September 27, 2011

Global Seminars & Invited Speaker Series


Contribution of the Navarrese sculptural workshops to the Baroque organ.
The spectacular cases of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

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

Orozco Díaz has pointed out the progressive theatricalization of the temple from the 17th to the 18th century in its psycho-sociological aspect, unleashed as a consequence of the Tridentine rules and regulations and analyzed as a phenomenon concomitant to the theatricalization of life. These were centuries in which different means were used to pay for the adornment of altarpieces, altars, pulpits, organs, frontals, a variety of costumes and rich silver pieces, starting with the parish cross, distinctive of the religious center. The church, with its pulpits, which represent an "overflow of the scene", tribunes, organs and altarpieces, resembled a theater.

With the disappearance of the simple medieval boxes and even the Renaissance ones - only that of the Salvador de Sangüesa is preserved - a good issue of them have come down to us from the XVII and XVIII centuries, although it is true that throughout the first half of the 19th century very important examples disappeared from disentailed monasteries and convents and on many occasions in this last century and part of the 20th century the instruments were renewed with such vigor that many of the Baroque boxes were replaced by new ones of eclectic and neo-Gothic style, at the same time that the old instruments gave way to others of Romantic style.

There is a lack of a monographic study on the boxes in their entirety: from different points of view: financing, partnership with the organ builder, designs, sources of inspiration, artists who were involved in them ..... etc. Numerous data were published in Sagaseta-Taberna's monograph, but when it comes to the study of this piece of furniture it is necessary to re-read the contracts and other documentation, as well as to make new inquiries that will lead us to knowledge of the authorship of many of them, still unpublished.

As is well known, the sounds of the organ, especially in the Baroque period, became part of the elements of power within the temple, while they were also listened to as a metaphor for the angelic hierarchies. In the midst of the Baroque culture, so intimately allied with the senses, the voices and sounds of the organ constituted one of the most sensual means for the fascination of those who attended the ceremonies inside the temple.

Regarding the location, for which practical, technical, acoustic and aesthetic reasons were taken into account, most of them are located in the choir loft or in a tribune extending the choir along one of the side aisles. Some instruments are more exceptional, such as the one in the monastery of Fitero, located in the section immediately next to Wayside Cross of the central nave.

As for the promoters, in general the parish patronages, as well as the monasteries and convents, took the construction of the instruments and their cases very seriously. On some occasions models were imposed, as happened in Villafranca (1739), where Rafael Vélaz, a local master, was obliged to copy the model of that of Santa María de Tafalla, the work of Juan Ángel Nagusia from Estella (1735). There were also private individuals who provided their parish with a musical instrument, as was the case in Villava, paid for by Mateo Juanarguin (1777), or the same organ in the cathedral of Pamplona, thanks to the munificence of the archdeacon from Roncal Pascual Beltrán de Gayarre (1741).

Miranda de Arga Organ

Organ of Miranda de Arga (1743).
Case by José Lesaca, gilded and polychromed in 1753 by José Rey y Gómez.


The masters who made the cases were, as in other regions, the same ones who made position the rest of the liturgical furnishings such as altarpieces or pulpit loudspeakers. In general, we can affirm that the great retablists of the different Navarrese workshops were in charge of the organ cases, although there are some examples of foreign masters, such as Diego de Camporredondo from Calagurri. In general, the commissioners sought out and consulted the most suitable person or workshop for the execution of the piece of furniture. A very rare case was that of the Bishop of Pamplona himself, who recommended one of his fellow countrymen to build the case of the organ in Los Arcos. In 1759 he addressed that town in these terms: "I highly praise the idea of promote for the greater honor and splendor of your church with the organ and sacristy drawers that are to be made by the good hand of Camporredondo, as there is no other of more skill, security and satisfaction".

If we know the names of the master architects and sculptors who made many of those boxes, we do not know the names of the gilders-polychromators who made position of the decoration of those hybrid pieces between design, sculpture and painting.

As far as the forms are concerned, it is very easy to see how the different phases of the Baroque, from the prevailing Classicism in the first half of the 17th century and the resurgence and triumph of decoration in its Castilian phase, to the Rococo and Academicism aesthetics, we have excellent examples in Navarre.

To the classicist period belongs the one in Ablitas, the work of a famous retablist active in the second quarter of the century and established in Tarazona, Jerónimo de Estaragán. His clear and straight lines will become curved in the boxes of Santo Domingo de Pamplona (1658-1659) and especially in the spectacular one of the monastery of Fitero (1659-1660) enriched with a pair of flutings with rich reliefs of musical angels between pinjantes of fruits. Baroque style will be displayed at the end of the 17th century and particularly in the first decades of the following century. The examples of Corella, Lerín, Tafalla or Villafranca give good sample of how the decoration, carving and ornamentation of small sculptures became masters of the Structures of that furniture.

In general, we find in this subject of baroque furniture with a real scenography that occupies, in many cases, the back of the wall to which it is attached, made with formal complexity in plan and elevations with dynamism, ostentation and sumptuousness, with a fusion of the arts (architecture, sculpture and painting) that lends itself to the spectacular. In addition, the fact that the boxes are covered with gold and color give them great richness, while its decoration is based on symbols of abundance, triumph and glory, housing celestial characters playing percussion and string instruments. All this, together with the rhetoric of the preacher and the liturgical offices in general, seeks to generate an authentic caelum in terris, a miraculous and hallucinating space, typical of the Baroque, an art that wants to captivate through the senses, much more vulnerable than the intellect.

Of the examples of rococo art, the Sesma box (1771) is the most delicate. It is attributable to Dionisio de Villodas and his son-in-law Lucas de Mena. Of great interest are those of Los Arcos (1759), work of the aforementioned Camporredondo or that of Cárcar (1766). Of Borrominesque style are those of Mendigorría (1782) or Cáseda (1785), both of advanced chronology. Of particular interest is that of the parish of Peralta, one of the very few that is not contemporary to the instrument, since it was made to prevent its deterioration in 1783 by the famous Italian master Santiago Marsili.

The classical and academicist aesthetics increased from the last years of the Age of Enlightenment, in works such as the boxes of Lodosa (1796), Andosilla (1799) or the missing one of Huarte-Pamplona that we know from an excellent drawing with its layout (1797), signed by Martín de Andrés.

Detail of the organ case of the Fitero parish church.

Detail of the organ case of the Fitero parish church. 1660