In one of the first posts of this blog we made a brief review of the history of the belenismo in Spain. A tradition that emerged around the 15th century in our country and that, 6 centuries later, is more alive than ever. Obviously, technological evolution has made our nativity scenes include elements such as LED lights or automatic controllers for lighting cycles. But the true essence of the portal will always be its figures.

Let's see in this article some of the most important image makers of Baroque Spain, and how their creations became part of the nationalist tradition of the country. Some of these collections are still preserved and exhibited every Christmas. Do you want to discover some of the most important?


The art of imagery for the nativity portal

The imagery is a branch of sculpture that realistically represents religious themes, usually with a liturgical, processional or devotional purpose, as in the case of cribs. It has a great tradition in Catholic countries, because of the iconic nature of this religion. Spain, Italy and Latin America are the most notable cradles of the imagery, although it also occurs in nations such as France or the Netherlands.

Belen del Principe

Holy Family of the Bethlehem of the Prince, one of the greatest milestones of Spanish nationalism. Image: ABC

Although the imagery has its maximum exponents in the Spanish sculptors and in their processional steps, many of these artists made small figures used for cribs that the great churches and monasteries of the Baroque installed in their buildings. Let's discover them.


Spanish imagery in the 17th century

Few news we have of births before the seventeenth century. From the XVI we have the Bethlehem of Coral in the Monastery of the Descalzas Reales Madrid, Italian gift to Philip II, with all its figures carved in coral, silver and bronze as a symbol of the Renaissance pesebrist.

Already in the seventeenth century, the imagery began to lavish works for the Bethlehem portal. The Sevillian Luisa Roldán, "La Roldana", is one of the biggest sculptors of the period, and became a sculptor of the King. A tireless worker of clay and terracotta, her groups of figures on the Nativity are preserved in the Moret Collection in Madrid or in La Cartuja de Sevilla. Although only 2 works are recognized as safe, there are many others that have been assigned with ownership more than likely.

Alonso de Berruguete, famous Castilian sculptor, also had his idilios with the world of the crib, and sample of it is the Nativity that is conserved in the National Museum of Sculpture of Valladolid. Other national carvers are also worthy of mention in this century, like the friar Eugenio de Torices, with his reliquary furniture in wax where 6 represents scenes of the manger, conserved in the National Museum of Decorative Arts of Madrid.

Reliquary Torices Madrid

Detail of the furniture of Torices. Image: CERES web

Pedro de Mena, Duque Cornejo or José Risueño are other great Imaginers who lavished themselves in the art of belenismo during the seventeenth century in Spain.


Salzillo, 18th century image maker

The XVIIIth was, without a doubt, the century in which the nativity scene reached its peak in our country. Carlos III was one of the great culprits of this, installing in the Palace the custom of the Nativity of Naples. For this reason, Valencian Esteve Bonet commissioned the realization of a series of figures to complete the collection that brings the Neapolitan kingdom. El Belén del Príncipe, completed later by José Ginés, is one of the biggest Nativity treasures in Spain. Of Neapolitan style, we can contemplate most of his figures in the Royal Palace of Madrid.

In addition to the two mentioned Valencian sculptors, in this century the Catalan Ramón Andreu, Master Potter; Y Antón Ferreiro, son-in-law of the famous Italian image maker Gambino.

However, the greatest milestone in the history of Spanish Nativity we find it in 1776, with the order of a rich Murcian sculptor Francisco Salzillo to represent a popular crib. The Bethlehem of Salzillo recreates the coming of Christ to the world, in a pastoral environment, with popular remnants of the Murcian garden and the typical costume of this community. We can visit it today in the Salzillo Museum of Murcia.


Did you know these 17th and 18th century image makers and his contribution to the world of belenismo? Which of the commented nativity scenes did you like the most?


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