RIHA Journal 0063 | 11 January 2013
Partnership between painters and sculptors in 17th-century Spain: on model drawings by Francisco Rizi for an altarpiece of the Expectant Virgin
Editing and peer review managed by:
Simon Laevers, Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (IRPA-KIK), Brussels
Mark McDonald, Zahira Véliz
This paper deals with a case study of the collaboration between sculptors and painters in the context of the construction of altarpieces in 17th-century Spain. It analyses a drawing by Francisco Rizi (Madrid, 1614-Escorial, 1685) in the British Museum depicting a sculptural group and fragments of an architectural framework, and relates it to two other drawings by the same artist in the National Library of Spain. They are identified as fragments of the design drawing of the former altarpiece of the Expectant Virgin in the church of the Calced Trinitarians in Madrid.
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As shown recently by the London exhibition The Sacred Made Real. Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600-1700, the Spanish tradition of painted wooden sculptures gave rise to remarkable partnerships between sculptors and painters for the creation of a single work of art1. But painters did not just collaborate with sculptors to carry out the polychromy of their works; they also provided them with designs2. The latter kind of partnership between painters and sculptors was particularly widespread in the context of the construction of altarpieces, usually a great enterprise that required collective work3. Spanish baroque altarpieces varied widely in form and size, but were always the product of a partnership between sculptors and painters, along with gilders, joiners, architects and draughtsmen. These large commissions were often contracted by one master, the ensamblador (altarpiece joiner), who acted as project manager, sub-contracting specific parts of the work to other artists4. On the one hand, he acted as a contact person for the customer and presented him the altarpiece design; on the other hand, he was also responsible for transportation and assembly of the materials. Many preserved architectural drawings were indeed created for altarpieces, providing models for collaborating artists as well as for submission to the patrons5. It was quite often a painter, usually not even mentioned in the contract, who designed the entire altarpiece, including sculpture models and ornamental designs6. Among the draughtsmen who must have often worked in partnership with sculptors is Francisco Rizi (1614-1685), a painter whose drawings include several examples of designs for altarpieces and other decorative projects, for which he must have collaborated with other painters, architects and sculptors7.
1 Francisco Rizi, Our Lady of the Expectation appearing to Simon de Rojas, ca. 1654, pen and brown ink, brown and grey wash on paper, 196 x 125 mm. British Museum, London (reprod. from: M.P. McDonald, Renaissance to Goya, 98)
The British Museum preserves a drawing by Rizi that illustrates precisely this kind of collaboration8 (fig. 1). It represents two figures placed in an architectural setting and accompanied by two angels: the Virgin is depicted standing, admired by a kneeling friar with his hands folded in prayer. It actually is a representation of a group of in-the-round sculptures. Mark McDonald rightly attributes it to Rizi since the figures have indeed all the typical features of many of his drawings. The combination of the brown and grey wash, creating a particular effect of volume, is also typical for his architectural and sculptural designs. Moreover, some of these characteristics allow us to relate it to the drawings Rizi made for the construction of triumphal arches and other decorations for the Joyous Entry of Queen Mariana in Madrid in 16499. Representative of this is a drawing in the National Library in Madrid that is interpreted as a model for an ephemeral statue of Hymen, the god of marriage, which was installed on the Entry's route10 (fig. 2).
2 Francisco Rizi, Hymen, ca. 1649, pen and brown ink and grey wash on paper, 392 x 128 mm. Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid (reprod. from: Pérez Sánchez, Historia del dibujo en España, 245)
Its technique is very similar to that of the British Museum's sheet, particularly the brown wash used by Rizi for the draping, as well as two other sheets for the Entry, also in the National Library of Spain. These model drawings were made by Rizi to be used by a team of sculptors in much the same way as his altarpiece designs. Indeed, wooden baroque altarpieces were conceived as permanent triumphal arches and consequently their conception and construction led to the same kind of organisation11. On this occasion, Rizi worked in collaboration with ensamblador Pedro de la Torre12 (ca. 1596-1677) and with sculptors Juan Sánchez Barba13 (1602-1672), Sebastián de Herrera Barnuevo14 (1619-1671), Manuel Pereira15 (1588-1683) and Bernabé Contreras16. Typically, these successful collaborations among several masters were an opportunity to consolidate their regular networks, as well as an occasion for future partnerships. The latter must have been the case for the Expectation altarpiece, which was commissioned to ensamblador Pedro de la Torre some years later17. He probably invited Rizi and Sánchez Barba to collaborate, as a consequence of their previous successful professional experience.
The Expectation altarpiece
The British Museum's drawing presents a curious Marian iconography: the crowned Virgin lifts her opened hands presenting her womb with the Child figure surrounded by a halo of rays. This representation must be related to the devotion for the Expectant Virgin18, an iconography that was also employed by Rizi in a later painting recently acquired by the Indianapolis Museum of Art19 (fig. 3). Indeed, veneration for Our Lady of the Expectation was particularly spread in courtly settings in Spain, as for example the private oratory of Queen Elisabeth of Bourbon (1602-1644) was dedicated to it20. A popular Madrid confraternity known as Esclavos del Dulce Nombre de María was also devoted to the Expectant Virgin and counted the royal family and prominent aristocrats among its members21.
3 Francisco Rizi, The dream of S. Joseph, ca. 1670-75, oil on canvas, 166 x 114 mm, signed: "RICI PICT REGI". Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis (reprod. from: Kasl, Sacred Spain, 196)
The centre of the congregation's spiritual life was a statue of the Expectant Virgin Mary designed according to a vision had by its founder, Trinitarian friar Simon de Rojas (1552-1624)22. Commissioned to sculptor Juan de Porres in 1624, the Virgin statue is known through an engraving made in 173923 and through Rojas' biographer's descriptions24, allowing its identification in Rizi's drawing in the British Museum (fig. 4). The kneeling monk represented at the feet of the Virgin in the drawing, absent from the engraving, and wearing the Trinitarian cross on his cloak, must be recognised as a portrait of the friar at the moment of his vision.
4 Juan Pérez, Our Lady of the Expectation, 1739, engraving, 205 x 150 mm. Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid (reprod. from: del Corral, La Congregación del Ave María, 36)
Preceptor of the Infants and confessor of the Queen, Rojas was an influential religious man in the Madrid court during the reigns of Philip III and Philip IV. As he died in the odour of sanctity, some confraternity members intended to build a permanent chapel for the Virgin statue which would also house his tomb25. The chapel was built in the former church of Calced Trinitarians in Madrid, Rojas' home and seat of the confraternity26. Since the patrons expected the Church to soon recognize him as a saint, an altarpiece was commissioned to accommodate the statue along with an urn with his relics27.
We propose here to identify Rizi's sheet in the British Museum as a fragment of the design for this altarpiece, the arrangement of which is revealed by two contemporaneous descriptions. The contract for the altarpiece's gilding provides the most information, confirming the link with the drawing28. According to the contract, the statue of the Virgin was housed in a central niche with a background imitating brocades; next to it, there was indeed a statue representing Simon de Rojas praying, as well as two figures of angels holding up a sign. These cherubs, also present in Rizi's drawing, hold a bunch of lilies and a sign reading 'Ave Maria', the popular name that Rojas' confraternity carries until today29. The sculptural group was installed on "an urn in stone, similar to those in the Pantheon of the Escorial, ornamented with silver and bronze30", the top of which is also visible in Rizi's drawing.
The descriptions of the altarpiece also point out that it was divided in two horizontal registers. In the main register the central niche was flanked by two large-size statues, on the right St John the Baptist, and on the left St Joseph. Lastly, the attic register was decorated with a painting on canvas representing the Holy Trinity, flanked by two sculptures representing St Francis and a Trinitarian saint.
5 Francisco Rizi, St John the Baptist, ca. 1654, pen and brown ink, brown and grey wash on paper, 146 x 62 mm. Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid (© BNE)
6 Francisco Rizi, St Francis, ca. 1654, pen and brown ink, brown and grey wash on paper, 143 x 62 mm. Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid (© BNE)
Both descriptions of the altarpiece arrangement led us to identify two other related drawings by Rizi. Conserved at the National Library in Madrid, they represent two figures of saints placed in an architectural setting31 (fig. 5-6). They must be considered as models for the statues of St John the Baptist, in the main register, and of St Francis, in the attic register, as confirmed by the presence of the ranking cornice of the altarpiece's pediment.
Technical and style features confirm the attribution to Rizi proposed by Pérez Sánchez32. Both drawings are executed in pen and grey wash for the architectural parts, and brown wash for the sculptures, as is common in Rizi's model drawings for altarpieces. The figures, particularly that of St Francis, likewise have technical features typical of his drawings, such as the way he renders the folds of draping using a thicker layer of wash. Furthermore, their style corresponds to the chronology of the altarpiece, which was completed in 165633.
These three surviving fragments from the altarpiece's original design drawing demonstrate Rizi's participation in its construction. However, the contract only points out the intervention of ensamblador Pedro de la Torre and sculptor Sánchez Barba34, two artists who had worked along with Rizi in 1649. The altarpiece was commissioned in 1652 to Pedro de la Torre, who two years later signed the contract and engaged Sánchez Barba to carve the statues in-the-round. Rizi's absence in the contract leads to suggest the hypothesis that the ensamblador subcontracted him for the general design. Indeed, Palomino, Rizi's first biographer, as well as his preserved architectural drawings testify that he also carried out this kind of work35.
7 Francisco Rizi, Design drawing of the altarpiece of Our Lady of the Expectation, ideal reconstruction (© Author)
The drawings are certainly fragments of the complete altarpiece design that Pedro de la Torre submitted to the patrons for approval in 1654. Their similarity to the indications specified on the contract is evident. An ideal reconstruction of the altarpiece-design may be derived from the drawings and from some excerpts of the contract (fig. 7). The niche for the Virgin statue in the central vertical register was raised in relation to the lateral ones because of the space taken by the urn for the relics. This is testified by the position of the columns' capitals at each side of the British Museum's sheet. We furthermore point out that a very similar arrangement was employed on the altarpiece for the parish church in Fuente del Saz (fig. 8), also made in 1655, in which Rizi was involved as well36. Here he contributed as painter, in partnership with Pedro de la Torre's nephew and habitual collaborator.
8 José de la Torre and Francisco Rizi, Altarpiece of St Peter, 1655. Iglesia de San Pedro, Fuente el Saz del Jarama (© Author)
The original design for the Expectation altarpiece probably consisted of at least six pieces of paper pasted onto a secondary support, which would have been dismantled by later collectors and dealers in order to create numerous discreet images. Nevertheless, it is likely that copies of the critical areas would have been made for the various specialists involved in a complex assembly such a monumental altarpiece. In that case, Sánchez Barba could have kept these copies in his possession and relied on them for new projects. At least on one occasion, this could have happened. In 1657, Sánchez Barba received a new commission for the sculptural group of The Virgin donating the scapular to St Simon Stock, now partially destroyed, for the main altarpiece of the Calced Carmelites in Madrid37. As an etching from 1806 bears visual testimony to the group, it is possible to appreciate the many parallels with Rizi's design for the central niche in the Expectation altarpiece (fig. 9). The Virgin's features seem indeed inspired by Rizi's project, as well as the figure of St Simon, both housed in a niche. Moreover, the rest of the altarpiece also presented a similar structure and arrangement: two registers; a central niche flanked by two sculptures of saints, and a painting representing the Holy Trinity on the attic register38.
9 Mariano Brandi and José Jimeno, The Virgin donating the scapular to St Simon Stock, 1806, etching and burin, 382 x 282 mm. Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid (reprod. from: Blanco Mozo, "Juan Sánchez Barba (1602-1672) escultor", 84)
In any case, Rizi's drawings provide new and relevant information for analysing the conception of Spanish baroque altarpieces. Painters as Rizi, Alonso Cano (1601-1667), José Ximénez Donoso (ca. 1632-1690) or Herrera Barnuevo often designed altarpieces and other decorative works, but were not legally responsible since they did not sign any contract before a notary39. This ambiguity in the documentation can explain the fact that such an important design as that by Cano for the Franciscans in Alcalá was recently attributed to the ensamblador of the altarpiece, Sebastián de Benavente40. Also representative of this confusion of authorship is the lost altarpiece for the church of San Ginés in Madrid. Whereas Palomino affirms it was designed by Rizi41, it has been attributed to ensamblador Juan de Lobera as only he is mentioned in the contract42.
The Expectation altarpiece was probably destroyed in 1897, when the church of the Calced Trinitarians in Madrid was demolished. But already little after its construction it was to be partially modified, as a decree by Pope Urban VIII had forbidden any worship to not canonized individuals, and particularly their depiction in altars. Rizi's drawings give us insight in the Expectation altarpiece's appearance, but above all they record essential aspects of altarpiece production in Baroque Madrid, when the cooperation of architects, sculptors, painters and draughtsmen was required in order to bring to completion such a monumental enterprise.
How to cite this article:
Eduardo Lamas-Delgado, "Partnership between painters and sculptors in 17th-century Spain: on model drawings by Francisco Rizi for an altarpiece of the Expectant Virgin," RIHA Journal 0063 (11 January 2013), URN: [please add, see Metadata], URL: http://www.riha-journal.org/articles/2013/2013-jan-mar/lamas-partnership-between-painters-and-sculptors (date of access: [please add]).
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