The Apostle Santiago
Alejo de Vahia
Spanish school, active period 1473 – 1508
W x H
x 69cm
Work
This sculpture represents the figure of the Apostle Santiago, patron saint of Spain. It was designed to follow the usual iconogra- phy, with a pilgrim's staff, a wallet, a book in his hand, covered by a cloak and a pilgrim's cap. Here stands a shell, called Compostela, an emblem that identifies the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, which according to history is where the tomb of the Apostle Santiago is situated. Despite the understandable small losses, the polychromy is in quite good condition. It highlights the decorative works of pick- eting and sgraffito, as well as the inscription on the bottom of the tunic which identifies the figure of Santiago. The carving is of great quality and, due to the stylistic features that it has, it can be linked to the artist Alejo de Vahia (one of the most important late-Gothic sculptors who were active in Castile between the end of the XV century and beginning of the sixteenth century, and of which nothing was known until a few decades ago). He conducted his sculptural activity in the region of Tierra de campos, an area of Spain located in the community of Castile and Leon that extends to the provinces of Palencia, Valladolid, Zamora and Leon. Although the precise date of his birth and his specific place of origin are unknown, he is likely to have come from a region of northern Europe near the border between Holland, North-East Belgium and Germany. He moved to Spain on an undetermined date. The data we have, both documentary and stylistic, provide an incomplete biographical time frame, which places his period of activity between 1473-1508. The first piece of work that was assigned to him in Spain is the Dormition of the Virgin from the Cathedral of Valencia (ca. 1473-1475), which seems to have arrived from his native country. Towards 1485 he went to Paredes de Nava and collaborated with Pedro de Berruguete on the altarpiece for the church of Santa Eulalia, where he created the Embrace before the Golden door. Two years later he moved to Valladolid to enhance his expert style in the Colegio de Santa Cruz. From then on he resided in Becerril de Campos where he centralised all of his duties. Towards the year 1500 his style evolved, but maintained his signature characteristics. He moved from the severity and solemnity of his early works to a gradual positivity of his figures with more rounded, natural characteristics and more amiable traits. The Assumption of the Virgin from the church of Fuentes de Nava (Palencia), the Piedad of the Francisco Godia Foundation (Barcelona), and the Crucified of the Tides Museum (also from the City of Barcelona) all belong to this period. Documentary evidence of the artist’s first orders was not found until 1505. These were for the sculptures of the Magdalena and Saint John the Baptist for the greater altarpiece of the Cathedral of Palencia, which have unique characteristics that historians have used to trace their biography and sculptural style. The catalogue of his work is very extensive, and has been increasing over time by analyzing a series of sculptures that share common features characterised by a very personal style that highlights the connection to this unique sculptor. His date of death is around 1508, the year which has the last documentary reference of Alejo de Vahía. From a formal point of view, the work in question is consistent with the features and constant characteristics of the style of Alejo de Vahía. This Santiago shares many patterns which are visible when compared with his extensive number of sculptures. The anatomy is schematized in the treatment of figures, as if they had used fixed and basic geometric parameters to determine a great similarity between sculptures. They usually have a certain characteristic stiffness that is counteracted by the abundance of clothing folds, giving volume to the figures. Some of the most identifiable elements are the characteristic faces and the treatment of hair which is repeated in the figures with fixed styles and few variants. Thus we see this, for example, in several of his works in Becerril de Campos, which are very close to Santiago, as are God the Father and Saint Luke. This is also reflected in the numerous saints that he produced, such as the Saint John the Baptist of the Tides Museum (that the professor Yarza identified with the one of the cathedral of Palencia) or one of the Casacuberta Collection. The male figures of the Piety group of the Godia Foundation of Barcelona and the Lamentation of the Meadows Museum of Dallas are also very similar.
Literature
Ara Gil, Clementina Julia: Around the sculptor Alejo de Vahía (1490-1510), University of Valladolid, Valladolid, 1974. Yarza Luaces, Joaquín. Report made by dr. Alvaro Pascual Chenel, 2017