The piece of the month of April 2006


Ricardo Fernández Gracia
Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

Some dignities of the chapter of the cathedral of Pamplona, the richest, specifically those of the Table and the Chamber, were in a position to contribute more money to certain artistic projects. Both were "the best and largest dignities of this Church.... The first would be worth more than a thousand ducats and the chamber more than three thousand". Thus the archdeacon of the Chamber Don Juan de Ciriza paid for the central altarpiece of the Barbazana chapel in 1643 and probably the whole set of altars, since he was a canon closely related to the aforementioned chapel to which he donated a silver lamp, also discovering the pantheon that would later serve as a funerary chapel for the canons. 

Main altarpiece of the Barbazana chapel of the cathedral of Pamplona in its original location (1642)

Main altarpiece of the Barbazana chapel of the cathedral of Pamplona in its original location (1642)

The altarpiece disappeared from the cathedral in the works carried out at the beginning of the decade of the forties of the last century. From Navarre it traveled to Madrid to preside over the temple of Santa Isabel la Real de Madrid, of the Augustinian Recollect nuns, at which time it underwent some modifications and above all a change in its iconography of the main body and its attic. The other two altarpieces of the Barbazana had better luck than the previous one and are preserved inside the cathedral, dedicated to St. Augustine and the small altarpiece of relics given by Bishop Sandoval. The architect who directed the reconstruction of the church of Santa Isabel de Madrid and the restoration of the cathedral of Pamplona, Don José Yárnoz Larrosa, may have been the person who mediated between the Pamplona chapter and the community of Madrid to carry out the transfer.

The author of the altarpiece was Mateo de Zabalía, one of the most outstanding architects of the first phase of Baroque altarpieces in Guipúzcoa, Álava and La Rioja, who developed most of his activity in the second third of the 17th century in his native province, although the best of his production is located in Salvatierra and Logroño, the latter city where he died in 1653. The date of the altarpieces of the cathedral of Pamplona, destined to the Barbazana chapel, has its documentary confirmation since Zabalía was in Pamplona in 1642, specifically on November 16, acting as a witness in the examination of the assembler of Martín de Beraza. The mastery of architecture, the rigid arrangement of compartments, the volumetry of the geometric decorative elements, as well as some ornamental details are the unequivocal signature of this master. Specifically, the row of children on the cornice that separates the first section from the second in the altarpiece of San Juan de Salvatierra is repeated in the main altarpiece that presided over the Barbazana. In both cases there is a beautiful set of stereotyped images of putti with arms crossed and legs suspended in perfect alignment, leaving the spaces free for buds and other plant motifs. It is an elegant and rare decoration in these lands. On the other hand, the proximity in dates and style of all these pieces is evident, the Pamplona altarpieces must have been made at the beginning of the decade of the forties and the Salvatierra altarpiece was contracted in 1646.

The chapel of the Barbazana of the cathedral of Pamplona treasured in the past a rich collection of paintings and altarpieces that were placed with the intention of revaluing the interior of the Gothic chapel. This is clear from the different inventories of the sacristy and even from the old photographs and postcards of the Barbazana that show the beautiful set of the three altarpieces that decorated its walls. The central one disappeared in the works of reform of the temple in 1946 and the two collateral ones were moved to the interior of the cathedral, where they remain today under the invocations of Saint Augustine and the Holy Relics.

The set of the three altarpieces of this chapel formed a singular chapter within the panorama of the Navarrese altarpieces of the time. They are works within the classicist line, although with an evident distancing from the formulas of the prevailing late-classicism and in clear connection with the Castilian and courtly guidelines that arrived in these lands through the presence in Tolosa, within the bishopric of Pamplona, of Pedro de la Torre and Bernabé Cordero between 1639 and 1647.

High altarpiece from the convent of Santa Isabel de Madrid, from the Barbazana chapel of the cathedral of Pamplona.

High altarpiece from the convent of Santa Isabel de Madrid, from the Barbazana chapel of the cathedral of Pamplona.

The structure of the altarpiece could not be simpler and clearer in its lines, in spite of the movement generated by the advancement of the internal columns with respect to others that are recessed. It consists of a bench with plain netting, a single body articulated by composite columns, a powerful entablature with the frieze alluded to in the row of naked children that gives way to the attic with moldings with ribs and very powerful and volumetric geometric moldings. The whole is topped by a curved split attic and a set of balls with a central cartouche enclosing an emblem. The iconography of the altarpiece was centered in recent times on the Christ of Juan de Anchieta and the Dolorosa of the attic referred to in the contract, which is a version of the Virgen de la Paloma of Madrid, popularized through devotional prints. The painter Miguel de Armendáriz was in charge of its gilding and polychromy position , by means of a contract signed on October 18, 1643.

FERNÁNDEZ GRACIA, R.. The baroque altarpiece in Navarre. Pamplona, Príncipe de Viana, 2003, pp. 198-200 and "Transformaciones del espacio interior de la catedral de Pamplona: del templo gótico a las reformas del clasicismo academicista". Lineamientos y limitaciones en la conservación: Pasado y futuro del patrimonio. X colloquium of the seminar of Study of Artistic Heritage. Conservation, restoration and defense. Mexico, National Autonomous University of Mexico. Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliográficas, 2005, pp. 181-234.
SÁENZ RUIZ-OLALDE, J.L.: Las Agustinas Recoletas de Santa Isabel la Real de Madrid. Madrid, Real Monasterio de Santa Isabel, 1990, pp. 246-247.