Erected in the second half of the 12th century, the cloister of Santa María in Tudela comprises one of the largest and most ambitious cycles of sculpted capitals in the Iberian peninsula. The cloister – in spite of its 12 destroyed capitals, now substituted with a smooth undecorated bowl – can boast, as no other, of the largest number of historiated capitals; of the total 64 capitals over 43 are narrative in kind. The cycle owes its style and its peculiarities to the fertile artistic environment of the period around 1170, when many major projects were being developed in which the new Romanesque architectural forms were combined with sculptural innovations.
After the conquest of the Arab city of Tutila in 1119, and following Christian expansion through the Ebro valley, the main mosque in the town was demolished and a Christian church built over its foundations. From 1121 the complex was directly linked to the monarchy, since the church was declared a royal chapel. It enjoyed particular protection through several high-ranking members of the community who were chaplains of the sovereign, notaries or scribes of the royal chancery. Although the canonical, non-episcopal Augustinians were politically subject to the kingdom of Navarre, the monastery of Tudela was dependent, after 1143, on the bishopric of Tarazona, which had been absorbed into the political sphere of Aragon.
The exact building history of the cloister is largely unknown, but presumably reconciliation between council and bishopric led in 1156 to a more peaceful atmosphere, thanks to which conflicts were put to one side and an atmosphere conducive to artistic enterprises created. Into this period fall several documented donations and purchases of real estate to the enrichment of the monastery. Under King Sancho VI of Navarre, called the Wise (1150-1193), the choir of the church with five apses, the cloister and the perimeter walls were built. A re-examination of the written sources, and of the building fabric itself, suggests a date before 1188 (when the high altar was consecrated). This terminus ante quem can also be presumed for the “Virgen Blanca” in the choir. To the sculptors of this polychrome stone statue of the Virgin Mary, almost two metres high, can also be attributed the capitals of the cloister.
A document that mentions the operi claustri novi has hitherto been considered a proof that building work on the cloister began in 1186. But presumably by this time the wings of the cloister and the capitals had already been completed. In fact a funerary inscription of 1174 on the north wall of the cloister, opposite the capital with the Raising of Lazarus (N10PP09), suggests an earlier period for the completion of the cloister. The building in Tudela was erected concurrently with the cathedral in Zaragoza [Saragossa], capital of Aragon which had conquered Tudela shortly before. The erection of that cathedral is documented by many written sources, and from this evidence a building period in the early 1170s can be inferred for Tudela.
In addition it should be borne in mind that the community of Tudela was secularized at a relatively early date (1238). The monumental dimensions of the existing complex at Tudela (a national monument since 1884) can be explained by the significance assumed by the city in which King Sancho VI brought together Jewish, Christian and Moslem intellectuals or translators (vying with the “Toledo school of translators”) to form a flourishing cultural circle. Sancho VI was the brother of Margaret of Navarre, Queen Regent of Sicily and mother of the Norman King William II, under whom the cathedral and monastic complex of Monreale were built.
Another monument attributable to the same period in which the cloister was created is the main portal of the south transept of the church with historicizing capitals (so-called Puerta del portal or Puerta de la Virgen); its erection in 1173 is documented. The style of the sculptural decoration of the portal, dedicated to the Apostles, is similar to that of the capitals in the cloister. It precedes the west portal, the Puerta del Juicio, with its representation of the Last Judgement, which can be dated to the early years of the 13th century.
The unusual situation of the cloister, which does not abut directly onto the south side of the church, but is somewhat removed from it, as well as its irregular measurements (18 x 24 meters), can no doubt be explained by the layout of the mosque that previously occupied the site. In spite of the reforms of the 14th and 15th century and the lack of excavations and detailed studies, which would help elucidate the spatial transformation of the site, the Romanesque remains, the archival documentation or the architectural sculptures, the essential layout of the main monastic buildings is clear. The dormitorium was probably situated to the north (though another location has been proposed in previous research). To the east lay the chapter house and the “monastic school”; to the south the refectory; and to the west the storerooms and other ancillary buildings.
During restoration work some parts of the pedestal wall, on which twelve arcades rested on the longer sides, nine on the others, were renovated. The arches themselves are decorated with chevron ornament in the north and south wings, and with geometrical bands of diamond or lozenge mouldings in the east and west wings. The original passages into the inner garden can no longer be reconstructed. All that now exists is an interruption of the wall on the north side, though passages can also be recognized on the south side in old ground-plans. The regular rows of arcades were interrupted at the centre of each wing of the cloister by a pillar with two flanking pairs of colonnettes. At the corners of the cloister two further paired colonnettes are attached to a bundled pillar. A further pair of colonnettes is placed over three of the corners of the cloister; their capitals are placed over the apex of the arcades. Only on the south-east corner are two large reliefs (Maiestas Domini and Ascension of Christ) found instead of this peculiar construction
The system of support with alternating double and triple colonnettes, each topped by a single capital, is unparalleled. This originality is consistent with other peculiarities of the cloister and with the innovative features of Spanish Romanesque architecture and architectural sculpture as developed in the period around 1160-1180.
Pictorial language and iconography
The iconographic programme of the capitals is homogeneous and coherent. The narrative cycles of Christmas, Lent, Easter and Saints articulate the constant presence of Christ. On the north side the scenes represented are especially those that illustrate the story of the life of Christ from his infancy to his public life, passion, death and resurrection. On the east side the narrative scenes concentrate on the apostolate and the life of the community. Supplementing these, moralizing scenes (hagiographical cycles and parables) are mainly represented in the south and west wings.
On the west side the sculptures also include a large repertoire of fabulous creatures and representations of animals such as lions, unicorns, eagles, cocks, harpies, boars, rabbits and dogs, often combined with plant motifs. The impost blocks above the capitals are ornamented with geometrical bands of interlace, palmettes, foliations or spiral motifs, but with the exception of three heads of monstrous beings on the south-west corner, no further figurative motifs appear here.
The reliefs of the capitals are markedly three-dimensional and carved deeply into the stone. In general the heads are large and oval. The figures are squat, their bodies voluminous and robust. Their draperies are lavish, and elaborate in folds.
The sculptural workshop responsible for the carving of these capitals is characterized by a coherent style. This is exemplified by the painstaking representation of details combined with an unusual ability for narrative composition, spatial settings and monumentality. The style corresponds to that of the masterpieces of Romanesque architectural sculpture in Navarre (Estella), Aragon (Zaragoza) and Castile (Soria). The extraordinary quality of the reliefs and their figurative variety help to make this cycle of capitals an outstanding artistic project of its kind. Apart from its aesthetic dimensions, it must also have had a formative role for the community in its representation of stories from the New Testament and of various exempla and parables. In particular, it must have brought home to the laity, who finally entered the cloistered sphere, the dual (human and divine) nature of Christ (as propounded at the Council of Chalcedon in 451), as also the authority of the apostles and saints who followed and imitated Christ.
Esther Lozano López
Photographic plan and naming of the capitals
All capitals are depicted from four sides (North, South, West, East) or from eight sides (N, S, W, E, NW, NE, SE, SW). The abbreviations N, S, W, E follow the English names for the cardinal points of the compass North, South, West, East. The numbering of the photographs also comprises that of Patton, Pamela Anne: Pictorial narrative in the Romanesque cloister, New York 2005.
For example N06PP05:
N06 is the number of the capital and side in the cloister. PP05 is the number in Patton 2005. The final letter stands for the point of the compass, from which the capital was photographed: N06PP05S.
D’Egry, Anne: La escultura del claustro de la catedral de Tudela (Navarra); in: Principe de Viana, Nr. 74-75 (1959), pp. 63-107.
Melero Moneo, Marisa: La catedral de Tudela en la Edad Media, siglos XII al XV. Vol. I, Arquitectura y escultura románica, Barcelona, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 2008.
Lozano López, Esther: Imágenes e itinerarios visuales en los claustros románicos de Navarra: Santa María de Tudela como estudio de caso; in: La imagen en el edificio románico. Espacios y discursos visuales, Aguilar de Campoo, Fundación Santa María La Real del Patrimonio Histórico, 2015, pp. 163-204.
Olañeta, Juan Antonio: