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Title: The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, vol. 06, No. 3, March 1900 - Spanish Wrought-Iron Screens, XII. Century Capitals from - the Benedictine Monastery, Monreale
Author: Various
Language: English
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                          THE BROCHURE SERIES
                     Spanish Wrought-Iron Screens
                    XII. Century Capitals from the
                    Benedictine Monastery, Monreale
                              MARCH, 1900


                            BROCHURE SERIES

                     1900.      MARCH      No. 3.

                     SPANISH WROUGHT-IRON SCREENS.

From earliest times the numerous iron mines which exist in Spain,
especially in the Cantabrian provinces, have been worked, and their
presence has developed in that country excellent objects of art in
metal at all times; but owing to the perishable character of iron, the
slight intrinsic value of the material, and the little care taken of
such fabrics, examples of very early specimens, with the exception of
a few interesting ones which have reached us from the Spanish Arabs,
have disappeared. The most interesting examples of Moorish manufacture
which have survived are some iron keys of most delicate tracery. Their
perfect state of preservation shows that they were used only as symbols
of cities or fortresses, and, on given occasions, offered to kings or
great people, and even in the present day in Spain this ceremony is
kept up, and a key signifying the freedom of the palace, is offered
to the foreign princes who stay at the royal residence in Madrid.
In a similar manner, as far back as the middle ages, keys have been
presented to Spanish sovereigns on occasions of their visits to such
towns as Toledo and Seville; and a ceremony of swearing them to uphold
the accorded privilege is gone through with,--a reminiscence probably
of what occurred when these towns were conquered from the Moors. One of
these keys at Valencia, belonging to Count de Trignona, measures nine
and-a-half inches long, and was originally gilt. Its handle is closed
and covered with delicate work in relief, and the wards are ornamented
in the same manner with a combination of several words written in
Cufic letters of difficult interpretation; but around the handle we
can read distinctly in arabic the name of the artist: "It was made by
Ahmel Ahsan." This key appears to date from the thirteenth or early
fourteenth century, and two similar ones exist in the Town Hall of

Worthy objects of iron work must have been made by Christian artists of
this period in Spain, for, although no specimens have come down to us,
we have historical information which confirms such a conclusion. In the
ordinances of Barcelona we find it recorded that the iron-smiths formed
an extensive guild in the thirteenth century, and that in 1257 four of
its members were officers of the Chief Municipal Council; and other
similar records substantiate the fact that this guild increased in
importance during the succeeding centuries. The ordinances of Seville
of the fifteenth century, which were reformed in 1502, and those of
Toledo, also revised in 1582, will give the student an idea of what was
done by workers of metals at this period, the method of workmanship
and other interesting details. The ordinances of Seville mention
_rejas_ made in Biscay, and give a good idea of the styles adopted by
the iron-masters there, and the ordinances of Granada repeat, almost
exactly, the former descriptions.


The modern history of iron work in Spain begins, however, with the
second half of the fifteenth century. From this period on, the art
continued to progress, and in the sixteenth century Spain produced
works of art in wrought iron which were unrivalled in Europe.

The most beautiful and characteristic productions of the Spanish
iron-smiths were the openwork screens or grilles, especially the
_rejas_, or chancel screens, enclosing the chapels in the cathedrals;
and these last deserve special attention, from the beauty of their
forms, the quality of their workmanship and the intrinsic variety of
their models.


The interior arrangement of Spanish cathedrals differs somewhat from
that of churches in other parts of Europe. In Spain, the choir proper,
or _coro_, is transferred to the nave, of which it commonly occupies
the western half, and a passage, usually protected by low iron or brass
railings, leads from the eastern gate of the _coro_ to the screen in
front of the high altar. This arrangement is necessary because, as
the choir proper is deep, the people must be kept from pressing on
the clergy as they pass to and fro, during the service, in the long
passage from the altar to the _coro_. High metal screens or _rejas_ are
also placed across the entrance to the choir or "capilla mayor," as
its eastern part is called. Owing to this form of interior arrangement
the cathedrals and churches of Spain lent themselves admirably to the
construction of objects of all kinds in ornamental iron work; and from
the earliest times when such records were kept, we meet with many
names of iron-masters who were apparently attached to the different
cathedrals in the same manner as were the painters and artists.

One of the finest specimens of this artistic industry (and we place it
first because it is a typical example) is the splendid _reja_ which
divides the nave from the "Royal Chapel" in the Cathedral of Granada
(Plate XIX).

This Cathedral is, on the whole, the best Renaissance building in
Spain, and in plan one of the finest churches in Europe; and the "Royal
Chapel" is the most interesting feature of its interior. This Chapel
was erected in the late Gothic style, in 1506-17, for the reception
of the tombs of the "Catholic Kings," and was afterwards enlarged by
Charles V., who found it "too small for so great glory." Besides the
tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella it contains those of the parents of
Charles V.


The _reja_ which guards it was completed about 1522, by the celebrated
Bartolomé of Jaen, who also worked at Seville, and whom the records of
the time describe as "sculptor and iron-master." Its important size
enabled the artist to carry out a splendid scheme of ornamentation in
the "plateresque" style, combined with reliefs, on a large scale, of
figures of apostles and saints, terminating at the upper part with
a wide ornamental band of conventional floral decoration in relief,
crowned with a Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John on either
side. The ornamentation was originally gilded and the figures painted
in oil colors. The balustrades and supports are forged with the hammer.
The figures and circular piers are formed of large plates, _repoussé_
and carved in a most admirable manner, and an examination of them will
give a good idea of the technical mastery over the material which the
artists of this time had attained long before the various mechanical
facilities of the present day existed.

This _reja_ at Granada is entirely of iron, which most Spanish
_rejas_ are not, and is the earliest specimen of anything like equal
importance in Spain. It has been chosen as the first specimen to be
here described, not only because of the early date of its construction,
but because it excellently illustrates the salient merits of the best
type of Spanish cathedral screen. The first of these merits is a
general transparency,--a highly important quality in a wrought-iron
screen so placed, for if such a screen be covered with sufficient
ornament to arrest the eye on its surface when viewing the interior of
the cathedral as a whole, it detracts from the general architectural
effect, serving indeed, to block the nave as a wall where no wall was
intended. In such a screen as the present one, however, the slight
vertical piers almost disappear unless the sight be focussed upon
them, while the ornamental portions seem apparently suspended in mid
air and do not in any way injure the general architectural scheme or
decrease the apparent space. The rectangularity of the design gives
great repose; and the division into departments, which allows of
the concentration of strength in skeleton lines, affords sufficient
constructional stiffness without involving too much formality.
The design is both beautiful and appropriate. At the summit the
crucifixion, below the leading incidents of biblical history, and, in a
central panel about twenty feet square, grouped in a decorative design,
the full heraldic insignia of the monarchs who repose in the tombs
which the screen guards. The lock bears a small inscription giving the
name of the artist, "Maestro Bartolomé me fec."

To consider in detail the multitude of similar rich and beautiful
railings which happily survive in Spanish cathedrals and churches,
would be impossible, even were it possible to illustrate them; but, for
the most part, they have never been drawn or photographed, and a brief
description of those illustrated in our plates must here suffice.

The Cathedral of Seville is undoubtedly one of the largest, handsomest
and richest Gothic churches in Christendom, and was once a veritable
museum of works of art. An old saying groups the chief churches of
Spain together as "_Toledo la rica, Salamanca la fuerte, Leon la bella,
Oviedo la sacra, e Sevilla la grande_." It originally contained some
very beautiful _rejas_, including two famous ones by Sancho Muñoz;
but these with many other art treasures, were destroyed by the twice
falling of the dome, first in 1511 and again in 1888, due to earthquake
shocks. The three chapel screens shown in our illustrations (Plates
XX., XXI., and page 41) remain, however, to show how rich in iron work
this Cathedral originally must have been. The names of the artists of
these screens are not certainly known. The "Altar de la Gamba," shown
in Plate XX., derives its curious name, "The Altar of the Leg," from
the finely painted leg of Adam in the picture which adorns the shrine,
representing our first parents adoring the Virgin.

The Cathedral of Barcelona, one of the noblest creations of Spanish
Gothic, stands upon the highest point of the ancient city, on a
site originally occupied by a Roman temple and later by a Moorish
mosque. On the southwest the cathedral is adjoined by magnificent
Gothic cloisters, finished in 1448. Along the northwest side of these
cloisters is a row of chapels, placed back to back with the chapels of
the southwest aisle of the church. The entrances to these chapels are
closed by iron grilles of simple but dignified design. One of them is
shown in our illustration (Plate XXII.).

Although the cathedral of Avila was commenced in 1091 its general
character is that of the end of the twelfth or early part of the
thirteenth century, though the solemn and dignified interior is
designed in a style of a later date. Besides the beautiful _reja_ here
shown (Plate XXIII.), which divides the high altar from the church
proper, it contains a fine iron pulpit (page 47.)


Iron pulpits, so rare elsewhere, have been made in Spain with great
success. The one here illustrated shows a mixture of Gothic and
Renaissance detail, but the whole is of contemporary workmanship,
and presents an interesting example of the transitional style. The
primitive method of working through thin plates superimposed to form
tracery is here adhered to, and the whole is applied to a wooden
framework. The pulpit was originally gilt. It dates from the end of the
fifteenth century, and shows the influence of the Flemish masters who
at about that period set so many fashions in Burgos and its vicinity.
The wrought-iron screen (shown on page 47), now preserved in the
collection of the Louvre, belongs to the same time, and is of the same
style of workmanship.


The interior of the cathedral of Burgos is, from its lofty spacious
proportions, one of the finest in Spain, and is surrounded,
unsymmetrically but not unpicturesquely, by fourteen chapels,
all distinguished by some particular beauty of construction or
ornamentation. The chief of these chapels, situated at the east end of
the cathedral, is the gorgeous "Capilla del Condestable," built for Don
Pedro Fernandez de Velasco, hereditary Constable of Castile, in 1487.
This chapel contains superbly sculptured tombs of the Constable and
his wife, and the lofty _reja_ (Plate XXVI.) which guards the entrance
to it has been considered one of the finest specimens of its kind,
owing to the perfection with which every detail is carried out. It is
the master-piece of Cristoval de Andino, and was constructed in 1523.
A contemporary writer describing it says: "Good workmen, and those who
wish that their work may have authority and be blameless, must endeavor
to be guided by ancient models, as was your fellow citizen Cristoval
de Andino; and his works are thereby more elegant and excellent than
any others which I have seen up to the present time. If you think
otherwise, judge of his work by looking at the _reja_ which he is
making for your lord, the Constable, which is undoubtedly superior
to all those that have hitherto been made in Spain." The centre of
the upper part of the _reja_ bears the signature of the artist, "Ab.
Andino, A.D. MDXXIII."


The famous University of Salamanca was originally built in 1415, but in
1480 the upper part was entirely reconstructed in the most brilliant
"plateresque" style, by the "Catholic Kings." The various offices of
the University are grouped around a simple, cloister-like court; and on
the west side of the second floor is the Library, which contains 80,000
volumes, and is said to have been founded by Alfonso the Learned in
1254. The entrance to this Library is closed by the beautiful wrought
grille shown in Plate XXIV. The exact date and the authorship of the
grille are unknown.

The Church of San Juan de la Penitencia is a jumble of curious styles.
Built by the Cardinal Ximenez in 1514, a semi-Moorish palace was
partially incorporated with it, and it contains much interesting
Moorish decoration. The ceiling of the nave and choir is Moorish, the
portal and choir windows are Gothic, several of the altars are baroque,
and the elaborate _reja_, here reproduced (Plate XXV.) is a fine
specimen of "plateresque" iron-work.


The old Cathedral of Saragossa is called "La Seo," par excellence, to
distinguish it from the other called "del Pilar," "seo" being the usual
term for the principal church. It was erected in 1119-1520 on the site
of the principal mosque of the Moors, and the general arrangement of
the interior resembles that of a mosque. The sides are flanked with
chapels; and the Chapel of Zaporta (Zaporta was a rich citizen of the
city who died early in the sixteenth century) is shut off by an iron
screen, of excellent workmanship in the less elaborate "plateresque"
style, shown in the small engraving on page 45.


After the sixteenth century smiths' work in Spain declined in artistic
interest and importance. The abilities of the iron-workers were devoted
to constructing objects on a smaller scale, such as door locks, clock
ornaments and the like; the arts of inlaying iron-work with gold and
silver sprung into prominence, and Spanish artists practically ceased
to undertake the great carved and chiselled grilles which have formed
the subject of this paper.

                                                               S. F. N.


                         XII. Century Capitals
                               from the
                    Benedictine Monastery, Monreale

The Cathedral church of Santa Maria Nuova, with its adjoining
Benedictine monastery and cloister, were erected at Monreale
(pronounced Mur-ri-a-li by its Sicilian inhabitants) by William II. of
Sicily in 1174-82.


This splendid work of Norman-Sicilian artists is Latin in its shape,
Roman in its colonnade, Byzantine in its mosaics, Greek in its
sculpture, Saracenic and Norman in its many mouldings, exhibiting a
most curious combination of styles. The names of the architects are
unknown (the näive Vasari attributes this to "their stupidity or
contempt of fame"), but the evidence afforded by a careful examination
of the mosaics, establishes the conclusion that King William intrusted
the embellishment to Greek, that is to say, Byzantine, artists or to
their Sicilian disciples. At any rate, the artists who embellished
Monreale in the latter part of the twelfth and the beginning of the
thirteenth centuries were in every way the equals in artistic abilities
of the Italian masters who lived and worked a century later; and when
we talk of the Renaissance we should not forget that long before
its advent these Sicilian artists had here produced work that today
challenges the wonder and admiration of critics.


"Other cathedrals," says Mr. Symonds, "may surpass that of Monreale in
sublimity, bulk, strength or unity of plan. None can surpass it in the
strange romance with which the memory of its many artificers invests
it. None can exceed it in the richness and glory, the gorgeousness of a
thousand decorative elements."


Of the original buildings of the Benedictine monastery which formed
a part of the church, and were built at the same time, none but the
cloister remains. This cloister is in its kind one of the most superb
examples of twelfth century architecture to be found in Europe, and is
one of the largest as well as one of the most beautiful in the world.
The cloisters of St. John Lateran, St. Paul-beyond-the-Walls, Ste.
Scholastica, at Subiaco, are all admirable, but they are inferior to
that of Monreale, both in detail and in grandeur of total effect.




Imagine a vast central space, one hundred and sixty-nine feet
square,--not a flat grass-plot scattered with decaying tombs, nor
planted with the severe box-wood and funereal cypresses that give so
gloomy an aspect to most cloisters, but a blooming garden, adorned with
shrubs and flowering vines, laid out in parterres of exquisite verdure,
where, in the shade of myrtle and citron trees, fountains play, their
jets caught in marble basins, only to overflow and nourish the living
green about them. This garden is walled in by four long corridors,
sheltered by arcades of small pointed arches with something Oriental
in their curves, supported by two hundred and sixteen coupled columns
of white marble, with a group of four at each angle, all of them
surmounted by carved capitals of different designs, the slender shafts
ornamented with mosaics and incrusted with precious marbles, some
patterned in lozenges, some curved with floral designs, some fluted
after the antique manner, some wound with capricious spirals,--a file
of shining columns of fairy-like aspect. And, looking at this perennial
garden with its ever-running fountains, surrounded by so Oriental an
arcade, one might fancy one's self transported to a monastic Alhambra,
or the interior of an Arabian-Night's palace.


The capitals of the shafts that uphold the arcade (and from the
slenderness of these shafts it is probable that they were inserted
some time after the heavier arcade was originally built), are all
different. A number of them are here illustrated. In their design the
sharp acanthus foliage of the Greeks is commingled with the emblems
of Christianity, such as the circle, the cross, the vine and the
dove, with infinitely ingenious grotesques of birds and animals, and
with human figures. The latter are represented in Byzantine costume,
and Greek inscriptions everywhere appear. The workmanship of these
capitals, the delicate detail of the carving, showing the constant
employment of the circular drill, the almost entire concealment of the
background, are tokens of the craftsmanship of the twelfth century
Byzantine Greeks Contemporary personages, scenes from the old and new
Testaments, real and fantastic animals, leaves, flowers, fruit,--all
are represented with a wonderful liveliness of expression and with
prodigious fecundity of imagination. They exhibit, as M. Dantier
has said: "_Toute la foi, toute la poésie du temps sculptées sur la

The cloister at Monreale has been illustrated, and other examples of
its capitals shown, in THE BROCHURE SERIES, Volume 1895, No. 3, and in
Volume 1898, No. 1.


                          Transcriber's Note:

Italics are indicated by _underscores_.

Small capitals have been rendered in full capitals.

A number of minor spelling errors have been corrected without note.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, vol. 06, No. 3, March 1900 - Spanish Wrought-Iron Screens, XII. Century Capitals from - the Benedictine Monastery, Monreale" ***

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