April 7, 2011

Easter Cycle 


Holy Week, a time of devotion and art: the image of Our Lady of Solitude in Pamplona

Mr. José Javier Azanza López.
University of Navarra

Our approach, from art and devotion, to the image of Our Lady of Solitude, leads us to consider its author Rosendo Nobas, the image and the processional step.

Rosendo Nobas i Ballbé (Barcelona, 1838-1891) was a Catalan artist trained at the Escuela de Escuela de Artes y Oficios of Barcelona, under the teaching of the brothers Agapit and Venanci Vallmitjana. After his first successes in Paris (1866), Madrid (1871, exhibition Nacional de Bellas Artes) and Vienna (1873, exhibition Universal), he began a period of splendor during which he made his sculptural activity compatible with his work professor at the School of Fine Arts, training in his classes sculptors such as Josep Gramot, Manuel Fuxà, or Josep Llimona among other notable artists. He was also sculptor of the School of Medicine of the University of Barcelona, position that he carried out in the last years of his life for the plastic reproduction of deformed external diseases, which will lead him to accentuate his tendency to realism bordering on pathos, an aspect of utmost importance in the execution of the Soledad pamplonesa.

Nobas was at plenary session of the Executive Council peak when his early death came on February 5, 1891, victim of pneumonia; an obituary grade signed by J. Roca in La Vanguardia, three days later lamented his disappearance ("an irreparable loss for Catalan art"), while providing abundant information about the life and work, character and personality of the artist.

Rosendo Nobas was a prolific artist, whose work is inscribed within the Catalan sculptural vein of the second half of the 19th century, with a strong and energetic character; but along with that strength, Nobas knew how to give his figures internal life and overall expression, without underestimating the detail in the qualities. A sculptor who modeled with perfection and was correct in his execution, as a result of his academic training , he tackled various genres: commemorative monument and urban sculpture -monuments to Rafael Casanova and General Joseph Cabrinetty, relief of the Monument to the businessman Antonio López, sculptural groups of the Monument of the Cascade of the Park of the Citadel of Barcelona, allegorical figures of Fame and bronze medallion of Martín Alonso Piznón of the Monument to Columbus-; portraiture -either of illustrious figures of the past or contemporary ones, to the point that the main families of Barcelona vied for the honor of their portraits-; types and customs; and religious and funerary sculpture, a field in which the tomb of Full Professor of Anatomy Francesc Farreras in the Montjuic Cemetery, a chilling sculpture of a life-size skeleton wrapped in a shroud, both a reminder of the profession of the deceased and an authentic "memento mori", makes an impact. 

Rosendo Nobas. Sepulchre of Francesc Farreras

Rosendo Nobas. Sepulchre of Francesc Farreras

Nobas also sculpted Dolorosas for the mausoleums of the Fabra and Brugada families, in which he represents the topic of the Virgin as a testimony of the pain before the death of her son; for this reason, it is not strange that the City Council of Pamplona commissioned him in 1883 the image of Our Lady of Solitude.

The origin of its commission and execution can be found in a testamentary order of the Pamplona native Sofía Villanueva, who in 1867 destined 10,000 reales to acquire a black velvet hand for the Virgen Dolorosa of the church of San Agustín, which was carried in procession on Good Friday. The City Council decided that such a valuable and elegant ornament deserved the execution of a new image, which arrived in Pamplona in March 1883. With the soul of a Baroque sculptor, Rosendo Nobas sculpted a dress image that iconographically fits the model of Soledad, in which only the face and hands are carved, in which the Catalan sculptor succeeded in condensing all the pain of a mother tormented by the death of her son. The expression of the face is of enormous intensity and dramatism, accentuated by the forehead furrowed with wrinkles, the pleading eyes raised to the sky, and the half-open mouth; to this feeling are joined the hands that are intertwined, twisted by the suffering.

Her beauty, in addition to giving rise to various legends, aroused admiration and praise, but also sentiment, piety and devotion, from the very moment of her arrival in Pamplona. Various testimonies confirm this, such as the newspaper review Lau-Buru of March 20, 1883, the testimony of the French archaeologist Marcel Dieulafoy during his visit to Pamplona in 1895, or the fervor of the Infanta Isabella - first-born daughter of Isabella II - on the occasion of her trip to Pamplona in 1908. Photography contributed to spread and increase this devotion, through the snapshots taken and put on sale by photographers such as the French Leopoldo Ducloux, or the Estudio Roldán y Mena, when both worked in partnership.

Our Lady of Solitude

Our Lady of Solitude. Photograph by Roldán y Mena, La Avalancha, nº 74, 8-4- 1898.

There is no doubt that the luxurious embroidered mantle that the image wears in the processions is an indispensable complement to enhance the perfection of the Virgin's face. The making of the first mantle was entrusted to the Roca and Casadevall house, one of the most representative Catalan embroidery workshops of the 19th century. This mantle underwent an improvement to position of the Mothers Adorers of Pamplona in 1927, coinciding with the reform of the processional procession according to design of Victor Eusa. After a new arrangement and cleaning in 1951, at the end of this decade the City Council wanted to replace it with a richer one that was a gift of all the people of Pamplona by means of the corresponding popular subscription. Its design corresponded to Juan María Cía, draughtsman of the Works Department of the City Hall, and its execution to the Adorers Mothers, who worked tirelessly for three hard winter months so that Our Lady of Solitude could debut her new mantle in the Procession of the Transfer on April 1, 1960. Embroidered with gold thread brought expressly from Lyon and measuring 3 meters wide and 5 meters long, the mantle resembles a forest of palms surrounding a double oval with the coat of arms of the city and the votive emblem of the Five Wounds, enriched with flowers in the tail and corners, and with pearls, rings and other jewels donated by women from Pamplona and Navarre.

Manto de la Soledad (Detail)

Mantle of Solitude (Detail). Juan María Cía and Adorers Mothers. 1960

For most of the year, Our Lady of Solitude remains in her chapel in the parish of San Lorenzo. But with the arrival of Holy Week, it becomes a traveling image that marks the beginning and end of the Pamplona processions. The Passage of the Dolorosa is not only the oldest, but also the most popular and beloved of all the processional steps of the Pamplona Holy Week. Since its arrival in Pamplona, the City Council commissioned the Brotherhood of Peace and Charity - whose members are dressed in green tunics and gold bonnets - to carry the image in all the processions in which it would appear, in gratitude for its work in assisting prisoners condemned to death and during the burial of their bodies.

Its participation in the processions of the Pamplona Holy Week begins with the Procession of the Transfer, which has its origin in 1919 when, by initiative of the Brotherhood of the Passion, the image was carried in procession on Holy Wednesday from San Lorenzo to the Cathedral, in an act celebrated at five o'clock and average in the afternoon. Subsequently it will change time and day, until 1973, when it was moved to the Friday of Sorrows, a tradition that lasts to this day.

Procession of the Holy Burial. Passage of the Soledad

Procession of the Holy Burial. Passage of the Soledad

A second procession of which we have evidence already in the 1920s, was the transfer of the Soledad from the Cathedral to San Agustín on Good Friday, immediately after the Siete Palabras, around three o'clock and average in the afternoon. In the following years this procession took place intermittently until it finally disappeared.

In the Procession of the Holy Burial, on Good Friday afternoon, the Soledad parades in last place, closing the procession; this was already stated in a publication of 1888 on the order and biblical-symbolic explanation of the procession of the Holy Burial, which stated that the Soledad was at that time the eighth and last step of the procession. At present there are twelve steps that make up the procession that runs through the streets of Pamplona for just over two hours. At its conclusion, all of them return to the premises of the Brotherhood of the Passion in Dormitalería Street, except the Dolorosa, which is housed in the church of San Agustín. This will be the starting point for the last of the processions featuring the Soledad: the Procession of the Return, on its return from the church of San Agustín to that of San Lorenzo at midnight on Good Friday to Holy Saturday, of which we already have documentary evidence at the beginning of the 20th century and which therefore becomes the second oldest in Pamplona, after that of the Santo Entierro (Holy Burial).