For students and admirers of Renaissance polychrome statues, you must visit the Museum of Santa Clara in Gandía, where you will fine two very famous and stunning polychrome busts. They were gifts offered by the X Duke of Gandía, Pascual Francisco de Borja (1653-1716) and his wife, Juana Fernández de Córdoba, when their two daughters took their vows at the Monastery of Santa Clara.

Report by Karla Darocas. Hons. B.A. (Copyright 2019)

The first bust is of Mary, or the Virgin of Pain and in Spanish, "Dolorosa".

At once the viewer is overwhelmed with her beauty and elegance.

Mary is gazing off to the sky. Immediately you see that she has been crying out of compassion for the pain of her son. It is a strong dramatic sculpture that transmits feeling to the viewer and especially to the devotee. It represents a high degree of dignity, humanity and universal pain that human beings transmit to another human beings; a mother to another mother; a son to his parents, a brother to his brothers.

Mary's iconography is complemented by her tunic, cloak and head scarf, which respond to the liturgical colors assigned to the Virgin. Thus, the tunic is red to represent the blood of Christ her son and the sky blue cloak represents her purity. The head scarf might have suffered a deepening of tone over the centuries as it is neither ivory nor off white as is the normal representation.

Aesthetically, Mary falls somewhere between Mannerism and Baroque. The stylized sweep and bend of her torso, the lengthening of her neck and the interlaced hands are all of a Mannerism style. The realism of her character enhanced with glass eyes, real hair lashes and a raised tear dripping from her eye, all aimed at extreme drama and theatrical gestures, are of traditional Baroque.

The second polychrome bust is the "Ecce Homo".

Ecce homo means "behold the man" in classical Latin, are the words used by Pontius Pilate, the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, serving under Emperor Tiberius from AD 26/27 to 36/37. According to the Vulgate translation of the Gospel of John, Pilate adjudicated the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate says "Ecce home" as he presents a scourged Jesus Christ, bound and crowned with thorns, to a hostile crowd shortly before his Crucifixion.

Christ appears crowned with thorns, his hands tied and a rope around his neck. His nudity is only covered with a red cloak. He displays his torment of flogging and his wounded skin as he looks at us the viewers with an acute expression of pain mixed with pathos.

Both wooden busts have been impeccably restored. The colours shine with all of their polychomatic glory and iconographic symbolism referring to the Passion of Christ.


Granada-born Pedro de Mena (1628-1688) is part of the group of sculptors who reached the pinnacle of Spanish 17th century sculptural art. His work is praised by historians, artists and art scholars without exception.

After being inspired and enlightened in the workshop of his father -Alonso de Mena- he completed his apprenticeship training in Granada with Alonso Cano (1601-1667), painter, sculptor, and architect, often called the Spanish Michelangelo for his diversity of talents.

A journey to Castile is where Mena studied the great polychromes of the sculptor Gregorio Fernandez, who was praised for his extensive knowledge of the human body allowed him to create highly detailed anatomies with the hardness of bones, the tension of muscles, the tenderness of flesh or the smoothness of skin.

Throughout his life, Mena worked to bring about his own unique style and artistic personality. This plateau resulted in work that was extremely successful and this in turn gained him a continues demand for his work.

In 1663, he was appointed Master of Sculpture at the Cathedral of Toledo and was requested to create many polychomes. One of his most popular works was the image of San Francisco de Asís from the Cathedral of Toledo in which scholars have seen the influences of Alonso Cano, Gregorio Fernández and Zurbarán.

Pedro de Mena was known and praised for his ability to humanizes pain and suffering, qualities that were united in the mystique of Castilian roots and the baroque vivacity of Andalusia.

It is also known that Mena gained the admiration of all the social classes, from princes and scholars to the most humble and popular classes. Thus, the demand for his images was immense.

There are many churches, religious institutions, convents, oratories, museums and palaces that own works of Mena. The success of his style led to a series of replicas, imitators and disciples, which has made the task of identification and chronological accuracy very difficult for many of the works attributed to this Master.