Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Seville, where I saw three exquisite wooden masterpieces by my favourite 17th century artist and sculptor, Pedro de Mena y Medrano. This Spanish Baroque sculptor, who was born in Granada in August 1628 and died in Málaga on 13 October 1688, had a profound impact on the world of art.
One of the remarkable exhibits was "San Juan Bautista Niño" (1674), which is safely enclosed in a glass case and is located in Room VIII of the museum.
"San Juan Bautista Niño"," also known as "San Juanito"," is a captivating depiction of the child St John the Baptist, a popular figure in Andalusian sculpture. This charming figure radiates a childlike innocence and is the forerunner of Jesus. His gaze is directed forwards, with a serious yet dignified expression that creates a poignant but not overly expressive depiction.
In this depiction, he appears without his customary camel-hair tunic, allowing us to admire the softly moulded contours of his youthful body with the endearingly childlike features, such as his bulging belly and cherubic form. His face shows a perfectly smooth forehead, expressive slanted eyes, a petite nose and modest lips. His distinctive hairstyle consists of cascading, tousled curls with gently flowing ends, demonstrating the artist's commitment to exquisite detail.
In his left hand he holds the labarum or cross, an enduring symbol, although the accompanying banner with the Latin inscription 'Ecce Agnus Dei' (Behold the Lamb of God) is not present. This inscription recalls the words spoken by John at the baptism of Jesus.
In his right hand, the index finger points to the ground, indicating the place where the lamb or "agnus Dei" (Lamb of God, representing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the sins of mankind) is usually placed, although it is not preserved in this particular work of art.
Also missing is the halo or nimbus that surrounds his head and represents his spiritual character.
Pedro de Mena was a master in the creation of different iconographic types and this work belongs to his later period. This sculpture was made in Málaga, as the author himself indicates with the date and signature.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to encounter many representations of Our Lady of Sorrows, often referred to as "Mater Dolorosa" or "Our Lady of Sorrows" These representations never fail to captivate me with their depiction of a deeply grieving woman with her hands folded.
There is also one of these fascinating busts in a glass case. This particular Virgin of Sorrow has a sad and pained expression on her face, and her eyes look directly at me with deep sadness and thoughtfulness. She is wearing her traditional clothing, including her blue robe, symbolising purity, truth and divine grace, her red gown reflecting her deep love and connection with the suffering of her son, and her white veil or headdress, associated with the idea of Mary's immaculate conception and symbolising her freedom from original sin.
This Sorrowful Virgin was created between 1658 and 1670 and measures 66 x 61 x 30 centimetres.
Her suffering is closely related to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, a traditional devotion within the Catholic Church that refers to key moments of her suffering, such as the prophecy of Simeon and witnessing the crucifixion of her beloved son Jesus.
The last statue I encountered was a freestanding representation of San Ramón Nonato (1626), from the Convent of San José, the barefoot Mercedarians in Granada. It was a fascinating journey for me to learn about this saint because I simply found his story interesting.
San Ramón Nonato, whose full name was Saint Raymond Nonnatus, was a 13th century Spanish saint known for his unwavering devotion to the Catholic Church and his commitment to helping the less fortunate. Born in Portell, Catalonia, Spain, in 1204 (some sources say 1200), his life story is both fascinating and inspiring.
The nickname "Nonnatus" is derived from the Latin "non natus"," meaning "not born"." This nickname was given to him because of the extraordinary circumstances of his birth. His mother tragically died during childbirth and his father arranged an emergency caesarean section to save the baby's life, hence the name "Nonnatus"
From an early age, San Ramón Nonato showed a deep spiritual inclination and a strong sense of compassion, especially towards the economically disadvantaged. Although his family was noble and owned land, his father sent him to work as a shepherd on their land to prevent him from becoming a priest. He faithfully pursued this task from the age of 8 until his late teens, around the age of 18.
In his late teens, he came across the story of a religious figure, San Pedro Nolasco, who founded the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (Mercedarians) in Barcelona. Inspired by this encounter, San Ramón Nonato made the life-changing decision to join the order. As a Mercedarian, he dedicated himself to freeing Christian prisoners who were being held as slaves by Moors and other non-Christians.
San Ramón Nonato earned a reputation for his extraordinary courage and commitment to freeing slaves, often putting himself in great danger to fulfil this mission. He continued this noble work even when he was made a cardinal by Pope Gregory IX.
San Ramón Nonato's unwavering devotion to the Church, his selfless service to the poor and enslaved and his fearless commitment in the face of adversity earned him the status of a saint. Pope Alexander VII canonised him in 1657 and he is often venerated as the patron saint of childbirth, midwives and pregnant women. His feast day is celebrated on 31 August in the Catholic calendar.
I was curious about what this saint had in his mouth and I found this information in my research: Legend has it that in an attempt to silence his evangelisation and punish him for his activities, the Moors padlocked his mouth to prevent him from spreading the Christian faith. Despite this, Raymond continued to witness to his captors through gestures and facial expressions, becoming a symbol of unwavering faith and determination in the face of adversity.
In conclusion, I would like to say that Pedro de Mena remains one of my favourite sculptors from the Baroque period and I hope that art lovers will appreciate how his work has left a lasting impression throughout Spain. I have the good fortune and pleasure to admire his extraordinary creations throughout Spain.