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Bust of a Mourning Woman, in Three-Quarter Relief
(Joan Grau)

Description

JOAN GRAU
(Constanti, Tarragona 1608 – 1685 Manresa, Bages)
27. Bust of a Mourning Woman, in Three-Quarter Relief
c. 1659–1671
Alabaster
34 x 29 cm (13 ⅜ x 11 ⅜ in.)
PROVENANCE: Caylus Gallery, Madrid
The present piece can be confidently attributed to the Catalan sculptor Joan Grau. The quality
of this alabaster, the expressive physiognomy, the sculptor’s use of sinuous curves and lines,
the arch of the eyebrows, the patent triangle in the nasal bone, the sharp profile of the jaw,
the folds of the ear, and the rhythmic and meandering waves of hair are all typical of Grau’s
known work.
Joan Grau was one of the most interesting figures working on retablos in seventeenth-century
Catalonia. Born in Constanti (Tarragona), his career at his influential workshop in Manresa spanned
more than six decades. Together with his first son Francesc (1638–1693), who had been working with
him since around 1650, and his grandson Joan II, Grau became one of the most important sculptors
producing religious works for Catalan churches.
Amongst his known works is the large altarpiece at the Monastery of Sant Benet de Bages (1641,
dismantled but partially preserved); the altarpiece in the Monastery of Sant Benet de Bages,
commissioned by the Confraternity of the Rosary, which is considered his masterpiece (1642,
dismembered but completely preserved at the Museu Comarcal de Manresa), the large altarpiece in the
Church of Sant Iscle i Santa Victòria de Rajadell (1646, parts of which are kept at the Museu Comarcal
de Manresa); the large altarpieces at Sant Martí de Llanera, near Solsona (now in the Church of
l’Hostal Nou) and at Asunción de Pujalt (both saved from destruction in 1936), and the lost altarpieces
at Sant Vicenç de Pinós (1651, known only by a photograph taken prior to its destruction) and at Sant
Fruitós de Bages (1684).
His son Francesc also created magnificent retablo altarpieces. Two of the most spectacular and
sophisticated of these date from the late seventeenth century. These are the large altarpiece in the parish
church at Alcocer (now only documented in old photographs), and another in the Capilla de la
Inmaculada Concepción of Tarragona Cathedral, which was designed by the Carmelite architect Fra
Josep de la Concepció, who was also responsible for the design of the whole chapel.
What made Grau and his workshop uniquely influential in seventeenth century Catalonia was his equal
capacity for working in wood, alabaster or marble, an ability that distinguished him from the
mainstream of the country’s sculpture industry. Grau carved the sepulchre of Viscount Joan Ramon Folch de Cardona for the Sant Vicenç de Cardona Church
(1667–1668). He is also responsible for the precious
alabaster ‘grotto’ altarpiece at San Ignacio de Manresa
(1671). Francesc, in collaboration with his master
Domènec Rovira, was responsible for making the
sepulchres of Sant Oleguer in the Cathedral of Barcelona
(1678) and for the two tombs belonging to Canon Diego
Girón de Rebolledo and his brothers in the Capilla de la
Concepción in Tarragona (1678–1679). Francesc and
Domènec also collaborated on one of the most ambitious
noble commissions of the period in Catalonia: the building,
in the presbytery area, of the monastic church of Santa
María de Poblet. The church was commissioned by Lluís
Ramon Folch (duke of Cardona) and his brother Pedro
Antonio de Aragón, together with the so-called ‘sepulchral
chambers’ (1659–1665); the sepulchre of Ramon Folch de
Cardona, known as ‘Prohom Vinculador’ (1667); the
alabaster reliquary altarpieces (1668) to flank the
Renaissance main altarpiece by Damià Forment; and,
finally, the sepulchres of King Alfonso the Magnanimous
and the Infante Enrique, first Duke of Sogorbe (1671).1
The present work is clearly an element of a larger
architectural grouping and it is possible that its original
context may have been within one of these important
commissions for and at Santa María de Poblet. The shield
relief depicts a veiled female head, turned three-quarters to
the left, with a melancholic and suffering expression. The
work shares close similarities above all to the heads of the
caryatides in the ‘sepulchral chambers’, and particularly in
the facial expressions of two examples, the Head of a Man
Crowned with Laurels and the Head of a Woman Wearing
a Pearl Necklace, both of which are conserved in the
Museu del Monestir at Poblet (Figs. 1, 2). The present
work, which was possibly carved as an element of a
funerary monument, also exhibits similarities to the heads
of the music-making angels incorporated into the main
altarpiece at Santa María de Poblet, which originally were
part of the reliquary altarpiece that formerly flanked it. It
is also reminiscent of the plaques carved with male busts
that decorate the ‘Prohom Vinculador’ tomb.

Unfortunately, our appreciation of these works by both Joan and Francesc Grau has been severely
limited by the destruction and lootings suffered by the monastery, in particular after the
Desamortización. The cámaras and sepulchres were shattered and those pieces that were rescued
suffered severe damage when they were reconstituted into the fictional sepulchre of King Jaume I in the
Cathedral of Tarragona (1856). Other sculptures lay orphaned and forgotten within the cathedral
grounds. Eventually, a significant part of them were recovered and given back to the monastery, during
a long process of restoring and ‘refounding’ this institution. They are now exhibited in specific places,
like the Capilla de las Reliquias, the nave of Santa María de Poblet, and in the monastery museum.2
When one considers the vicissitudes suffered by Graus’s sculptures at Cardona and Poblet, it would
appear likely that the present work, with its obvious funerary theme, was originally connected to one
of these commissions. This hypothesis is further supported by the evidence – noted by Eduard Toda –
remarking on the fragments from the cámaras and royal sepulchres that surface on the art market.
However, this contended ‘evidence’, despite its apparent logic, has increasingly been doubted by more
recent scholars. Besides, we have only to look at the drawings made by the French antiquarian,
Alexandre de Laborde (1773–1842), which record the original configurations of the works at Poblet,
in order to obtain a vague idea of its original splendour. Moreover, the preserved fragments in the
monastery also give a clear idea of the original appearance of the majority of the sepulchral structures
carved by the Graus, the only exception being the tomb of the Infante Enrique, which is apparently lost
in its entirety. Looking at this evidence, therefore, it appears less likely that the present fragment fits
into any of these groups, and, for the time being at least, the precise origin of the present work remains
a mystery. However, the work does fit comfortably, both thematically and stylistically, with the
sculptures at Poblet, and with those connected with the ducal tomb at Sant Vicenç of Cardona, which
was dismantled and which eventually surfaced piecemeal on the antiquarian market.

1 For an overview of the biography, work and sculptural
language of Joan Grau, see the reference bibliography in J.
BOSCH BALLBONA, Els tallers d’escultura al Bages del segle
XVII, Caixa d’Estalvis de Manresa, Manresa 1990, pp.
57–78, 178–229. Additionally, in the last few years various
authors have made enriching contributions towards our
understanding of this artist, including C. SALA, El retaule de
la Puríssima Concepció de Pujalt, Pujalt 1995; J. YEGUAS,
‘Martiri de sant Joan Baptista’, in J. BOSCH BALLBONa (ed.),
Alba Daurada. L’art del retaule a Catalunya: 1600–1792
ca., Museu d’Art de Girona, Generalitat de Catalunya,
Barcelona 2006, pp. 186–189; and J. BOSCH BALLBONA, ‘Els
Grau i l’escultura del segle XVII a la Catalunya de Ponent’,
in Locus Amoenus, 2005–2006, vol. VIII, pp. 147–163. The
bibliography refers to the interventions of Cardona in
Poblet, a subject which deserves a chapter to itself. In
addition to Bosch’s general overview, one should also
examine studies that go to the root of this subject, including:
R. DEL ARCO, Sepulcros de la Casa Real de Aragón, Madrid
1945; C. MARTINELL, ‘La casa de Cardona y sus obras en
Poblet’, in Estudios históricos y documentos de los Archivos
de Protocolos, 1949, vol. II, pp. 53–119; and J. M.
MADURELL I MARIMÓN, La obra de las cámaras sepulcrales
de Poblet y la casa de Cardona, Barcelona 1955.
2 For a discussion of this monastery’s turbulent history, from
its desamortización up to and including its restoration, see
E. TODA, La destrucción de Poblet 1800–1900, Poblet 1935;
J. BASSEGODA NONELL, La restauración de Poblet, Poblet
1983. For information on the dispersion and reconstitution
of the rest of these works, see A. DURAN I SANPERE, ‘Les
escultures de Poblet, a Poblet’, in Butlletí dels Museus d’Art
de Barcelona, Barcelona 1934, vol. IV, pp. 153–163.
Fig. 1
Fig.

Measurements
34 x 29 cm (13 ⅜ x 11 ⅜ in.)
Type
Alabaster
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Subject
Religious: New Testament
School
Spanish
Catalogue
Price band
Sold or not available