Sculptures by the Andalusian Baroque Master Pedro de Mena in Gandía

One of my favourite treasure chests is the Santa Clara Museum in Gandia. Its roots go back to 1431, when Violante de Aragón, daughter of Alfonso de Aragón - senor, Duke of Gandia, founded the convent of Santa Clara in this town.

Since its foundation, many famous women have sought the spiritual refuge of the convent, either because of a sincere vocation or because they were forced to do so by their families who were unable to provide a suitable marriage.

* Report by art historian and educator , Karla Darocas, Hons. B.A. (

It was also a refuge for widows, as in the case of María Enriquez de Luna, Duchess of Gandía, who entered the convent under the name of Sister Gabriela after the death of her husband, Juan de Borja y Cattanei, Duke of Gandía, and the marriage of her son and heir. She became abbess of the convent from 1514 to 1519.

Since those years, both the history of the Monastery of Santa Clara and that of Gandía have been linked to the surname Borja, or Borgia in its Italianised version.

Many women of the Borja family lived behind the walls of this convent, including several sisters of the Spanish Jesuit priest San Francisco de Borja, who was born in the palace of Gandía. One of his daughters also became a resident.

Thanks mainly to the legacy of this ducal family, the Poor Sisters of Santa Clara have preserved an artistic heritage that can now be seen in the Santa Clara Museum in Gandía.

This museum is located in the Sala d'Homes or Men's Hall of the old Hospital de Sant Marc, a mediaeval building that also houses the Archaeological Museum.

The Santa Clara Art Museum's collection consists of paintings by important artists such as the Valencian late Gothic painter Nicolau Falcó, the Xativa-born Baroque master José de Ribera and the Valencian Renaissance master Joan de Joanes. Paolo da San Leocadio was an Italian Renaissance artist who came to Valencia in 1472 under the protection of Rodrigo de Borja and was to paint several works both in Gandía and in the royal city of Valencia.

But it is the sculptures by the Andalusian Baroque master Pedro de Mena, guarded for centuries by the Santa Clare nuns, that I will talk about in this report. 

The first sculpture is entitled Ecce Homo, which means "Behold the Man". These are the words spoken by Pontius Pilate, the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judea, who served under Emperor Tiberius, to the crowd that had gathered after Jesus' scourging.

Together, with the Virgin of Sorrows, it forms an ensemble,  inspired by the principles of the Catholic Reformation.  

His work, like all Baroque art, was intended to move the faithful to emotional passion. The viewer is encouraged to empathise with the suffering of the Mother and Son, who appear as examples of worldly forbearance in the face of tragedy.

These sculptures were a gift from the X. Duke of Gandía, Pascual Francisco de Borja y Ponce de León (1653-1716) and his wife Juana Fernández de Córdoba, when their daughters, Sister Jesualda and Sister Pía de la Purificación, professed in the convent of Santa Clara.

Carved from wood and decorated with paint and other media, including glass eyes and hair, these sculptures are characteristic of Andalusian Baroque imagery, with contrasting colours and great realism.

Andalusian Baroque reached a peak of naturalism and expressiveness in 17th century Spain.

The artist Pedro de Mena was a virtuoso in the manipulation of materials and created startling likenesses of bodies and clothing.

The carved details are impressive, such as the twisted and knotted rope with which Christ's hands are tied, and the thin, low-cut drapery of the Virgin. Equally impressive, are the subtle and vivid painting of the Virgin's tunic in silver and red brocade and the cuts and bruises covering Christ's flesh.

Mena's desire was to make the figures appear physically present before the viewer. At the same time, they possess a dignity and restraint that make them ideal works for contemplation.

At the Santa Clara Museum in Gandía, you can see these ancient works of art up close and photograph them!

Resource Books CLICK  HERE *