The collection of Gothic art includes works from the end of century XIII until well into the century xv. The origin of the works is mostly from the Catalan territory, although to a lesser extent, works from the territory of the old Crown of Aragon, such as Aragon, Mallorca and Valencia, are shown, showing the historical moment of maximum Catalan territorial influence. The most representative authors of this period are Pere Serra, Lluís Borrassà, Jaume Huguet, Bernat Martorell and Bartolomé Bermejo, others. In terms of style, one can find works that show the emergence, development and completion of style, as well as works from different European styles, such as international Gothic, linear expression, ‘ Italian descent and Flemish descent.
Quantitatively it stands out the set of pictorial altarpieces, paintings to the egg tempera and to the oil, along with a sample of the mural painting, the goldsmithing, the sculpture and the enamel of the time. All works displayed were restored before reopening of the collection in the summer of 1997.
The origins of the formation of the MNAC Gothic art collection date back to the beginning of the 19th century, when the movement for the recovery and conservation of the Catalan heritage complex began, which was badly damaged by the burning of convents from 1835 to Spain in the context of the First Carlist War, which led to the confiscation of Mendizábal. Small movements and institutional initiatives such as the collection, in the convent of San Juan, of archaeological specimens from the destroyed convents, promoted in 1837 by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Seven years later, the convent would become the first historical museum in Barcelona. Among the items collected were a total of 24 Gothic tombstones. The creation in 1867 of the Provincial Museum of Antiquities, directed by Antoni Elias de Molins and located in the chapel of Santa Ágata, incorporated the funds of the Academy of Good Letters.
With the advent of the Renaissance cultural movement, the phenomenon of private collecting began to be widespread in Catalonia. One of the most prominent was the collection of art critic Francesc Miquel i Badia, owner of Sant Jordi and the Princess.
In the Municipal Museum of Fine Arts of Barcelona, created in 1891 and located in the Palace of Fine Arts, the Gothic background was still a squad, despite having outstanding works such as the four portraits with the images of the kings of Aragon, by Gonçal Peris Sarrià and Jaume Mateu, donation of Pau Milà i Fontanals to his death in 1883, or two tables originally from the monastery of Vallbona de les Monges and objects of the object such as the urn of Sant Cándid, a piece from the monastery of Sant Cugat. del Vallès, or the well-known Virgin of the Councilors of Lluís Dalmauoccupying a prominent place. The constitution of the Municipal Board of Museums and Fine Arts marked a change of direction in the museum policy, very sensitive to the increase of the collections of gothic art. Highlights the notorious activity of Joaquim Folch i Torres as Commissioner of the Board of Museums in this drive.
For the inauguration of the new Museum of Art and Archeology, in 1915, located on the side wings of the Ciutadella arsenal, now the seat of the Parliament, there were already the prominent tables of the altarpiece of Sant Vicenç de Sarrià by Jaume Huguet, one of the sides of the so-called Cardona altarpiece, a work related to the Master of Baltimore acquired in 1906 by Celestí Dupont, or the tables of the Sant Joan Baptista altarpiece by Pere Garcia de Benavarri, purchased from the Marquès i Català family. In the field of sculpture, Josep Pascó had bought sixty pieces of alabaster and stone sculptures from Poblet andSalvador Babra, sculptural images from Gerb.
It would be just before 1920 when the acquisition of ecclesiastical-owned property intensified. In 1919 the Sant Antoni Abat was acquired, attributed to Jaume Cascalls to the rector of the village of La Figuera; most of the tables in the altarpiece of Sant Esteve de Granollers from the workshop of the Vergós and Joan Gascó; the altarpiece of the Virgin of Sigena by Jaume Serra; or the thighs of the organ of the Cathedral of La Seu d’Urgell. In the 1920’s key pieces were included in the museum, such as the table of Sant Jordi and the princess and the altarpiece of Sant Agustí, from the brotherhood of the whitewashers of Jaume Huguet.
With the inauguration, in 1934, of the Art Museum of Catalonia at the Palau Nacional, one of the most significant stages in the history of the formation of the Gothic art collection was completed. Of the total of 1,869 works, in the Gothic section, there was a group of more than forty gothic tables and a significant number of sculptures and architectural fragments from the Provincial Museum of Antiquities of Barcelona, whose fund was finally incorporated to the museums of the Board, between 1932 and 1933.
But the most significant growth of the period comes from the acquisition for 7 million pesetas of the collection of 1,869 works Lluís Plandiura i Pou in 1932, which had to sell it due to economic problems. Of the gothic pieces the Marededéu of Sallent de Sanaüja stands out; the three fragments of the Tortosa altarpiece, by Pere Serra; the altarpiece of the Saints John of Santa Coloma de Queralt; the altarpiece of Sant Esteve, by Jaume Serra; paintings from Estopanyà; the series of eight funeral tables from the tomb of San Andrés de Mahamud (Burgos) and thetombstone of Margarita Cadell.
There were no major additions again until 1949 with the legacy of Francesc Cambó, mostly with Renaissance and Baroque works, which contributed the tables of the Master of Madonna Cini and the gilded silver chalice with the shield of Queen Mary. de Luna, wife of King Martí l’Humà, one of the best international gothic jewelry productions preserved by the MNAC.
With the incorporation, in 1950, of some works in the Muñoz collection – the former Bosch i Catarine collection – the altarpiece of Santa Barbara by Gonçal Peris Sarrià was introduced, an outstanding example of Valencian international Gothic. The same collection belonged to the scene of the Crucifixion of Sant Andreu, by Lluís Borrassà, and the Table by Sant Miquel Soriguerola.
In 1950, the legacy of Apel•les Mestres enriched the content of the Gothic section with two magnificent mercies, belonging to the choir of the choir of the cathedral of Barcelona, by Pere Sanglada. The same year, the sarcophagi, originally from the monastery of Santa María de Matallana (Valladolid), were acquired and constitute a singular manifestation of peninsular funeral sculpture.
A significant new entry was the acquisition in 1956 of the collection collected since the end of the last century by the count of Santa Maria de Sants, Maties Muntadas (1854-1927), which saw a significant increase in art collections Gothic, especially painting. It is necessary to emphasize works of the Master of Retascón, the Master of the Porciúncula, Fernando Gallego, Bernat Despuig or Ramon Solà II, as well as others already in the collection of the museum like the painters Jaume Huguet, Bernat Martorell or Pere Garcia de Benavarri. Noteworthy in the Muntades collection is the collection of Flemish paintings, which is a significant contribution to the art made in Flanders during the 15th and 16th centuries.
The acquisition in the 1960’s of various murals and coffered items from various palaces in Montcada Street in Barcelona contributed to a barely represented set of profane character in the collection, in which religious themes predominated.
In 1970 the Bertrand legacy was incorporated, which enriched the area of medieval wood sculpture. In 1976 there was a donation, by Mrs. Pilar Rabal, widow of Pere Fontana, from the collection collected by her husband, thirteen tables that expanded the collection within the current of Catalan international Gothic, with names that are representative enough like those of Guerau Gener, Jaume Ferrer II or Pere Teixidor.
Of particular importance is the deposit of the Generalitat de Catalunya, in 1993, of three sergeants from the Cathedral of La Seu d’Urgell; an income that complements the whole acquired in the first decade of the century. Also, the donation of the Torelló collection of 1994 involved the incorporation of a painting by Jacomart. A year later, the donation of the Torres collection signified the entrance of the Martyrdom of Saint Lucy by Bernat Martorell.
Saints and protagonists of the collection of Gothic art
In the Medieval period the saints were considered virtuous and exceptional personalities, with links to that which was divine, reason why they were strongly revered and admired.
As consequence, the saints took on a notable importance in the artistic representations and that’s how it appears in the museum collection of Gothic art.
But, how could the faithful identify these figures in a period in which means such as photography didn’t exist and, therefore, their representations weren’t a portrait? Each of them was characterize with one or more elements that related with their life or martyrdom, forming a simple and effective code to the medieval viewer. These are called attributes.
Saint John the Evangelist
Being Saint James the Great brother, John is considered, at the same time, apostle, the youngest of all of them and Jesus’ favourite, and evangelist during his exile on the island of Patmos.
In the West’s art, John can easily be distinguished from the rest of the apostles due to his youth and the fact that he didn’t have a beard. His most constant attributes are the book and the eagle. The book alludes to his facet as writer, both of the Gospel and of the Apocalypse, written on the island of Patmos, while the eagle is his symbol of the Tetramorph. He also often held a goblet that contained a serpent or a dragon, in reference to the failed attempt to be poisoned that he suffered during the period of the Emperor Domitian.
Saint John the Baptist
Son of Saint Isobel, and therefore Jesus’ cousin, John is considered to be the last prophet before the arrival of the Messiah and, for this reason, he’s called “precursor”. His most famous nickname derives from his activity as a Baptist on the banks of the river Jordan, in which he carried out the baptism of Christ, who he recognised as the son of God. John died beheaded upon request of Salome, daughter of Herodias and niece of Herod, who imprisoned him because he had reported their incestuous union.
His representation is that of an anchorite, that is to say, one who lives apart and dedicated to the oration and penitence. That’s why he is usually dressed in a leather tunic. One of his most notable attributes is the lamb related to his designation of Christ as a lamb of God. This can be lying on a book or contained in a flabellum, which is common in Catalan art.
Saint Peter is considered the prince of the apostles, the vicar of Christ on earth or the doorman of Heaven. Named Simon, along with his brother, Saint Andrew, was called to follow Jesus and, since then, he took the name Peter, in metaphorical reference to the stone upon which Christ build the Church. He was the first Bishop of Rome and died martyr the same day Saint Paul, who he is often associated with, was crucified upside down.
Peter usually looks like an elderly man with grey tonsured hair and short curly beard. His most characteristic attribut is they keys to the kingdom of the heavens that Christ promise’s him in the Gospel, although, as an apostle, he often also has a book in his hand. Moreover, as Peter is considered to be the first Pope of the Church, he wears the suitable attire, the triple papal tiara or triregnum.
Saul, Jew of Tarsus and persecutor of Christians, converted to Christianity when, on a trip from Jerusalem to Damascus, he fell from his horse, due to the appearance of Christ, that left him temporary blind. From that point on, he adopted the name of Paul, which signified humility.
Generally he’s represented as bald and with a long beard. His main attribute is the sword, as a reference to his decapitation in Rome, which happened, according to tradition, the same day as Saint Peter’s ordeal.
Because of his preaching, Stephen was accused of blasphemy against Moses. That’s why the Jewish religious leaders stoned him and turned him into the first martyr of Christianity. That’s why he’s known as proto-martyr.
Normally, Saint Stephen is represented with the features of a young man without a beard with a dalmatic deacon. As a martyr saint he carried the palm, and amongst his most representative attributes is the book, an allusion to the defence he made of the word of God, and the stone or stones, the indisputable reference to his stoning.
Saint James the Elder
James the Elder, called like that to differentiate him from the other homonymous apostle, has prominent role on the Gospels and dies beheaded in Jerusalem. Big part of his relevance comes due to a legend that considers him an evangelist of the Iberian Peninsula and places his sepulchre in Santiago de Compostela, a place that, for that reason, in the Middle Ages became one of the main pilgrimage centers.
Related to this story, his image is that of a pilgrim, with a hat a wide brim decorated with the shell (venera jacobea), a pilgrim’s staff and the bag, among others.
Michael is part of the group of archangels, among which he’s the most powerful one. He is considered head of the celestial military, which fights against rogue angels and against the dragon of seven heads. Also attributed to him is the facet of psychopomp, busy with the passage of souls on the Judgment Day.
As a defence of the Church, he usually dresses as a soldier or horseman and is usually armed with a lance or a sword. Just like Saint George, he often appears killing the dragon, but unlike George, Michael is always wearing wings. Regarding his role as judge he is also presented with a balance, weighting good and bad actions.
Born in Zaragoza, Vincent was deacon of Valeri and was martyred in Valencia during the persecution of roman emperor Diocletian, around the year 300. He was condemned to multiple torments: he was flagellated, scratched by iron hooks on a cross, and finally burnt in the grill while soldiers threw salt on the wounds of his skin. Deprived of sepulchre, his body was thrown to the wild animals, but a raven helped him save his life. He was also thrown to the sea with stones tied around his neck but his body floated miraculously.
As Saint Stephen, Saint Vincent is represented as a young deacon dressed with a dalmatic and with the martyr’s palm.. On the other hand, generally his attributes were related to his passion: the stone, the cross, the grill…
Born at Caleruega (Burgos), Saint Dominic was the founder of the order of the Dominicans, which obtained papal permission in the year 1216. He was canonized very fast, a few years after his death, in 1234. One of his most prominent facets was his fight against heresy, reason for which he moved to Tolosa to battle the Albigenses.
The Saint is usually represented tonsured and dressed in a two-coloured habit of the same order, white tunic and a black cloak, symbols of purity and austerity. Amongst the most representative attributes of Saint Dominic was the book, common in others saints, and the lily branch, also used to identify the Franciscan saints Francis of Assisi and Anthony of Padua.
Saint Anthony the Abbot
He’s a saint of Egyptian origin that was very popular in the Medieval West. He went away on his own to live in the desert very early in his life, where he spend most of his live in solitude. Amongst the most popular chapters, the diabolic temptations he suffered stand out as well as his visit to Saint Paul, the First Hermit. Under his invocation, in high middle age, the Order of St. Anthony appeared and they specialized in curing contagious diseases.
Normally, Saint Anthony is represented as an old man with a beard, dressed in sackcloth with a hood, common clothing for the monks of his order. His habitual attributes are the crosier in the form of “tau”, the bell, the little pig and the flames of the “fire of Saint Anthony” (ignis sacer), in allusion to the illness that the Antonians cured, gangrenous ergotism. Furthermore, on occasions, he sometimes appeared as a hermit tormented by the little devils that appeared in the desert, one of the most known chapters of his life.
Legend says, Catherine was a noble of Alexandria, who was obliged by her father to marry the Roman emperor. She refused to do so because of her “mystical marriage” to Christ but, because of it, she was condemned to multiple tortures, of which she got out unscathed, until she finally died decapitated.
As most of the rest of the martyr saints, she is usually accompanied by the palm and, in relation to her history, she is represented as a noble woman, often with a crown. Her most universal attributes are a wheel with broken spikes and a sword. In some representations, she appears stepping on a masculine figure, the emperor, who she refused and who was the one to submit her to the torture.
According to legend, Barbara was an Eastern Saint shut by her father in a tower only illuminated by two windows to avoid her conversion to Christianity. Even so, she found a way to become a Christian and be baptized, which is why a third window was opened as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.
Saint Barbara has an iconography, or representation, which is rather consolidated given that she normally appears with the palm, as a saint martyr, a royal crown, given her noble lineage and, as a more representative attribute, the tower of two or three windows.
Daughter of the King of Great Britain, Ursula was requested to enter into matrimony by pagan prince. To marry him she put one condition: that the groom had to be baptised and that he should accompany her on a pilgrimage to Rome. The young girl set out with an entourage of eleven thousand virgins, but on the return trip they were all killed in an attack by the Huns.
Saint Ursula was dressed richly, for her status as a princess. Generally she appears with the palm of the martyr and a bow and/or a sageta (a sort of arrow) in reference to her tragic death.
Saint Clare is the founder of the female branch of the Franciscans, of the nuns of Saint Clare. Born in Assisi, she was from a noble family, but in her youth decided to distribute her goods amongst the poor and follow Saint Francis. Clare lived closed in the convent of Saint Damian of Assisi as an abbess, loyal to the precepts of his poor rule. Saint Clare was sanctified only two years after her death which occurred in 1253.
Saint Clare dresses with the habit that belong to the Franciscan nuns, with the belt of three knots, and she’s distinguished as an abbess, with her staff and book of the rule of her community. On of her most common attributes is the custody with which she rejected the Saracens of Saint Damian.
Altar frontal of the Corpus Christi, Master of Vallbona de les Monges (Guillem Seguer?), c. 1335-1345
On the extreme lower right are represented two scenes related to the same theme. In the first, a pile of coins – perhaps croats or diners of Medieval Barcelona – appears disbursed on the table top as part of a bet in a game of dice depicted. Bets, dice, tokens or counters and money have been at hand since Antiquity, and were condemned in the Middle Ages for their immorality and incentive to sin. In this case, it seems that one of the players has relied on a sacred form by means of a good-luck talisman, in what becomes, definitively, a story of profanation of the eucharist. The adjacent scene probably shows the cheating player, with the money already tucked in his purse, at the momento of his being arrested for sacrilege.
The Annunciation and the Three Kings at Epiphany, Circle of Ferrer and Arnau Bassa, c. 1347-1360
Among the gifts offered by the Magi to the Christ-child at Epiphany, according to the evangelical accounts, gold is prominent and, for that reason, there was no more opportune way for showing it than to represent it in monetized form: in this case, as gold florins of Florence, or, perhaps, of Aragón, within a beautiful eucharistic cup. Jesus, in some variations of the scene from the same period, not only accepts the cup, but picks up one of the coins, or blesses them, thus legitimizing their use, such as is thus already usually presented by the cross on one side of the coin.
Saint Eligius, attributed to Jordi de Déu, c. 1380
This sculpture of the moneyer-saint, the patrón of silversmiths, ironworkers, moneyers – and, in actually, of numismatists — is shown arrayed as the Bishop of Noyens. The historical Eligius lived between 588 and 660, and was indeed responsible for minting coinage under the Frankish Merovingian kings Chlothar II and Dagobert I. This piece comes from the Saint’s chapel in the Convent del Carmen in Barcelona, where silversmiths had their members’ chapel and where they did homage to the saint.
Altarpiece of St. Anthony the Abbot, Master of Rubió, c. 1360-1375
A young St. Anthony, shown in the upper left scene, shares his considerable wealth among a group of poor people gathered about, who receive him with great joy. The scene of the infant Jesus, who shows to his mother one of the coins he has received, justly stands out. Especially interesting, in terms of iconography, is the representation of the storage of money, in bags (bolsas) guarded in a box or chest locked with a key.
Altarpiece of the Saints John, Master of Santa Coloma de Queralt, c. 1356
The lower left scene, taken from the Golden Legend, narrates the miracle telling of the conversion of wooden logs into gold ingots. Once miraculously made, the ingots are delivered to a silversmith, who did not know of their origin, so he could assay them and certify their quality. The interior of the smith’s workshop, with its forge and tools, is remarkable. In the Middle Ages, in mints such as that of Barcelona, the presence of smiths as assayers and smelters of precious metals would have been normal.
Embrace at the Golden Gate, Master of Retascón, c. 1410-1425
This scene shows the first of the money-bags (bolsas), of widely varying materials and forms, that can be followed-up in the Gothic panel paintings of the collection. This old usage (of bolsa) seems to allude to the ancient Spanish expression uttered by highwaymen in their assaults: “¿La bolsa, o la vida?” (in English, “Your money or your life!”).
Mourning over the dead Christ, Joan Mates, c. 1410-1420
Joseph of Arimathea, recognized as a person of well-known wealth and public prestige, is represented, as in this scene, dressed in rich clothing and with a bulging money-bag. In this instance, in a display of fashion, the latter is carved with the same texture as his hooded cape. The careful treatment of the clothing and the bulging bolsa thus reflect Joseph’s high rank.
St. Lucy giving alms, Bernat Martorell, c. 1435
Born in Syracuse (Sicily) in the busom of a rich and noble family, Saint Lucy (AD 283-304), dispensed alms among the poor. The coin that she is here shown giving to a poor person has vanished in the present condition of this work, although a recent analysis has been able to determine that the painter represented a gold piece, which underscored still further the generosity of the martyr. Also outstanding here is the heavy bag of money that is carried by the Saint’s maid, again emphasizing her infinite charity.
Altarpiece of the St. Johns de Vinaixa, Bernat Martorell, c.1435-1440
In the compartments of this retablo can be seen various money-bags. We know the contents of the one that is associated with the Arma Christi: that is, the “30 pieces of silver” (Roman denarii? Tyrian tetradrachmai?) given to Judas Iscariot as the price for his treachery. On the other hand, of the rest of the money-bags that hang from the belts of some of the personajes represented, we know nothing.
Martyrdom of St. Lucy at the Stake, Bernat Martorell, c. 1435-1440
Viewing the rich repertory of money-bags represented in the Gothic panel paintings, this one stands out: it would have been made of rawhide, with a particularly rustic appearance.
St. Vincent in the bonfire, Jaume Huguet, 1455-1460
The Saint’s executioner, presumably, also has his own money-bag. Does he keep within it the money he has earned for executing his “work”?
Princess Eudoxia before the Tomb of Saint Stephen, Vergós Group, 1495-1500
In this and the following pieces, the various pilgrim badges and their use on clothing are notable; the badges are seen attached to pilgrims’ garments and to money-bags that they carry as well. Each emblem attested public faith in a particular pilgrimage: the Romero went to Rome, and so wore the pontificial keys symbolizing the Holy See; the Jacobeo went to Santiago de Compostela, and so displayed the cockle-shell associated with that Saint; the Palmero, to Jerusalem, showing a reflection of the palms which greeted Jesus upon his arrival for Passover – all part of a system of images that were reproduced also in more modest sanctuaries, like the nearby one of Santa María of Montserrat.
The Beheading of Saint Baudilus, Lluís Dalmau, 1448
The pilgrim is easily recognized by his travel clothing and, especially, by the pilgrimage badges that became public demonstrations of the religious and pious objectives of the rite of passage. They constituted a code that all understood. We cannot forget, what’s more, that in the luggage of the pilgrim also traveled some coins that, on occasions, were offered up to the sanctuary upon arrival, as has been shown by the finds from the confessio of Saint Peter’s in the Vatican.
National Art Museum of Catalonia
The National Art Museum of Catalonia, also known by its acronym MNAC, is a museum of art in the city of Barcelona which brings together all the arts whose mission is to preserve and exhibit the collection of Catalan art ‘s most important world, showing everything from Romanesque to the present. Its current director is Josep Serra.
The MNAC is a consortium with its own legal personality constituted by the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Barcelona City Council and the General State Administration. In addition to the public administrations, individuals and private entities collaborating with the administration are represented on the museum’s board of trustees.
The main headquarters are located in the National Palace of Montjuïc, opened in 1929 on the occasion of the International Exhibition. Three other institutions are also part of the museum as a whole: the Víctor Balaguer Museum Library in Vilanova i la Geltrú, the Garrotxa Museum in Olot and the Cau Ferrat Museum in Sitges, whose management is independent and its ownership is based on the respective councils.