To 28th May Exhibition: Francisco Salzillo y La Escuela de Escultura de Caravaca
In the Antigua Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús in Caravaca de la Cruz
One of the most important exhibitions being held in Caravaca de la Cruz to commemorate the 2017 Holy Jubilee Year is open between late February and the 28th May, and examines through his works and those of his followers, the way in which the art of Murcia’s most famous sculptor, Francisco Salzillo, was present in the Holy City in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The exhibition is being held in the building which was formerly the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, and serves to illustrate the fact that while Francisco Salzillo and his great disciple Roque López created a centre for religious imagery in the city of Murcia, another of the master’s former pupils, José López, created the Caravaca school of sculpture along the same lines. The display focuses mainly on the Caravaca school, and traces the careers of some of the most important sculptors in the city during Salzillo’s lifetime, as well as showing how the spirit of the great man’s creativity lasted well after his death until the mid-19th century.
The story of Salzillo’s influence in the sculptures of Caravaca de la Cruz goes back before the birth of Francisco Salzillo, when his father Nicolás set up his workshop and studio,after travelling to Murcia from Italy before his son Francisco was born in 1707. It was here in 1703 that Caravaca-born Ginés López Pérez found employment.
Once Ginés’ apprenticeship was complete he returned and set up his own workshop in Caravaca, where he remained until his death in 1751.
Only a few of Ginés López’s figures have survived, but from the documentary evidence found it is clear that his was a busy workshop.
A year after his death, Ginés’ son José ventured forth to Murcia to follow his father’s footsteps, and continued to learn his craft in the workshop of the son of Nicolás, Francisco Salzillo. Although Nicolás Salzillo was a competent sculptor, his son Francisco developed his own instantly recognizable style and achieved great acclaim. By the time José arrived in Murcia the name of Salzillo was far better established than it had been a generation previously, and work was under way to create the processional sculpture of “La Caída” (The Fall).
Like his father before him, José López completed his training and apprenticeship in Murcia and returned to set up business in Caravaca, after first spending some time in Molina de Segura, taking on apprentices and passing on the craft and knowledge he had acquired from Salzillo.
By 1765 his workshop in Caravaca was well established and remained operative until his death in Mula in 1781. During this period, having gained prestige from his association with Francisco Salzillo, he produced a large number of figures for the Order of Santiago, all of them showing numerous characteristics inherited from his master in Murcia.
It is only relatively recently that documentary evidence has come to light which has enabled art historians to correct some misconceptions about José López’s life and work, a task which was made more difficult by the existence of three sculptors with the same surname, and much of this ambiguity has been cleared up by the discovery of declarations made by his wife: in the past, the date of his death was not known, but now that the period of his professional activity has been established a far more accurate catalogue has been compiled.
Inevitably the work of José López shows the influence of Salzillo, as the pupil reproduced sculptural types and models favoured by the master he had watched at work, and when he died Marcos Laborda and Francisco Fernández Caro, both followed in the same vein, having trained at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, and whose work continued to mimic that of Salzillo until the middle of the 19th century when Fernández Caro died in 1841.
It was this last sculptor who gave tangible form to the academic ideals of the late 18th century, helping to blend classicism with the art of Salzillo and to represent a new social conscience which had been awakened by the policies of Carlos III in his appreciation of the dignity of manual craftsmanship. Fernández Caro was the chief interpreter of this new social reality, opening the door to a renewal of sculpture in Murcia.
Apart from providing an opportunity to see and compare the work of many sculptors, this exhibition is also important in that it shows clearly the existence of a Salzillo-esque school of sculpture in Caravaca, it shows how Salzillo’s influence lasted well into the 19th century, it definitively attributes various works to the men who actually created them, and it demonstrates that Salzillo’s work is wholly compatible with the classicism of the Real Academia, which was brought to Caravaca by Francisco Fernández Caro.
All of this helps to explain one of the epithets which has been used to describe Francisco Salzillo, and which is the title of the collection on display in the Antigua Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús in Caravaca: “el escultor de mayor crédito en estos reynos”, or the sculptor of most merit in these kingdoms.
The later artists who exhoed his influence were all natives of Caravaca de la Cruz, and helped to turn the city into one of the leading sculpture centres in Spain, spreading their style of imagery into Lorca, Águilas, eastern Andalucía and parts of La Mancha through works commissioned by the Order of Santiago.
Back in the regional capital, meanwhile, the creativity of Salzillo ended rather earlier: Salzillo himself passed away in 1783, and Roque López, his best-known pupil, succumbed to an outbreak of yellow fever in 1811.
The works on display
One of the most important aspects of this exhibition for art historians is that it is based on documentation which has only recently come to light, and which has caused a reconsideration of which works have traditionally been attributed to which artists.
Over 50 items are on display, most of them sculptures, and some of them specially restored for the occasion of the Holy Jubilee year, but there are also paintings, plans, maps, books and objects such as sacred cups. They have been loaned by museums, churches, convents, monasteries and private collectors throughout the Region of Murcia, and the artists featured include José López, Ginés López Pérez, Marcos Laborda and Francisco Fernández Caro as well as Salzillo himself.
The four sections of the exhibition are titled as follows:
1. Estudiar prinicipios y dibujar modelos (studying principles and drawing models)
2. Con el anhelo de oírle y de aprovecharse de sus luces (with a desire to hear him and to learn from his brilliance)
3. Con algunos principios en el dibujo y también en la escultura (with some principles in drawing and also in sculture)
4. La felicidad común del Estado (the common happiness of the State)
Francisco Salzillo is represented by two of his most widely praised works, the processional sculptures of San Juan and La Verónica. Both of these figures are featured every year in the Good Friday procession in the city of Murcia, and are on loan from the Salzillo Museum in which they are usually kept.
The figures are dated 1755, when José López from Caravaca was working with Salzillo in the regional capital, hence their inclusion in the exhibition, as they show clearly the influences which the young man would have taken back with him to the north-west of the region.
San Juan is considered by many to be the 18th-century Spanish baroque sculpture par excellence, due to the harmony achieved between colour and form. Not only is it conceived as a synthesis of art and corporeality, but the figure is also remarkable for the way in which it transmits a feeling of movement.
La Verónica, meanwhile, is a typical Salzillo piece, with a dimensional structure which gives it volume and movement at the same time.
Also by Salzillo are the “working saints”, including San Isidro the Labourer and San Roque, and in addition it is possible to compare the different versions of the Virgen de las Angustias produced by Salzillo, José López and Marcos Laborda.
Another highlight is the embroidered shawl of María Cristina de Borbón, who was Queen Consort of Spain from 1829 to 1833 and the great-great-great-great-grandmother of Felipe VI. This piece stands as testimony to the dedication and skill of the local embroiderers whose work was overseen by Francisco Fernández Caro, while in the last section of the exhibition the figure of Carlos III is present as one of those who placed value on this kind of manual craftsmanship.
The exhibition at the Antigua Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús in Caravaca de la Cruz runs until 28th May. Opening hours are from Tuesday to Saturday between 10.00 and 14.00 and from 17.00 to 19.00, and on Sundays and religious holidays from 10.00 to 14.00 only (closed on Mondays).
The exhibition will close to the public on 13th and 14th April (the Thursday and Friday of Easter Week), and from 1st to 5th May.
Guided tours are held free of charge every day at 10.30, 12.30 and 17.30, and are in Spanish, but prior reservations are required by telephone on 868 175 188. Groups are restricted to a maximum of 20 people.