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the countess purchased a 16th-century palace and began remodeling it in 1901 in the sumptuous Mudejar-Renaissance style originally made popular by the Casa de Pilatos.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.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Contemporary art invigorates former Carthusian monastery

The giant “Alice” by Cristina Lucas is indeed stuck in a curiously odd place on the Isla de la Cartuja. Sevilla is bustling on one side of the Guadalquivir, but crossing the river on foot to this part of the island at first appears to be heading into somewhat of a remote no-man’s land.

For centuries, much of the clay for the city’s azulejos came from the island. In 1400, Archbishop Gonzalo de Mena chose the location for a Carthusian monastery. The founding of Monasterio de la Cartuja was in the nick of time to provide a suitable permanent home for the archbishop to rest, as he died in 1401. Christopher Columbus’ body was placed in the Capilla de Santa Ana from 1509 to 1536, but the archbishop’s tomb in the Capilla de la Magdalena Chapel is not the only one remaining within the ancient walls of the monastery.

Patrons of the monastic order, members of the Ribera family reside in sculpturally rich tombs dating from the 16th century and dominating the Sala Capitular. The 15th-century chapel with its colorful tiles serves a prime example of Mudejar architecture. Some of the bizarre images incorporated in the ornate motifs surrounding the tombs appear as though they emerged from the mind of someone who swilled some Wonderland “drink me” potion.

Government seizure of ecclesiastical property in 1836 left the monastery available. Englishman Charles Pickman rented and soon purchased the property to manufacture La Cartuja de Sevilla Pottery. Enormous brick chimneys erected there demonstrate both the size and modernity of the production facilities. In addition to tiles reflecting the city’s heritage, the facility produced mass-market earthenware dish patterns. A wall of rows of tiles serves as an outdoor “showroom” of sorts of the patterns available from La Cartuja.

The pottery factory still is in operation elsewhere in Seville, while the monastery and its grounds were refurbished when the city hosted the Universal Exhibition of 1992. Today the monastery is home to Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo.

Instead of turning left into “Argadedinam” or “Ebajodelaban” to explore the contemporary cultural center, it is wise to follow the right arrow on the whimsical directional sign. In addition to visual art, the café on the grounds is often a site for weekend jazz concerts.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: The house that made Mudejar-Renaissance mashups fashionable

When the governor of Andalusia, Pedro Enriguez de Quinones (1435-1492) began construction of his palace, most of the building expertise in the neighborhood was provided by Mudejar craftsmen.

A two-year grand tour of the Holy Land and Italy by his son, Fadrique Enríquez de Rivera (1476 – 1539), brought Renaissance influences into the home but not at the expense of Mudejar architectural details and azulejos. More than 100 different tile designs from the 1530s by the Pulido brothers color the interiors and its multiple courtyards. The first marques of Tarifa, Fadrique set a trend for mixing these styles among the wealthy in Sevilla, and that influence is reflected in a multitude of house museums now open to the public.

In 1521, Fadrique also established the Semana Santa tradition of a Lenten procession he was exposed to in Jerusalem, the Holy Way of the Cross. The route of La Via Crucis began in his chapel and proceeded 1,321 paces to a pillar just outside the city walls. The number represents the purported number of steps Jesus tread from the House of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem to the crucifixion awaiting him. Possibly this association is what led Sevillanos to refer to the home as the Casa de Pilatos.

Casa de Pilatos was made a national monument in 1931, but it remains the residence of the family of the Duke of Medinaceli, who retain portions as their private quarters.

I feel guilty including the portrait of “The Bearded Woman” by the famous Joseph de la Ribera, except it does jump off the wall at you. Instead of trying to explain the painting or my inclusion of it, I offer a translation of Ribera’s inscription on it. This is provided by WTF Art History (great blog title):

Look, a great miracle of nature. Magdalena Ventura from the town of Accumulus in Samnium, in the vulgar tongue Abruzzo in the Kingdom of Naples, aged 52 and what is unusual is when she was in her 37th year she began to go through puberty and thus a full growth of beard appeared such that it seems rather that of a bearded gentleman than a woman who had previously lost three sons whom she had borne to her husband, Felici de Amici, whom you see next to her. Joseph de Ribera, a Spaniard, marked by the cross of Christ, a second Apelles of his own time, by order of Duke Ferdinand II of Alcalá, Viceroy at Naples, depicted in a marvelously lifelike way. 17th February 1631.