Visualizing Imperium: The Virgin of the Seafarers and Spain's Self-Image in the Early Sixteenth Century*

By Phillips, Carla Rahn | Renaissance Quarterly, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Visualizing Imperium: The Virgin of the Seafarers and Spain's Self-Image in the Early Sixteenth Century*


Phillips, Carla Rahn, Renaissance Quarterly


The year 2003 marked the five-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Casa de Contratacion, or House of Trade, in Seville. Barely a decade after Christopher Columbus (ca. 1451-1506) returned from his first voyage across the Ocean Sea, and long before any European knew the full extent of the lands that he and others were exploring for the Spanish crown, Queen Isabel (1451-1504) and King Ferdinand (1452-1516) moved to assert royal control over whatever those expeditions might find. They gave the House of Trade jurisdiction over commerce, as the name implied, and also over shipbuilding, navigation, map- and instrument-making, and migration. In effect, the royal bureaucracy would govern the new lands in the name of the crown, while the House of Trade would oversee virtually every official contact between Europe and the embryonic Spanish Empire. (1)

To commemorate the quincentenary, the Spanish government sponsored an exhibition in Seville from December 2003 to February 2004. Installed in the handsome Casa de la Provincia, the exhibition included maps and portraits, artifacts and ship models, samples of medicinal plants, and the like--all evoking the exchanges overseen by the House of Trade. For the cover of the exhibition's catalogue, the organizers chose the painting now known as The Virgin of the Seafarers, although it did not appear with the rest of the exhibition. Instead, it remained nearby in the Sala de Audiencias (Hall of Audiences) for the House of Trade's original quarters, inside the Reales Alcazares (Royal Fortresses). Sometime before 1536, officials at the House of Trade commissioned the painting as the central panel of an altarpiece that they installed in the Hall of Audiences, so that the room could also serve as a chapel. Scholars date the painting to 1531-36 and now attribute it to Alejo Fernandez (ca. 1470/75-1546). Flanking the Virgin are panels depicting St. Sebastian, St. James the Great (called Santiago in Spain), St. Elmo, and St. John the Evangelist. These panels are thought to be the work of someone other than Alejo, perhaps a member of his workshop or another known artist. (2) When Josephe de Veitia Linaje wrote his famous analysis of Spain's Atlantic Fleet system in 1672, the chapel of the House of Trade still "formed in effect a single body with the place destined as the Hall of Audiences," presumably with its altarpiece still intact (fig. 1). (3)

Many functions of Spain's Atlantic trade moved to Cadiz in 1717, along with its merchants, leaving the sixteenth-century Casa Lonja de Mercaderes (Merchants' Exchange) near the Alcazares largely unused. From 1785 onward the Casa Lonja became the General Archive of the Indies, housing the millions of documents produced by Spain's imperial bureaucracy and the House of Trade. (4) The altarpiece in the House of Trade's sixteenth-century chapel and Hall of Audiences did not make the move to the Casa Lonja, and at some point it was disassembled. When Narciso Sentenach y Cabanas wrote about the art and architecture of Seville in 1885, he mentioned only "some panels representing St. Sebastian and other saints in the chapel of the Alcazar," but he did not associate them with an altarpiece, nor with the painting now known as The Virgin of the Seafarers. (5) Seven years after Sentenach wrote, Spain celebrated the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus's first voyage across the Atlantic and the beginning of the Spanish Empire, which by 1892 existed only as a few scattered pieces of territory and a widespread cultural presence in its former dominions.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

After a brief war with the United States of America in 1898, Spain lost the last remnants of its empire in America and Asia, prompting Spanish intellectuals to make an anguished reexamination of Spain's national identity and goals. Some analyses questioned the value of empire altogether and blamed Spain's imperial career for many of the national failings they perceived in their own times. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Visualizing Imperium: The Virgin of the Seafarers and Spain's Self-Image in the Early Sixteenth Century*
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.