November 11, 2010


Heritage, Art and Architecture

Rediscovering a heritage: behind the lattices of the Navarre enclosures

D. Ricardo Fernández Gracia.
Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

The last decades have meant a qualitative and quantitative advance in the knowledge of the cultural goods of movable art conserved by the convents and monasteries of cloistered nuns in the Comunidad Foral. The first big step in this direction was the inventory of their artistic pieces collected in the Monumental Catalog of Navarre, between 1980 and 1997.

As all those goods became known, its knowledge in all the orders has been outlined in programs of study monographs of different nature, from punctual works on some arts in certain convents, up to numerous catalographic cards in most of the exhibitions that have been realized in the last years, with topics of diverse nature. Monographs on subjects such as the Immaculate Conception or the historical nativity scenes in Navarre have always had in the Navarrese cloisters an inexcusable reference.

On the one hand, we get to know the portraits of their founders and everything related to the altarpieces that preside over their churches, generally very remarkable pieces from regional workshops with designs and round bulks imported from the national reference letter . There is no lack of polychrome wood sculptures, imported from Madrid, both in the seventeenth century and in the following century, as well as unique works from Aragon, Neapolitan or Latin America.

The chapter of the canvases preserved in them is very important and a faithful exponent of the triumph of the painting in the XVII century, particularly of those belonging to the Madrid school and of immaculist iconography. In this respect it is necessary to remember that in dependencies of the cloisters works of Juan Rici, Marcos Aguilera, Claudio Coello, José Ximénez Donoso, Escalante, Pedro Villafranca, González de la Vega, Francisco Camilo, Miguel Jacinto Meléndez or Antonio González Ruiz are conserved. Along with works signed by these artists, other works by painters established in Navarre, especially Vicente Berdusán, and other works of Roman, French or New Spain origin are preserved.
The particular care with which the nuns guarded the silver during the 19th century, hiding it, or leaving it for their care to people they trusted, has meant that the sacristies of their convents have preserved outstanding pieces of gold and silverware from different national and international workshops.

As far as embroidery is concerned, the large collections of Augustinian and Augustinian Recollect nuns of Pamplona, Poor Clares and Benedictine nuns of Estella correspond to imports from Aragonese and Toledo workshops of the 18th century.
As for engravings, in addition to some plates and prints from subject devotional, the collection of prints acquired by the Discalced Carmelite nun Leonor de la Misericordia (Ayanz and Beaumont) stands out. All of them were bound and numbered in the 17th century, after their acquisition by the aforementioned Carmelite in the last years of the 16th century.

However, these pieces of material heritage are not all that our cloisters treasure, since from the immaterial point of view we can still pursue the use and function of many cultural assets, because surprisingly, the unknown life of the cloisters is revealed to us as a collection of spirituality and rich experience of the cycles of the liturgical year, experience that constitutes a coherent whole, where we can still trace characteristics of the piety of past times.

It is difficult, for example, to evoke the celebration of Christmas in past centuries, its celebrations, uses and customs. In order to reconstruct part of that past through immaterial means, we still have important sources of information. The fact that the communities continue to live, in many cases and in spite of the vicissitudes of history, in the same construction of the foundation and of having inherited secular traditions, make of these places testimonies, without equal, of the collective report and of keys of the religiosity.

Eucharistic Chest

Eucharistic casket. Bernardo Peña. 1694. Monastery of Tulebras

Reliquary of the Augustinian Recollect Nuns of Pamplona

Reliquary of the Augustinian Recollect Nuns of Pamplona