24 May 2016

Gothic art in Navarre

Radiant Gothic sculpture beyond Pamplona Cathedral

Dr. Clara Fernández-Ladreda Aguadé.
University of Navarra


The monumental sculpture of the radiant Gothic period in Navarre has its starting point and culmination in Pamplona cathedral, specifically in the cloister and canonical dependencies, but there are other examples that are also interesting and much less studied.

These include the doorways of the large urban parish churches, San Cernin (San Saturnino) in Pamplona, El Salvador in Sangüesa and the Santo Sepulcro in Estella, to which we should add the decoration of the church of Santa María in Ujué.

In all cases they are works related to cathedral sculpture - especially that of the cloister - in which they are inspired by source and/or with which they share their creators. Their chronology is staggered throughout the 14th century, from c. 1330-1335 -which seems to be the earliest work, the doorway of San Cernin- to 1385 -the date by which the later work, the decoration of Santa María de Ujué, must have been completed.

The façade of San Cernin in Pamplona opens on the north side, towards the Calle Mayor, which in turn coincides with the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago de Compostela. Its programme revolves around the life of Christ -plasmified in the capitals- and the Last Judgement -represented in the tympanum-, themes to which should be added the figures in the keystones -God the Father, Trinity Throne of Grace, the Risen Christ and Calvary- and the statues of the main figure and Saint James -presumably framing the vault-.

San Cernin de Pamplona façade

San Cernin de Pamplona façade

The link with the cathedral works can be seen in the work of artists who worked on them, such as Guillermo Inglés - to whom the carvings of Saint Saturninus and Saint James can be attributed - and the author of the keystones of the chapterhouse conference room (Barbazana chapel) - to whom the rest of the doorway can be attributed. But also in the employment of certain iconographic formulas, which seem to be based on cloister works, such as the doors of the Refectory and the Archdeaconry, and the mural of the Tree of Jesse.

The promoter may have been a wealthy member of the Pamplona bourgeoisie, perhaps a member of the Cruzat or Eza families, represented as a donor on the tympanum.

The doorway of the Saviour of Sangüesa, an important town on the Pilgrim's Way, occupies the western façade. Its programme is limited almost exclusively to the tympanum, which depicts the Last Judgement, which seems to be a simplified version of the one at San Cernin, with which it has notable similarities, although also some differences.

Two carvers were involved in its execution. On the one hand, the sculptor of the tympanum, who would also have carved the image of the primitive patron saint of the neighbouring church of Santiago. On the other hand, the author of the capitals, who should be identified with a craftsman who was involved in the second phase of the Santa María de Olite doorway and in the decoration of the passageway of Santa María de Ujué.

In the case of the Santo Sepulcro in Estella, another important enclave on the Pilgrim's Way, rather than a doorway, we should speak of a monumental façade, which occupies the entire northern side of the church and in front of which the Way passed. It is the highest quality sculptural business of the period, after the cathedral's works.

The ensemble consists of a large central doorway flanked by statues of Saint James and a saintly bishop - Saint Julian of Le Mans - and framed by two galleries of niches containing the apostolate and a series of funerary arches. The front-galleries binomial recalls the frontispieces of the churches of Santa María de Olite and San Saturnino de Artajonay, and is perhaps inspired by the former, while the pair of statues recall San Cernin in Pamplona.

Estella. Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Apostolate

Estella. Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Apostolate

topic The core of the programme is located in the door whose tympanum is dedicated to the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ -a theme very much in keeping with the parish's degree program -, several of whose scenes seem to be based on their equivalents in the cloister doorways of the Refectory and the Arcedianato, although in some cases the reference seems to be the Passion mural of the Pamplona Refectory signed by Juan Oliver. Also interesting are the capitals of the right arcosolium with an iconography of funerary connotations that is perfectly appropriate, made up of an original Epiphany and a cycle of the Death and Glorification of the Virgin, which may be related to the cloister doorways of the Amparo and Preciosa.

All this appears to be the result of the work of a single workshop, which has clear formal concomitances with some of the artists who worked on the Pamplona cloister, such as Guillermo Inglés and the master of the Preciosa door. Its promotion should be attributed to members of the Estellan bourgeoisie, including a member of the Ponce family.

But undoubtedly the building from this period with the richest and most abundant sculpture is the nave of Santa María de Ujué, since in addition to the doorways - two in this case - it has the decoration of the interior - capitals, keystones and statues of angels on the parapet of the choir - and of the perimeter passageway - corbels and keystones.

The interior baskets seem to be mostly profane in subject matter, with the occasional exception such as the story of Samson, while the keystones alternate religious and heraldic themes. For its part, the main doorway, located on the south side, fuses in its tympanum the Epiphany - which includes a donor who is difficult to identify - with the Last Supper. Finally, the sculpture of the perimeter passageway combines profane and religious motifs, with the presence of the evangelists and their symbols standing out.

As in the preceding monuments, in many cases these works seem to be based on cathedral models - cloister capitals and doorways, Perut's Epiphany and the corbels of the chapterhouse conference room - although on occasions they are filtered through works influenced by them - the frieze on the façade of San Pedro de Olite. On other occasions, the references are to be found in monuments outside the cathedral sphere - the arches of the frieze of the apostolate of the façade of Santa María de Olite -. Finally, in some pieces - interior keystones with the Virgin and the Pantocrator with the Tetramorphos, corbels of the evangelists of the perimeter passageway - the carvers seem to display a certain originality.

The abundant sculptural work required the intervention of a large number of craftsmen group , identifying up to six authors, with very different methods and qualities, two of whom worked in the neighbouring town of Olite - the frieze of San Pedro and the arches of the apostolate of Santa María.