The piece of the month of August 2009


Mercedes Jover Hernando
Chair de Patrimonio y Arte Navarro


The magnificent Romanesque enclosure of Artajona protects a unique Gothic temple with a single nave, erected during the 13th century, whose chevet was enriched with an important set of Gothic mural paintings, representing the Last Judgment and two narrative cycles on the life of Saint Saturninus and Saint Exuperius. Most of these murals can be visited in the Museum of Navarre in Pamplona.

For whatever reason, because the great temples were being equipped with large altarpieces, because, as the documentation tells us, problems in the roofs had spoiled the paintings of the chevet, blurring their iconographic message, because they seemed outdated, or for all these or other reasons, The fact is that at the beginning of the 16th century, in 1513, the parish of San Saturnino de Artajona was endowed with a magnificent altarpiece in the Tardogothic style executed by the Pamplona fusteros Master Pierres and Master Andrés, and the painters Master Francisco de Orgaz and his disciple Master Floristán de Aria. It narrates an iconographic program centered on three painted cycles of the Life of San Saturnino, Life of the Virgin and the Passion of Christ, in consonance with their respective carvings in the central street.

Occupying the second street of the first body is the Baptism of San Fermín by San Saturnino. The scene takes place in an interior of centralized plant, as it usually corresponds to a baptistery, whose specialization program is defined by three polygonal closing walls and a floor of colorful tiles whose fugitive grid constitutes a quite successful attempt of Renaissance perspective. This interior is occupied by a large baptismal font, which resembles the Gothic font of this temple, in which there are up to six adults who are receiving baptism by partial immersion according to a formula already outdated for the time, but of great plasticity. Inside the font stands out a pious young man, highlighted with a sumptuous coif, who is being anointed by the celebrating bishop, Saint Saturninus himself. It is worthy of accredited specialization the teaching assistant of San Saturnino, who from the other side of the basin holds the cross and the chrism.

"San Saturnino baptizing new Christians" Altarpiece of San Saturnino de Artajona.

"Saint Saturnino baptizing new Christians".
Altarpiece of San Saturnino de Artajona.


The recent close observation of this panel, on the occasion of its restoration at position of the Foundation for the Conservation of the Historical Heritage of Navarre, has given us a pleasant surprise. Among the witnesses of the baptism, occupying a prominent place in the composition, the visual center of the upper half of the panel, we find a character wearing a headdress who looks directly into our eyes. His interlocutor and direct look seems to indicate it. It constitutes an example of author's metalepsis, of that ancient custom, inspired by the anecdote of the first known self-portrait, by which Phidias would have portrayed himself in the shield of Minerva, by which the author represents himself within the painting itself. There are abundant antecedents of Italian artists who, since the Quattrocento, portray themselves in their own works, and the specialized bibliography understands this as part of the pride that these professionals felt and which led to the long struggle they went through for their art to be considered liberal (numerous specialists have written masterfully about this struggle, masterfully explained by Julián Gállego in his work El pintor de artesano a artista of 1976) The topic, centered on the moment that concerns us, the Renaissance, has been reviewed and updated by J. Woods-Marsden in the chapter "The Renaissance self-portrait" in the Catalogue of the magnificent exhibition Temporary The Renaissance Portrait, which we were able to admire at the Prado Museum in 2008.

We have closer examples of 16th century artists who immortalized themselves in their works. Thus we see the sculptor Damián Forment who portrays himself in the old style in the sotabancos of the altarpieces of the cathedral of Huesca and the Pilar de Zaragoza and the painter Pedro de Aponte who does the same in the sotabanco of the altarpiece of Santa María la Real de Olite (in 1528-1530). Professor Carmen Morte has again recognized this author, a mature Pedro de Aponte who stares at us, The portrait of a more similar artist takes us to the town of Agreda (Soria, 1523-1525) where this author identified the self-portrait of the painter among the characters that go in procession in the panel "Procession to Mount Gargano". Pedro Aponte was captured for the posterity in Agreda in the same way that Francisco de Orgaz would have done it in Artajona (1511-1515): painting his face of front and looking at the spectator, Aponte covered with hairnet and Orgaz with a bonnet, headdress of the family of the bonetes with two tips that cover the ears and very stuck to the head, similar to the one that, enriched by a golden fringe, covers the head of San Fermín. It is given the circumstance that in the panel of the Baptism of Artajona, near the portrait of the master Francisco de Orgaz, appears another head that also covers his head with a cap, looking sideways, which could be his disciple and partner in this altarpiece Maese Floristán de Aria.

The self-portrait of the painter in one of the scenes of the altarpiece of Artajona, of Tardogothic style, which combines elements of the late Gothic style, such as cardinals and brocades, with Renaissance elements, which constitutes a new example of the endotopic author, that is, the author who represents himself integrated in his work, could mean the attempt of self-affirmation of the artist, who paints himself and perhaps his teaching assistant in a place well visible to the public, bringing to the Navarre of 1500 the beginnings of a struggle for the recognition of a profession, for which it was claimed, as daughter of the design, that El arte e cosa mentale.

In Navarre and already at the end of the 16th century we have an outstanding self-portrait of the painter Felices de Cáceres, dated 1591, in the altarpiece of the Purísima of the Parish of Santa María de Fitero, which has been made known by Professor Pedro Echeverría Goñi.

VV. AA., San Saturnino de Artajona, Pamplona, Fundación para la Conservación del Patrimonio Histórico de Navarra, 2009, pp. 186- 215 and 330-397. Stoichita, V. I., How to savor a painting, 2009, pp. 33-54 and 157-174. Woods-Marsden, J., "The Renaissance self-portrait", El retrato del Renacimiento, Madrid, Ediciones El Viso, 2008, pp. 91-107. Gállego, J., El pintor de artesano a artista, Granada, Diputación Provincial, 1976 (referring to the later Baroque period).