidency and in the functions of the Descent from the Cross or the Disenclave.

The abundance of these images was due to the worship they received throughout the year, but above all to the prominence they took on during Lent and Holy Week, both in the Good Friday processions and in the Descent from the Cross.

Altarpiece of the Soledad of Lesaca

Altarpiece of the Soledad de Lesaca, by Tomás Jáuregui, 1751-1754.

The last great icon of this subject of Solitude was undoubtedly the one carved by the Catalan sculptor Rosendo Nobas for the City Council of Pamplona in 1884, which is worshipped in the parish church of San Lorenzo in Pamplona. In Pamplona the return of Good Friday also has the sense of solitude of the Mother of God. In the same capital of Navarre, a curious publication of 1888 on the order of the Procession of the Holy Burial, reports that the Solitude was the eighth and last step of the procession with this paragraph: "Finished the official document of the burial of Jesus, his Most Holy Mother penetrated of a new pain to be alone and deprived not only of the living Son, but also of his dead body, she determined to return to Jerusalem, and she did it accompanied singularly in this painful way of the knights Joseph and Nicodemus. It is not much then, that twelve knights from Pamplona, invited by the Exmº City Council precede her passage of the Soledad illuminating her. This step has also been enriched with a new platform at the expense of the Corporation".

"Soledad" by Rosendo Nobas and Ballbé

"Soledad" by Rosendo Nobas y Ballbé. Pamplona. 1883.