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Fernández, Gregorio

Sarriá, Lugo (Spain), 1576 - Valladolid (Spain), 1636

The artistic tradition associated with Valladolid -which had reached such a high level in the 16th century- and the fact that it was the Spanish monarchy's favorite city between 1601 and 1606, was responsible for a considerable number of 17th-century artists who prolonged the splendor attained earlier by Alonso Berruguete, Juan de Juni and Pompeo Leoni. This indisputable reality was reinforced by religious factors that made the monarchy's fleeting capital an ideal place for consolidating the ideals of the Counter-Reformation. But the artistic atmosphere there could not hide the fact that, along with the naturalist roots of art demanded by the Church, an intense artistic reflection partially triggered by the legacy of Juan de Herrera was generating architectural models based on the treatises of Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Andrea Palladio. That was the situation in Valladolid when Spanish artist Gregorio Fernández arrived in 1605 and, as mentioned above, its duality conditioned Fernández's career as a sculptor trained by Francisco del Rincón. His work inspired forms based on a classicism that happily accepted a reality in which the need to delve into the naturalist components of religious images had to contend with the need to display them on an attractive support. Thus, value was assigned to the wholeness of forms perfectly adapted to the continuous movement of processional sculpture and the rigorous contemplation demanded by the symmetrical compartmentalization of altarpieces. Image and setting were joined from the very beginning. Francisco de Mora's rigorous lines (Nava del Rey Altarpiece, Valladolid, 1611-1612) provided the ideal support for Fernández's first images -long before he attained the grandiose monumentality of his work at the church of San Miguel de Vitoria (1624) or Plasencia Cathedral (1625-1632). In those creations, sculpture assumed roles that transformed the central row and attic of altarpieces into ideal places to unfold the persuasive power of its images, which became those structures' indisputable protagonists. It is hardly surprising that this harmony attained the same level as other more complex types of sculpture that broke with the closed framework of the sanctuary in order to make the fiction invoked by painting more real. Beginning in 1612, when Fernández carved the processional sculpture titled "Sitio (I am Thirsty)", the complicated network of mobile stages brought an inanimate theater onto the street to be contemplated in motion. The fact that such sculptures had to work equally well from innumerable shifting viewpoints made their carving, the audacity of their compositions and the sentiments they awakened in viewers all equally important. Fernández sculpted the "Road to Calvary" in 1614, and two years later he composed his famous "Pietà" (Museo Nacional de Escultura, Valladolid) (made for that city's iglesia penitencial de las Angustias, with the two thieves and the figures of the Virgin and Saint John, of which only the last two remain in that church today). In 1623 he crafted his "Descent from the Cross" (church of la Vera Cruz, Valladolid). His increasingly confident naturalism imbued his sculptures with a sublimated realism that combines their inherent religious values with corporal beauty, as can be seen in his versions of the "Recumbant Christ" (1606, convent of Santa Clara in Lerma; 1614, Capuchin convent of El Pardo; and others at the church of La Encarnación in Madrid and the Museo Nacional de Escultura, from the professed house of the Company of Jesus in Madrid; Barefoot Franciscan nuns of Monforte de Lemos and Segovia Cathedral), of "Christ Bound to a Column" (Museo Diocesano of Valladolid and Convent of la Encarnación in Madrid), "Christ with the Crown of Thorns" (Valladolid Cathedral Museum), his versions of the "Crucified Christ" ("Christ of Light", Chapel of the Universidad de Valladolid), and his relief of the Baptism of Christ (1624, Museo Nacional de Escultura). The corporeality of his figures, the subtle polychromes that reflect the contributions of painters such as Diego Valentín Díaz, subtle reliefs and full volumes were some of the values that art history has emphasized in Fernández's work. In subjects deeply rooted in the Spanish mentality, such as the Immaculate Conception, Fernández created a singular sculptural type that remained unchanged over time. Conceived as a frontal image in a state of mystical retreat, the virgin wears long, diagonally draped robes with trimming and exquisite hair that hangs down her back. The version at Astorga Cathedral (1626) may be one of Fernández's most successful models. As the sculptor preferred by noblemen such as Francisco Gomez de Sandoval y Rojas, the Duke of Lerma and Rodrigo Calderón, as well as by kings Philip III and Philip IV, the leading processional brotherhoods and religious orders, Gregorio Fernández was responsible for a school of sculpture that extended throughout Madrid to Castile, northern Spain, Galicia and Extremadura (Belda Navarro, C. in Enciclopedia, Madrid, 2006, vol. III, pp. 1047-1048).

Artworks (1)

Cristo yacente
Wood, Vitreous paste, Antlers, Cork, 1625 - 1630
Fernández, Gregorio

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