In Vojo we have already shown you some of the most attractive features of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, such us the Thurible as well as different aspects of Portada de Platerías. But if there is something that is not only as important as the other ones mentioned but even manages to surpass them, this is the Portico de la Gloria (Portal of Glory). This is the cenit of the Romanesque sculpture on the Iberian peninsula (some might even say in the whole of Europe, and I subscribe this too). After many years of exhaustive studies it is finally in the last phase of restoration in 2016.
After 20 years of work, in 1188 master Mateo culminated his masterpiece, a work destined to decorate the portal of the west entrance to the Cathedral of Santiago. It was under king Ferdinand II (King of Leon) who commissioned the works, he donated 100 maravedis yearly between 1168 and 1188 (year in which he also ended his reign).
TOPICS OF YESTERDAY AND TODAY
There are some aspects that we need to bear in mind to understand the nature of the Portal in a broad sense. For instance, the Portal that we see today is not exactly the one that master Mateo created. Some of the original figures were taken off or were substituted by others when the current façade Obradoiro was made, these figures were taken to the Cathedral museum.
Another topic that not only concerns the Portal but the whole of the Romanesque façade is that they use to be polychromed. Although in some places there are still traces of pigments, the popular belief is that these sculptures never had colour (the same belief as the Greek sculptures). But there is a simple explanation, the pigment deteriorates easily, especially outdoors and if it is over porous surface, such as granite (specially when there is massive absorption of water). During the examinations leading to the restoration, five layers of pigment were discovered, which means that it was painted at least five times ( three partially and two totally). The first and original layer was the richest, including pigments such as gold and lapis lazuli. The fact that the sculpture does not have any pigments any more in another evidence that what we see today is not exactly what was created at the time.
(As an example, in Toro, Zamora, you can still appreciate the Pórtico de la Majestad and in the Cathedral of Ourense Pórtico del Paraíso. Both examples still keep the polychromy and therefore they are a more approximate reality to the Romanesque sculpture.)
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE AXIS
The already lost figures and colour and the changes in the sculpture ensemble on the Portal of the Glory since it was finished, has made very difficult for expert to decipher the content and significance of this ensamble. It is relatively easy for someone specialised in the art world to identify most of the figures in a work of art like this, nevertheless, the interpretation of the ensemble as a whole, as in what is the message of the ensemble. Let´s not forget that the Romanesque façades not only have a decorative purpose but also a didactic one. It was a direct way to indoctrinate the faithful. As you can imagine, to rescue the original message is not an easy task and even more when a figure can be interpreted in multiple ways, as an example remember the Adulterous Woman of Platerías).
To make a clear and correct interpretation of the sculpture ensemble of the Portal of the Glory is necessary to divide it in various axis vertically and horizontally. The first ones will make reference to the time, they divide the Portal in three different periods: before Jesus, birth and life of Jesus, and finally the times after Jesus. The horizontal axis make reference to the stages to achieve the glory (paradise or the Kingdom of Heaven).
Images: Portico de la Gloria, Isidoro González-Adalid.
(You can see the original source where I have found the images here porticodelagloria.com)
On my next post that I have called “Who is who in the Portal of the Glory?”, I will use the partition lines to explain the different areas that make up the Portal of the Glory, then I will identify the figures independently.
This was all for today. Remember that you can leave a comment and you can also share it on the social networks if you enjoyed it.
Translation: Elvira Sánchez