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Saturday, October 1, 2011


The Retablos of Ciudad Rodrigo (1480-1488, 1493)
(Fernando Gallegos, Maestro Bartolome and their Workshops)
University of Arizona at Tucson, Museum of Art

[click on images to enhance the size of the photographs]

Detail from the panel "Jesus in the House of Simon"

The Retablos (“altarpieces”) of Ciudad Rodrigo are one of the great masterpieces of the Late Spanish Gothic, painted in the workshops of Salamanca artists during the time of the Catholic monarchs, Queen Isabel of Castile and King Fernando of Aragon, who reigned jointly from 1474 until the Queen’s death in 1504. The panels show the influence of Flemish painting, and are oil on wooden panels, characteristic of the new flamboyant style of the Flemish masters. It is now quite certain that the altar panels were painted between 1480 and 1488, some after 1493, in the workshops of Fernando and Francisco Gallego and Maestro Bartolome, either in or near Salamanca. They were commissioned by the cathedral of Ciudad Rodrigo.

Hall of the Retablos at the University of Arizona, Museum of Art

By the year 1812 they were no longer in place in the cathedral at Ciudad Rodrigo, but were stored, warped, peeling and molding, in a basement of the church. It was during that year, as the British Army under the command of the Duke of Wellington stormed the city, that a cannon ball ripped through one of the panels and left a gaping hole which, for the purposes of historical actualization, has deliberately not been repaired to date (below).

Details from the panel "Ecce Homo" (Fernando Gallego, oil on panel) showing damage caused by one of the Duke of Wellington's cannon balls.

After the Napoleonic Wars, the panels were purchased by a British Lord who housed them in his country house in the precarious condition in which they had survived. Twice thereafter, the panels were shipped to New York, as they changed hands from one owner to another.

The last trip of the panels across the Atlantic resulted in their purchase by Samuel H. Kress, owner of the Five and Dime Stores, in New York. Sam Kress’ mother used to spend her winters in Tucson, which led to the bond between the family and the desert city. Kress donated the panels to the University of Arizona in 1957 and required that a museum be built to house them. Accordingly, the University’s Museum of Art building was constructed at its present site, and the panels were placed on the second floor in a dark room with pin-point lighting, where they are shown today.

The panels were initially re-framed and partially restored upon their arrival in Tucson. Thereafter, they were shipped to Dallas, where further expert restoration on the painted surfaces was carried out. The panels were exhaustively studied, semiotics analyzed, and the individual painters identified by means of the various signs and clues. The photograph below highlights an example of the sort of clues that were followed and illustrates the methodology by which each panel’s author was identified.

There are twenty-six panels, but I did not photograph all of them. I focused on a few of them, and on some of their striking details. Above all, I tried to photograph the faces, portraits, which I believe are the most fascinating feature of these masterworks.

St. John the Evangelist (Fernando Gallego)

St. Bartholomew (Fernando Gallego)

St. Peter
(Fernando Gallego)

St. Andrew (Fernando Gallego)

The boy Jesus preaching to the Doctors at the Temple

Details from the panel 'Jesus Preaching to the Doctors' (Maestro Bartolome, oil on panel)

The Doctors generally look like cretins and fools, or drunkards.

Even the Doctor who appears to have been persuaded by the teachings of Jesus, and who has ripped up his sources, still looks like an idiot.

Note the open mouths and the curled, hanging lips.

Detail: The boy Jesus preaching to the Doctors.

Jesus in the House of Simon

Details from the panel 'Jesus in the House of Simon' (Maestro Bartolome, oil on panel)

The face of Jesus: Detail from the panel "Jesus in the House of Simon"

Details from the panel 'Jesus at the House of Simon'

Portrait of Simon: Detail from the panel "Jesus in the House of Simon"

Jesus in the House of Simon (filtered color)

Christ on the way to Calvary

Details from the panel 'The Way to Calvary' (Maestro Bartolome)

The Crucifixion

Details from the panel 'The Crucifixion' (Maestro Bartolome, or his Workshop, 1480-88) Oil on wood panel.

The Crucifixion (detail)

'The Crucifixion' (detail)

Jesus on the Cross: Detail from the panel "The Crucifixion"

Detail from the panel "The Deposition" (Fernando Gallegos Workshop). Note the Flemish background landscape.

The Circumcision of Our Lord

Details from the panel "The Circumcision of Our Lord" (Fernando Gallego)

The Circumcision (detail)

Detail from the panel "Christ and the Samaritan Woman"

The Last Judgment

Details from the panel "The Last Judgment" (Fernando Gallego, Francisco Gallego and Workshop, oil on panel)

Detail from "The Last Judgment": The saved and the damned.

The Transfiguration

Detail from the panel 'The Transfiguration' (Maestro Bartolome and Workshop, oil on panel): The face of Jesus

The Creation of Eve

Details from the panel 'The Creation of Eve' (Maestro Bartolome, after 1493, oil on panel)

The Charge to Peter

Details from the panel 'The Charge to Peter' (Fernando Gallego, oil on panel)

The Entry into Jerusalem

Details from the panel "The Entry into Jerusalem" (Maestro Bartolome, oil on panel)

The Last Supper

Details from the panel "The Last Supper" (Maestro Bartolome and Workshop, oil on panel)

Peter, who will betray Jesus that same night, looks at us and points to Judas, who is holding his nose.

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