Private collection, Spain
This panel in high relief shows the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, a group representation known as Anna Selbdritt, placed in an architectural space in the shape of a basket-handle arch. It is likely that it was part of a large altarpiece, perhaps dedicated to the life of the Virgin or Christ.
The work shows remarkable technical quality, both in the carving as well as in the polychromy of flesh and fabrics. The care and attention paid to polychromy is a fundamental aspect of Spanish sculpture, contributing to intensify sculptural and expressive effect. The estofado work on the fabrics is particularly noteworthy, imitating damask, brocade and richly adorned fabrics. This is achieved through the use of a combination of different vegetable and flower motifs executed using diverse techniques. In the present relief, this is achieved in the main through engraving utilising punch and scratch work.
The technical, stylistic and aesthetic features of our relief allow its link to the important school of Castille of the mid 16th century, a period during which names such as Juan de Juni and Alonso Berruguete stand out. The present work relates stylistically to these artists and, specifically, to the style of Francisco Giralte. He begun his training in the school of Palencia. It is very likely that during this first stage of his career his residence alternated between Palencia and Valladolid having regard to works and commissions in both Castillean towns. Of significance in the definition of his style is the influence of Berruguete. Giralte worked in Berruguete’s workshop in Valladolid between 1532 and 1535, a period which coincided with other prominent disciples of the master such as Isidro de Villoldo. In those years he developed a personal style that derived from that of Berruguete in terms of the expressiveness and contortion of the figures. Taking also some elements from Juan de Juni, he acquired his own characteristics that distinguished him from the master, mostly in his pathos, more moderate than that of Berruguete, giving more serenity to his characters. His scultpure is also characterised by the abundance of swirling drapery, with ample folds and creases providing the monumental and volumetric character of his work. In those years until 1539 Giralte worked on different commissions between Palencia and Valladolid, some in collaboration with his master Berruguete. In Valladolid, Giralte made the small altarpiece for Luis del Corral in the church of Magdalene (1547) and, in Palencia, the altarpiece of San Pedro Cisneros, as well as other diverse altarpieces and devotional works in neighbouring towns such as Villarmentero de Campos and Villabrágima.
From 1539 he worked together with Berruguete in the choir of the Toledo cathedral, a work that would establish him in courtly circles and had important consequences for his career. The monumentality in Giralte’s figures originates in the Mannerism of Juan de Juni, with whom Giralte maintained a relationship of both admiration and rivalry, especially after his return to Palencia in 1542. With Berruguete’s absence, Giralte sought to settle in Madrid as Juan de Juni had done earlier. He attempted to steal away from Juni the contract for the execution of the altarpiece of La Antigua in 1545, a work of considerable magnitude which gave rise to dispute in relation to which Juni ultimately prevailed, ensuring a life long personal feud between the sculptors.
Despite this set back, Giralte’s career took a major turn for the better when in 1548-1549 he was called on by Bishop Gutiérrez de Carvajal who commissioned the sculptures for his chapel in Madrid. This commission gave rise to the second great period in the life of Giralte. In 1520 Francisco de Vargas, treasurer for Charles V of Spain, had started building a chapel next to the church of Saint Andrew in Madrid to keep the relics of Saint Isidro. The work was finished in 1535 by his son, Gutiérrez de Vargas y Carvajal, Bishop of Plasencia, which is why it became known as the Bishop’s Chapel. This was to be the Vargas’ family mausoleum and the commissions for the main altarpiece, as well as the Bishop’s tomb and that of his parents, Francisco de Vargas and Inés de Carvajal, were given to Francisco Giralte. The masterpiece by Giralte is the altarpiece, one of the most outstanding works of the Spanish Renaissance.
Giralte acquired remarkable fame and, as had happened before when he was in Castille, he was hired for the design and execution of other altarpieces for churches in towns near court, such as Colmenar de Oreja, Pozuelo de Alarcón, Barajas y Ocaña (Toledo). He also worked on the altarpiece of San Eutropio in the Espinar, his last work before his death in Madrid in 1576.
The present relief shows the stylistic features that permit its link to this second period of Giralte’s career, depicting, on the one hand, the traces of Berruguete’s work, but evolving towards his own style, more serene, less dramatic and with the inclusion of a Michelangelo-esque monumentality reminiscent of his rival Juan de Juni and others whose style was formed in Italy such as Diego de Siloe.
There are numerous works by Giralte with which our relief can be compared. These include the groups of the altarpiece of Luis del Corral in Valladolid and the great group of the Bishop’s Chapel in Madrid with their similar types of drapery, volume of the figures and types of female faces – both young and older – the typical inclination of the heads and the particular way of carving the hands with a certain flat aspect on the fingers, elongated and bony. There are other examples such as the Virgin and Child in Paredes de Nava and the Virgin of the Passion in Valladolid. Mention must be made also of the many reliefs in the National Sculpture Museum and in the National Archaeological Museum. The relief of Job on the Dunghill Reviled by his Wife is very close in its sculptural conception, types of drapery, hands and the young female face. The similar strength in the figures and the profusion of drapery are also found in the two relief versions of the Lamentation of Christ at the National Archaeological Museum and the National Sculpture Museum.
We are grateful to Dr. Álvaro Pascual Chenel, Universidad de Valladolid, for confirming the attribution to Francisco Giralte based on first hand examination of the work.