In early May, 2007, I stayed in Valladolid while attending the Premios Zarcillo, an annual judging of wines ostensibly drawn from around the world by an international panel of wine experts, but primarily from the host region of Castilla y León. I had not really had a chance to explore the city since more than fifteen years ago, when I was working on guide books to the region for Penguin and Berlitz.
Artists such as Tomé were in transition, still restrained by the power, weight, and conservatism of Herrera's influence, but in the end, just as florid Gothic gave way in Spain to Plateresque, and what was once confined to altarpieces, as Boyd puts it, "moved cheerfully outwards from the retablos to the facades." Spanish decoration would eventually degenerate into Rococo, but not yet. The facade of the Universidad de Valladolid would like to take off, but it is anchored firmly, by four unadorned columns set on square pedestals, to the no-nonsense conservative building it decorates.
Around the corner to the southeast of the University, the Colegio de Santa Cruz represents the late 15th-century Renaissance style of Enrique de Egas, and just northeast, along calle del Cardenal Mendoza, which becomes calle Colon, is Christopher Columbus's house. In 1506 Columbus died in Valladolid a broken man, "If I had stolen the Indies and given them to the Moors, Spain could not have shown me greater enmity." The house where he died was demolished in the 1960s, then completely rebuilt to house the Casa de Colón, whose most interesting displays are the maps of the great Admiral's three voyages, and some artifacts from his new world discoveries.
Located northeast of the Plaza Mayor are two of Valladolid's main attractions: The Colegio de San Gregorio, the remarkable, incredibly ornate (Jan Morris called it "almost edible"), late 15th-century Isabeline-Gothic building in which the Museo Naciónal de Escultura is housed and, next to it, the equally ornate, Isabeline Iglesia de San Pablo. Both these pre-Renaissance buildings are often called Plateresque, but they are not.
They preceded Plateresque and obviously contributed to its development, but they were executed by foreign architects and stonemasons inspired–according to Professor Denning of Trinity College in Dublin– by the kind of decoration commonly used in the title-pages of books and by the wood carvings done for the altarpieces of the period. It is to this, not to the silversmiths who inspired Plateresque decoration, that we owe the remarkable style of these two structures. The 15th-century Iglesia de San Pablo, which preceded San Gregorio and is even more detailed (if that is possible), was added to in the early 17th century by the ever-present duke of Lerma, whose coat-of-arms can be seen on the facade. The French looted and destroyed the original interior during the Peninsular War, but a striking pair of Isabeline doorways remains in the since-restored church.
The Museo Nacional de Escultura in San Gregorio is filled with polychrome wood statues (many with meticulously detailed bleeding wounds); complete tableaux representing Biblical scenes; Holy Week processional pasos (floats): entire altarpieces; paintings; and even an entire set of carved wooden choir stalls, done by Gil de Silöe, Alonso Berruguete, Juan de Juni, Gregorio Fernández, Pedro de Mena, and others, is to Valladolid, as one book put it, "what the Prado is to Madrid."
One of the masterpieces in the Museo Nacional de Escultura 's collection is the early 16th-century altarpiece by Alonso Berruguete, who Alastair Boyd claims, was "the only inspired artist of the Spanish Renaissance." Berruguete spent five years working in Florence and was greatly influenced by Michaelangelo (he was mentioned in the master's letters), Leonardo da Vinci (he was in Florence when Leonardo was painting the Mona Lisa), and Raphael; he returned to Spain to become the greatest Spanish sculptor of the 16th century. Originally built for Valladolid's Iglesio de San Benito, Berruguete's retablo, now dismantled and displayed in three rooms on the ground floor of the museum, measured over 50 feet high.
The museum also displays another exceptional altarpiece taken from the Convent of La Mejorada in Olmedo, several first-rate pieces including the superb statues of San Sebastián and the Sacrifice of Isaac, and a fine Nativity painting, all by Berruguete, whose talents did not stop here: He also did part of the woodcarving on the upper parts of the magnificent choirstalls in Toledo Cathedral. The Frenchman from Champagne, Juan de Juni, whose work can also be seen in the Cathedral and in Las Angustias church here, is represented in this museum by one of his most highly-regarded works, the Entombment of Christ, and a good John the Baptist.
Gregorio Fernández, who in the early 17th-century carried Juni's Illusionism even further by using human teeth, glass eyes, and graphically depicted bleeding wounds to get his point across, is very well represented here, but a little bit of Fernández goes a long way. His Cristo Yacente (Christ reclining) here is just one of a number of profusely bleeding Cristos - - shown reclining, in Pieta tableaux, and hanging from the Cross - - done by this prolific artist, and scattered throughout Valladolid.
Other notable works in this museum, where the pieces are beautifully displayed and well lighted, are Pedro de Mena's fine 17th-century statue of Mary Magdalene; the bronce statues of the duke and duchess of Lerma kneeling, whose models were done by Pompeo Leoni and cast by Juan de Arfe; and the richly-detailed, carved wooden choirstalls by Diego de Silöe, son of Gil de Silöe, and creator of the great golden staircase in the Burgos cathedral.
There are also two fine Hispano-Flemish paintings from the 15th century: one of San Jerónimo, which was in the Convento de La Mejorada in Olmedo, and the other of Santiago, dressed as a pilgrim with his staff and a scallop shell on his hat, and San Andrés, with an X-shaped St. Andrew's cross.
South of the Plaza Mayor is calle de Santiago, the major shopping street of Valladolid with its own special twist, a place called Las Francesas, which has a number of good shops surrounding the cloister of an old former nunnery. The Iglesia de Santiago on this street contains a fine retable by Alonso Berruguete. At the southern end of Santiago street is the plaza de Zorilla, which forms the northern tip of the triangular-shaped Campo Grande park, an oasis of trees, fountains, flower gardens, and pleasant walks. Located at the southern end of the park, the convent of the Order of the Phillipines houses the interesting Museo Oriental, which has a fine collection of Oreintal art put together by Augustinian missionaries stationed in the Far East.
Casa de Cervantes
Valladolid was the capital of Spain for five years (1601-1606) under Phillip III after the city bribed the Duke of Lerma, the royal favorite, 400,000 ducats to move the court from Madrid. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, spent three years in Valladolid during this period in a house on the calle del Rastro. William Byron, author of the definitive biography of Cervantes, describes what the building was like in those days, "one of five new houses jerry built by a small-bore speculator hoping to cash in on an influx of riffraff into the city. It was an instant slum." Cervantes, along with more than 20 of his relatives, friends, and perhaps a down-at-heel servant or two, crowded into 13 rooms above an old tavern that was the hangout for butchers from the nearby slaughterhouse.
The Casa de Cervantes is located two and a half blocks southeast of Plaza de Zorilla at calle del Rastro 7. Don't expect to moved by the spirit of the great writer in today's contrived surroundings, however; the house is more interesting as a refurbished 17th-century dwelling, certainly in better shape now than it was in those days, than as a Cervantes museum. Besides, by the time Cervantes moved here, Don Quixote was already finished and in the hands of his publisher, Francisco de Robles, who had moved to Valladolid from Madrid to be close to the real money - - in this epoch certainly - - around the supremely corrupt duke of Lerma and the court of Phillip III.
Cervantes was arrested in this house, though, after the mysterious death from sword wounds of a nobleman killed in the dangerous streets of this quarter. Cervantes and his family helped the man into their apartments, where he died two days later, and when no one could put a finger on the man's assailant, Cervantes and several members of his family were arrested, albeit briefly, thus adding Valladolid to list of jails - - Algiers, Castro del Rio, and Sevilla - - that the great writer had graced with his presence - - most unjustly.
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