Postcard from Valladolid, Spain: Plateresque architecture competes with sculpture within

Above, Isabelline Plateresque details surround the courtyard of Colegio de San Gregorio in the complex serving as Museo Nacional de Escultura.

The National Sculpture Museum is housed in three historic landmarks clustered together in one block in Valladolid.

With the nationalization of convents and monasteries in 1836, the government of Spain seized a wealth of artistic treasures in need of housing. Many of those from the region of Castile first went on display in Valladolid in 1842 in the Colegio de Santa Cruz. In 1933, the collection was designated a national one and was moved to the Colegio de San Gregorio.

The exterior of the 15th-century building is characterized by intricate sculptural reliefs in the Isabelline Plateresque style. The gorgeous façade demonstrates a complete lack of a uniform theme – resulting in a fascinating hodgepodge of biblical and secular components with an abundance of putti and floral and vine-like flourishes intertwined among them.

Mudejar architectural influences of the period extend to the interior and are evident in the courtyard and coffered ceilings, renovated in 2009.

A sampling of the museum’s contents is found below.

My favorite painting included in the collection is “The Temptation of San Antonio de Abad” (pictured below) by Jan Brueghel de Velours (1568-1625). Anthony the Abbot (251-356) retreated to live a peaceful life as a hermit in prayer but was continually harassed by wild, diabolical figures trying to seduce him with a diverse menu of temptations. The lifestyle must have suited him though, as saintly stories describe this San Antonio as living to age 105.

Sculptural representations of demons in the museum include a devil being crushed underfoot by San Miguel and an 18th-century one appearing to fall rather spectacularly from heaven toward hell.

The architecture of San Gregorio attracted the attention of Orson Welles who used it as one of the settings of his 1955 film noir, Confidential Report. With a tagline billing it as “Two words whispered, two men dead,” I put it on my watch-list. Definitely not Welles’ best but still entertaining, and the courtyard did serve as an inspired pick for a ball with guests masquerading as figures from Goya’s “Caprichos.”

Stills from Orson Welles’ Confidential Report, released in Spain as Mr. Arkadin

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