Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Tiles turn advertisements into enduring street art

Members of the Sanchis family opened El Cronometro watch shop on Calle Sierpes in 1901. Their investment in this monumental wood and tile advertisement must have been substantial, although surely the Swiss watchmaker Longines underwrote some of the expense. Even if the store closed its doors, it is doubtful Sevillanos would permit the sign to be removed. The commercial advertisement has become a cherished part of the streetscape.

On the same street, Zacarias Zulategui commissioned Ceramica Santa Ana to add two tile advertisements for Armeria Z and Deportes Z. His gun shop and sports store have disappeared, but the ads remain. Women no longer roll cigars inside the Fabrica Real de Tabacos, but the tile sign still is embedded in the wall. The last Studebaker rolled off the assembly line in 1966, but the Studebaker mural in Seville endures.

In Seville, the art form has never gone out of fashion. Azulejos are so durable, they are used for street signs. The vintage look is a favorite of producers of alcoholic beverages, who find their installation is embraced as part of the streetscape. Restaurants, bars and shops continue to turn to Seville’s ceramicists to announce their presence to passers-by.

And you have to admire the cleverness of the tavern-owner whose frugal three-tile B-A-R sign takes full advantage of the azulejos above it depicting a graceful Virgin Mary protecting the Spanish fleet. The juxtaposition makes the establishment appear particularly blessed.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: The celebrated potters of Triana

“Saints Justa and Rufina” (detail above) by Francisco de Goya hangs in the Cathedral of Seville.

The most revered potters of Seville made their living in the area known as Triana in the third century – Santa Justa and Santa Rufina. During a festival, the sisters purportedly refused to sell any of their wares for use in pagan celebrations. In anger, those who had been refused service broke all of the pair’s ceramics. And, in the spirit of an eye for an eye, the sisters retaliated by smashing a statue of Venus.

The city’s prefect imprisoned the sisters and demanded they renounce their Christian beliefs. They refused, so their deprivation of food and water and various stages of torture began. Barefoot marches, the rack, hooks. Their faith remained steadfast.

Justa finally starved to death, and still Rufina refused to surrender to the prefect’s demands. Rufina was cast into the public amphitheater with a lion, but the fierce lion supposedly demurred attacking and purred at her instead. The frustrated prefect finally resorted to beheading, a method that proved effective at ending Rufina’s life.

With clay from nearby Isla de Cartuja, the Triana neighborhood on the left bank of the river remained Seville’s center for ceramics and azulejos for centuries. In 2014, the former Ceramica Santa Ana factory reopened as the Centro Ceramica Triana. The museum traces the regional history of tiles from the earliest known examples through the 20th-century.

 

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Savior or pillager of ancient relics?

Houses have their own countenance. They have souls. They have something indefinable, born of an idea or feeling. Now, renovated and embellished, it is the short compendium into which my whole life has been condensed. It is the shrine in which I have conserved the revered treasures of my grandparents and the art treasures accumulated during a lifetime.

Regla Manjon Mergelina, Countess of Lebrija (1851-1938)

And the countess did accumulate treasures.

To accommodate some of her sizable acquisitions, the countess purchased a 16th-century palace and began remodeling it in 1901 in the sumptuous Mudejar-Renaissance style originally made popular by the Casa de Pilatos. Entire walls of colorful 16th-century azulejos were harvested from a former convent.

Oh, but what to do about flooring?

Fond of archaeology, the countess underwrote digs outside of nearby Santiponce, the site of the ancient Roman city of Italica. This enabled her to “rescue” numerous long-neglected mosaic floors and return them to their former domestic role in her private home.

Much like Casa de Pilatos established a trend for Mudejar-Renaissance in Sevilliano palaces, the countess’ appetite for authentic Roman mosaic flooring spread to others. Floors from ruins throughout Spain began to disappear into private homes.

Spain was slow to protect the integrity of its antiquities and did not make Italica a national monument until 1912. Perhaps, if private Spaniards had not removed many of the mosaics and statues, they all might have ended up in museums in France or England. The acquisitive aristocratic homeowners in the early 1900s did keep the ancient artifacts in Spain.

The mosaics in Casa Lebrija also now can be seen by the public. The family owning the home opened it as a private museum in 1999. Several other house museums in Seville also feature Roman mosaics.

The flooring actually appears more appropriate in these domestic settings than in the more sterile surroundings of Seville’s Archaeological Museum. And they are in better repair than those remaining at Italica, still exposed to the elements. Now they are returned to public view, it is possible their removal by private caretakers ended up being a positive thing for Spain.

Similar to numerous house museums, portions of the second floor where the family still resides are open for guided tours for an additional fee. No photos are allowed, but the small price of admission is well worth the opportunity to view what originally was the “winter” portion of Palacio de Lebrija. In addition the distinctive architecture and rich furnishings, a few paintings by the elder Brueghel, Van Dyck and numerous Spanish painters are displayed.

And the countess might indeed have instilled a soothing soul in her palatial surroundings. We briefly saw the current matriarch serving as caretaker of the collection. Her son a step behind, she was climbing up the stairs to her quarters unassisted. She was approaching the eve of her 100th birthday.