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.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Former Convent home to Bellas Artes

The former Convent of Merced Calzada dates from the early 1600s, but since 1841 it has been open to the public as the Museo de Bellas Artes.

The fine arts museum originally preserved and showcased works from closed convents and monasteries around Seville. The collection has grown through the years and includes works by some of the most famous painters associated with the city – Murillo, Zurbaran and Leal.

Not uncharacteristically, I often found myself distracted by the tilework and the devils in the details.

As we were headed into the season of Semana Santa processions, the paintings of enormous horse-drawn floats from 18th-century Seville proved of particular interest. Although these bacchanalian-themed floats appear to be more closely associated with rowdy pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations.