Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

State Gift or Strategy? la Roldana's Nazareno

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

State Gift or Strategy? la Roldana's Nazareno

Article excerpt

As is well known, the exchange of artworks was a widespread practice within the framework of diplomatic relations in the Early Modern period. These transactions facilitated, or at least attempted to facilitate, political ties between their participants. Connections with important figures such as kings, viceroys, ambassadors, nuncios and so on led to the hoarding of various artistic items. Of special interest among these items were paintings and sumptuary artworks. These exchanges generated what we might call the collection of diplomatic art, including pieces that either by their artistic value or simply by their foreign or even exotic nature were held in high esteem, contributing to the rise in splendour of these collections. These 'strategic gifts', as Edward Goldberg calls them,1 were not part of a simple, generalized practice, for behind them was a code of behaviour that responded to an array of political tactics which aimed at transmitting an image that fitted in with the historical reality at any given time.2

On occasion gifts were made by the artists themselves with two basic strategic purposes. One was to find new purchasers, and thus provide their work with a benchmark commercial value. The other was to increase the fame of the artist.3 When people or institutions accepted a given piece for their collections, the fame of the artist who had given it increased notably. In this sense, it can be said that an artist's success was based on his or her marketing skills and ambition as well as talent. This complex task was carried out by artists themselves, or by whoever managed their production from a commercial standpoint.

These practices have been confirmed by detailed studies of certain royal collections, and are supported by the rich documentation generated by some of the most significant works. These studies have found evidence of gifts from ambassadors and courtiers in search of royal favours, as well as visits to the Spanish court from foreign powers and institutions to smooth the sometimes complex ways of diplomacy.4 Among these were works given by painters such as Orazio Gentileschi. Gentileschi sent his painting Moses Saved from the Waters (1632-33) to Philip IV of Spain, in the hope that the influence exerted by Madrid over Florence would lead to the Grand Duke Ferdinand II of Tuscany hiring his services. This would allow him to return to his native country from England, despite or perhaps because of being nearly seventy years old.5

These two practices claim to exalt art, but behind each are other hidden interests, as is shown by the life and work of the sculptor Luisa Roldán (1652-1706), known as La Roldana. In particular, these issues are germane to one of her most important works, El Nazareno (The Nazarene or Jesus of Nazareth), now in the small town of Sisante, Cuenca. This article will try to shed light on the story of this magnificent sculpture which, along with the statue of St Michael in El Escorial (fig. 1), brought this Spanish artist fame. The origins of this work are a complicated amalgam of facts and legends which the discovery of documentation in the archives of the nunciature in Madrid may now clarify.6

Luisa Roldán's life and work have sparked great interest over a long period, as is demonstrated by the vast bibliographic corpus that exists on her. The information provided by the contemporary author Antonio Palomino de Castro (1724) and the catalogue of the exhibition Roldana in Seville in 2007 represent the starting point for this article. This last contribution has familiarized us with some of the most recent documentary sources about her life, and at the same time it has allowed us to review her artistic works with scientific rigour.7 There exist a great number of publications of varied styles, including two PhD theses, and since 2007 the work of, in particular, Pleguezuelo Hernández and Llamazares Rodríguez.8

Luisa Roldán was born in Seville in 1652, the daughter of Pedro Roldán and Teresa de Villavicencio. …

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