Who is who? The Pórtico de la Gloria II


How is your memory? I hope not too bad, otherwise it is also possible that you did not remember that last week we were discussing Pórtico de la Gloria, one of the most emblematic structures of the Cathedral of Santiago. We had also mentioned that we would go back to it to have a go at trying to explain its significance and to identify some of the figures that appear on it.

It will help if you read the last blog entry because in it I explained some of the key points of the sculpture in the Romanesque portals in general, and of this Pórtico in particular, such as the imaginary axes that divide them to facilitate its interpretation. If you have not had the chance to read it yet, I invite you to take a few minutes to read it, here it´s the link.

Ok. If you have already read it, then let´s go!

Back to the Axes

The first thing is to get familiar with this image that I have coloured (more or less) with the most relevant parts of the Pórtico, as a kind of map. Not all of them are coloured, as it is not intended to be a “masterclass”, but to give you a few keys to understand it. Even if the whole Pórtico is connected, I have used the dividing lines that I had already showed you in the previous post to help you with the identification of the different areas and figures. (To enlarge the image please click on it).

Image: Pórtico de la Gloria by Isidoro González Adalid (ink on paper). Edition: VOJO.

Image: Pórtico de la Gloria by Isidoro González Adalid (ink on paper). Edition: VOJO.

Horizontal interpretation

As you can see, on the lower strip of the image there is some text in brackets, these explain the different gates of the portal. Bearing this in mind and knowing that the central tympanum represents the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It is clear that the ascending path represents the way to access the Glory. In the meantime the beasts and the “common men” are farthest from the Kingdom of God. As we keep ascending we see represented the prophets and apostles, who thanks to their knowledge of the gospel and the Christian faith are nearest to his kingdom. The four apostles were also evangelists (in fact they are shown as scribes with their representing animal of the Tetramorph), they appear surrounding a Triumphant Jesus or like Maiestas Domini. This scene is usual in Byzantine and Romanesque art, although it is most frequently represented with Christ blessing with his right hand and supporting the Book of Life with his left hand; in this case he is depicted showing the nail wounds in his hands. In short ( and I apologise for simplifying it) we could say that the interpretation through the horizontal axes is the “approach to God through knowledge and faith”.

Image: Miniature of the Tetramorph, Book of Kells, c.800 (Wikipedia)

Image: Miniature of the Tetramorph, Book of Kells, c.800 (Wikipedia)

About the mullion: it starts with the new man and through the Tree of Jesse (Jesus genealogical  tree, which started with David, king of Israel) until it reaches Jesus. The presence of Saint James does not respond to genealogy, it is simply represented in a privileged position because it is the patron saint of the cathedral.

Vertical Interpretation

Again, as with the interpretation through the horizontal axes, Jesus Christ is the focal point, although in a different way this time. The vertical axe is in a way the representation of the history. We find the time before Christ (B.C.) on the left side of the portal and the time after Christ (A.D.= Anno Domini) on the right side of the portal.

At the entrance of the left side we can see the pillar with those who prophesied the arrival of the messiah (from left to right: Obadiah, Amos, Hosea, Joel, Jeremiah, Daniel, Isaiah, Moses). Above the head of the first four we find the Limbo, the place where the good souls that died before the time of Christ and the permanent place of residence of the souls of the non baptised. Usually this is interpreted as the descent of Christ to Hell to save those that were fair before his coming to Hearth, although sometimes it alludes to the twelve tribes of Israel .   Sinceramente ignoro si hay relación entre ambas interpretaciones, pero de no haberla la primera es mucho más coherente con el resto del programa.

Image: Detail of the apostles, Pórtico de la Gloria. Pedronchi, Flickr.

Image: Detail of the apostles, Pórtico de la Gloria. Pedronchi, Flickr.

On the right there is a pillar with the apostles (from left to right: Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint James, Saint John Evangelist, Saint Andrew, Saint Matthew, Apostle Thomas and Saint Bartholomew; the last four are also evangelists Luke, John, Matthew and Mark, they are shown surrounding Jesus). There is an arch on the top level, in this case it represents the Last Judgment. At the centre we can find Jesus and Saint Michael, they are in charge of separating the blessed souls (to the left) and the lost souls (to the right).

And lastly, at both sides right and left of the Kingdom of God (central tympanum) there are the angels, they are the ones opening the gates for the blessed.

Well, that is all for today! Next time you are near this wonderful portal you will not need a guide, in fact you could be the guide. As always, I invite you to share this post if you enjoyed it, you can also follow us in VOJO in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. See you next time!

Header image: El Pórtico de la Gloria de la Catedral de Santiago de Compostela (1849), Jenaro Pérez Villaamil.
Translation: Elvira Sánchez.


About Author

Sergio De Arriba

Graduado en Historia del Arte, trabajo como Gestor de Contenido Cultural y arquitecto de rutas en VOJO, aunque de vez en cuando también realizo vídeos corporativos e ilustraciones. En este blog mi intención es mostraros el Arte de la forma más atractiva y sencilla posible, alejándome de descripciones complejas pero sin olvidar los métodos científicos que acompañan a la teoría artística.

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