October 26, 2011


A journey through medieval Marian sculpture: the Virgins of the Diocesan Museum of Pamplona

Ms. Clara Fernández-Ladreda Aguadé.
University of Navarra

As the degree scroll indicates, it is a journey through the medieval Marian imagery of the Cathedral and Diocesan Museum, taking the opportunity to give a brief characterization of the medieval Marian statuary in general.

The cathedral's titular sculpture, Santa María la Real, perhaps the oldest carving of the Virgin in Navarre, is of interest to us for several reasons. Firstly, because it is a clear example of a very frequent creative procedure -although not exclusive- of the Old Kingdom: the use of sculptures belonging to relevant institutions or that enjoyed great devotion as prototypes for those of the neighboring territory; specifically it will serve as model for those of Echalaz, Berriozar and Aldaba. Secondly, because of the materials used in their construction, specifically the silver metal cover, which again is not a unique case -we have others in Irache, Ujue, Estella, Sangüesa and Roncesvalles-, but it is an exception. Finally, because of the multiplicity of its functions: image of worship, receptacle of relics, processional virgin and juradera.

The carvings of Yarnoz, Eristain, Celigüeta, Cataláin and Uli Alto allow us to analyze the typical features of Romanesque imagery: frontal and rigid postures, and garments tight to the body with anti-naturalistic folds. The first three are as many versions of the most genuine subject of the Romanesque Virgin, the Sedes Sapientiae, characterized by its total dehumanization, since Mary is treated as a throne -sede- and Jesus as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity -Wisdom-, which is reflected in her name. Those of Catalain and Uli Alto exemplify the second typology of Romanesque statuary, defined by a greater humanization, evident in the fact that Mary is treated as a human being, since she holds the Child or protects Him in some way. In the case of that of Catalain, it is necessary to highlight the employment of the pellote, which allows us to date it in the XIII century, although it conserves the formal characteristics of the Romanesque.

In all of them we can appreciate both the employment of the most used material in the Romanesque and very frequent also in the Gothic, the polychrome wood, as well as the techniques of work. The body of the Virgin -including the head- is carved in a trunk, whose core is eliminated to avoid cracking and lighten the weight, but often this is disguised by placing a lid on the back. The remaining elements -Mary's hands, Jesus' figure and attributes of both- are made in independent pieces, which are joined to the Virgin's body by means of dowels; that is why sometimes they have been lost -Child of Uli Alto-. To make the polychrome, first a glued cloth is applied on the wood, then a very thin layer of plaster and, finally, the color. Sometimes, through polychromy, the churches with fewer resources try to imitate the metallic, golden -Yarnoz and Eristain- or silver -Uli Alto- coverings.

The carvings of Meoz, Bezquiz, Urricelqui and Zariquieta offer us -to a greater or lesser extent Degree- the characteristics of Gothic imagery, which allow us to differentiate it from Romanesque imagery: figures in freer and more natural attitudes -Jesus is already a human being and even a child- and naturalistic treatment of clothing and folds. The one from Meoz stands out because the seat is enriched with a religious scene painted on the back -the Crucifixion-, procedure rare in wooden statuary, which may be taken from the images with metal cover, in which it is more common for the throne to be decorated with figures and scenes -Villatuerta, Roncesvalles-. In those of Bezquiz and Urricelqui it would be necessary to point out its character of derivatives of the titular of Santa María de Sangüesa.

Finally, the carving that presides over the Barbazana chapel exemplifies a typology unknown in the Romanesque and that appears in the Gothic: the upright Virgin. In Spain this formula will be a minority, in contrast to what happens in France, and it will often go together with employment of a material that is also a minority, stone. Its exotic character is evidenced by the fact that most of the few existing samples in Navarre are imported works or made by foreign artists.

In the specific case of the statue of the Barbazana it is obligatory to mention its original base, decorated with a pair of lions resurrecting their cub, which allude to the Resurrection. It is a topic taken from the miniature, from the Bestiaries, but of which we have not found other examples in sculpture.

Romanesque Virgin of Catalain

Romanesque Virgin of Catalain