The piece of the month of October 2023


Ricardo Fernández Gracia
Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art
University of Navarra

The paternity of many works is becoming known as documents from different archives are unearthed. Today we will deal with the altarpiece of St. Joseph of the parish of Cintruénigo, with unpublished news, since only the information of its gilding, in 1719, by Juan Forte, a master established at that time in Tudela, had been published.

The history of the cult and veneration of St. Joseph has very special moments. First of all, in 1621, when Pope Gregory XV ordered that his feast be celebrated throughout the Church on March 19. Later, in 1870, Pius IX proclaimed him patron of the Universal Church. More recently, in 1955, Pius XII declared him protector of the workers because of his condition of carpenter, celebrating this feast on May 1. The first two circumstances caused his images to multiply.

As in most of the towns of the region, then of the diocese of Tarazona, the saint had devotees and brotherhoods in parishes and convents that commissioned his image and altarpiece, as he was one of the most popular saints in times of the Counter-Reformation. In the neighboring towns of Fitero, and especially Corella, he had different altarpieces and images. It will not be superfluous to remember that, from the end of the 16th century, his images will multiply in many altarpieces along the whole foral geography, while confraternities of subject devotional were founded and an important group of carpenters' guilds was under his sponsorship: Pamplona, Tudela, Estella, Sangüesa, Corella, Fitero, Cascante and Corella, among others. Many of the altarpieces of his dedication belong to the Baroque workshops of Pamplona, Estella and Tudela, and also some of neoclassical style like the one in the parish of Sesma, designed by the academic architect Juan de Villanueva in 1787.

The iconography of St. Joseph changed radically with the arrival of the centuries of Modernity, leaving behind a legendary iconographic model , according to some texts that presented him with eighty or ninety years, for an adult of vigorous appearance and great moral strength, in line with a new vision of his role as the adoptive father of Christ. His figure began to multiply in importance in the liturgy and in worship, highlighting his simplicity and tenderness. St. Teresa and her works and foundations weighed heavily in the extension of his cult. As a consequence, her projection in the arts did not take long to arrive. In the Hispanic sphere, an author as widely read as Mother Agreda affirms that she married at the age of thirty-three, in harmony with the only one who had previously defended the youth of the saint, who was none other than St. Jerome.

The altarpiece of Cintruénigo, work of José Labastida

In 1995, Professor Pérez Sánchez, in a study on the altarpieces of the Community of Madrid, reflected and argued about the "problem not completely solved regarding the paternity of the altarpieces". With this he alluded to the many questions raised by the construction of the great genre par excellence of the Hispanic Baroque, because the contract and the appraisals, together with the accounts, give us to know something, but not everything, regarding how many masters and/or apprentices of different specialties were involved in the whole, or other ways of contracting that did not necessarily mean going through the notary to formalize the writing. In general, a master with a workshop contracted, committed himself, gave bonds and received payments; he designed, directed the workshop and, if he considered it necessary or convenient, associated with other masters and workshops.

In the case of Cintruénigo, the sculpture for the altarpiece was commissioned and made a few years before the latter. We have the contracts for the realization of both pieces.

Altarpiece of St. Joseph of the parish of Cintruénigo, by José Labastida, 1711.

The Cintruénigo altarpiece was contracted on November 16, 1711 with the Tudela master José Labastida for the amount of 180 pesos, equivalent to 1,440 reales, and with the obligation to finish it by the day of his feast in March of 1712 (file de Protocolos de Tudela [APT] Cintruénigo. José Gil y Muro, 1711, fol. 50). As a contracting party is Don José de Navascués y Arguedas (1667-1742), captain of infantry who won in 1696 the suit of hidalguía before the High Court of Navarre and hosted Felipe V in his house in June 1706, for which he would receive the following year the use of chains on the door of his house. He married Isabel de Zabalza y Salazar in Madrid in 1693 and they founded an entailed estate in Cintruénigo in 1723.

José Labastida, on the other hand, was one of those retablists who did not have the projection of some of his contemporaries in the Tudela workshop, such as Francisco Gurrea or José de San Juan. He married Josefa Malón in 1708 (APT. Tudela. Antonio González, 1708). However, we know that he worked from the end of the 17th century until his death in 1745. In 1695 he is documented working for the parish of San Gil de Cervera del Río Alhama; in 1713 we find him again contracting the altarpieces for the Purísima Concepción in Cintruénigo with the mayor and aldermen of Cintruénigo, being titled sculptor and carver (APT. Cintruénigo. José Gil y Muro, 1713, fol. 39). The following year he made position of two gates for the parish of Cascante (APT. Cascante. Diego Navarro, 1714, fol. 104). Finally, in 1732 he made a critical report on the Desposorios altarpiece that Domingo Romero made for the parish of San Miguel de Corella. He died in Tudela on April 28, 1745, and was buried in the convent of San Antón (file Parroquial Santa María de Tudela. Libro de Difuntos 1709-1809, fol. 92v.).

The person in charge of gilding the altarpiece was Juan Forte, a resident of Tudela, who went to position in January 1719 for the amount of 1,700 reales (APT. Cintruénigo. José Samper, 1719, no. 11). This master gilded years later, in 1731, the main altarpiece of the parish of Santa Ana de Cervera del Río Alhama.

The altarpiece consists, structurally, of a bench with a pair of foliage corbels, a body articulated by two Solomonic columns with decorated shafts and composite capitals and an attic with a central oval with an Immaculate Conception and two decorative cards on either side. The protagonism, as in others of the time, is the decoration, although it is not of such delicacy and fineness as that of other artists from Tudela at the time. The following elements stand out: the large border that surrounds the main niche, with crown by bell on a smooth golden background, the designs inside the niche, the geometric plaque of the attic, as well as the two small cards that frame the oval of the attic, with veneras in the center. Also characteristic of the piece is the recessing of the attic with respect to the main body, which is mounted on a bench decorated with garlands of fruit and topped by curved moldings in the form of a pediment, in the center of which appears an angel's head. Four enormous naked children add dynamism to the aforementioned attic. It is possible that in their day they carried epithets of the Immaculate Conception, which they seem to celebrate. The sculpture of this Marian mystery, of elegant bearing and evocations to the Madrid painting of the time, could not be missing neither as a complement to the iconography of Saint Joseph nor in a locality that stood out for its adhesion to the immaculist cause from early dates and with evident devotional and artistic samples.

The image and its author

The sculpture preceded the altarpiece, as it was contracted in 1700 with Martín de Tobar y Asensio, a master sculptor, apparently born in Pamplona and living in Corella. We published this information a few years ago in the congress International of Religious Sculpture. Let us add that the contract was signed in Cintruénigo on March 13, 1700 and by it Martín de Tobar committed himself to deliver it, with its polychromy included, by June 6 of that year, for the price of 85 reales de a ocho (APT. Cintruénigo. José de Aroche, 1700, no. 31).

Martín de Tobar y Asensio, we also know him for the lawsuit for the liberality of the sculpture and as a sculptor for having worked from Corella, his place of residency program, for Estella (1704) and Cintruénigo. We will contribute here a couple of unpublished data derived from his marriage certificate with Josefa Lambea, in San Miguel de Corella, dated July 26, 1700 (file San Miguel de Corella. Book V Quinque Libri 1695-1718, fol. 185v.). In it is quotation the information that his parents, Martín, already deceased, and Juana Gómez Asensio, were neighbors of Villamiel, in the kingdom of Castile. A son of the couple was baptized in May 1707.

We know of another activity of Martín de Tobar referring to the lease that he made around 1715 of the tobacco tobacconists of Corella, Cintruénigo and Fitero.

The lawsuit to which we have alluded was litigated in 1697 by Martín de Tobar, established in Corella, against the alcabaleros of Tudela when he tried to sell some sculptures. The litigation included the usual testimonial evidence, in which some sculptors took part. The argument that Tobar put forward for the exemption was none other than that "the packages and paintings that my part sold in the city of Tudela are worked and painted by me, and in this case it is Exempt to pay alcabala for being, as it is, the painting, liberal and exempt from paying it, by immemorial custom, which by news, hardly needs test, being necessary and it is a privilege of this science not to pay any right of the sale, and this proceeds plainly when the same artificer who makes the bulk and painting is the one who sells, and even in almonedas in which they sell paintings, packages and pictures has never been paid alcabala, having less reason than in the author of the work, and it is unheard of novelty that the contrary parties pretend".

In the 17th century in Navarre, as in the rest of Spain, the sculptures that present the saint holding hands with the Child Jesus, such as the one in Cintruénigo, predominated, while in the following century the model in which the father lovingly gathers the Child in his arms became generalized.

Works with the outline of that of Cintruénigo are those of different local sculptors, from the Romanesque carvings of the Imberto family to the most moved of the Baroque, which appear in the altarpieces of San José de Mendigaña in Azcona, Luquin, Azagra, Viana, Peralta, Ciordia, Mendigorría and Corella, among other examples.

Titular image of the altarpiece, work of Martín de Tobar y Asensio, 1700.

The sculpture of Cintruénigo obeys the seventeenth-century outline , with the Child at his feet, either protecting him or walking. It broadly follows what masters such as Juan de Biniés in Ablitas or Juan Imberto III in Estella did in the twenties of the 17th century, although the figure of the Child in these cases is attached to the block of the whole and is not separated from that of the saint. In the middle of that century, the Child is already a separate sculpture, as in Fitero(c. 1645). In addition, the saint wore a large cape that falls on both sides of his body, as in the model of Gregorio Fernández, which is also observed in the examples of the collateral of the Immaculate Conception of the Poor Clares of Estella, work of Vicente de Frías (1698) or in the altarpiece of the saint in the basilica of Mendigaña, work of Manuel Adán(c. 1720). One of the last examples with the two figures walking, although with the cloak on the image of the saint, is found in the carving of the cathedral of Pamplona, work of Manuel Martín de Ontañón (1775).

In the case of the Cirbonero, the cape is held on one of his shoulders, leaving all the protagonism to his clothing with the long tunic tight around the waist and waving in the part leave, indicating the movement of the step and very evident when joining the feet shod with sandals. The communication between father and son is made through the step and the hands of both that join together. The fine bearded face of the saint is framed by long hair, while that of the Child presents rich curls. The typical carpenter's attributes do not appear. A delicate polychromy with richly worked stowage work stands out in the tunics of both characters, with the underside of the saint's cape, of a bright green color, being of great splendor.


ARRESE, J. L., Arte religioso en un pueblo de España, Madrid, CSIC, 1963.

FERNÁNDEZ GRACIA, R., "La escultura de bulto redondo en los retablos navarros de los siglos del Barroco", congress Internacional de Escultura Religiosa (Crevillent, 2016), programs of study de Escultura en Europa, Alicante, Instituto Alicantino de Cultura Juan Gil-Albert, 2017, pp. 333-366.

GARCÍA GAINZA, M.ª C. et al., Monumental Catalogue of Navarre. I. Merindad de Tudela, Pamplona, Institución Príncipe de Viana, 1980.

MORALES SOLCHAGA, E., "Sobre la liberalidad de la escultura en Tudela", Revista del Centro de programs of study Merindad de Tudela, no. 19 (2011), pp. 53-64.

PÉREZ SÁNCHEZ, A. E., "Retablos madrileños del siglo XVII", in Retablos de la Comunidad de Madrid, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid, 1995, pp. 59-75.