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Moses and Elijah (?)
(Gregorio Fernandez)

Description

GREGORIO FERNÁNDEZ
(Sarria, Lugo c. 1576 – 1636 Valladolid)
22. Moses and Elijah (?)
c. 1610–1612
Wood, polychromed
Each 35.5 cm (14 in.) high
PROVENANCE: Carmelite Brothers of Burgos by 1612?; Francisco Marcos, Salamanca
These two sculptures, which appear to have been paired originally, probably decorated an
ostensorium, in Spanish custodia, which is a particular type of tabernacle altarpiece
associated with the veneration of the Eucharist.1 Often extremely large, these altarpieces
were customarily decorated with numerous statuettes or paintings, or a combination of both.
A very small proportion of these ostensoria have retained their original sculptural decoration in toto,
partly because the relatively small size of the statues involved (between 30 and 70 centimetres in height)
made them all too portable and easily dispersed. The resulting diaspora of their sculptural decoration
now makes it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to fully reconstruct these altarpieces.
While we do not, as yet, possess any documentary evidence for the attribution, based on a stylistic
analysis, we can securely ascribe these works to Gregorio Fernández and date them to the earlier part
of his career at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Documentary evidence survives that verifies
that Fernández participated in the production of several ostensoria throughout his career: in some cases,
producing reliefs for tabernacle doors, and in others, making series of sculptures to decorate these
altarpieces.
The iconography of these two works is somewhat ambiguous, but their physiognomy, the small heads
slightly bowed and set on cylindrical necks, and long flowing beards, as well as their costumes of tunics
under long mantles, are all standard in depictions of Old Testament figures, such as the Patriarchs, the
Prophets and particularly Moses. Here, Moses can also be distinguished by the uncovered head, which
is more common in his iconography, and the two massive tablets – the Ten Commandments – upon
which rest the Prophet’s right arm and part of the mantle. One can perceive a frisson of
Michelangelesque influence in the energetic facial expression, an influence Fernández assimilated via
the work of Pompeo Leoni.2 This impact of ‘Los Leoni’ is also evident in two works by Fernández for
the nearby Franciscan Convent of San Diego in Valladolid that were made with the participation of his
workshop (Fernández neither painted his own figures, nor designed the architectural framework of the
altarpieces to which he contributed). These two sculptures, made to decorate an ostensorium, are
allegorical figures of Charity and Hope. Fernández managed to capture and combine the refinement
and elegance of court Mannerism with Baroque naturalism so successfully that these works were
formerly attributed to Pompeo Leoni.3

In the small figures exhibited here, Fernández achieved a sense of monumentality by wrapping the
slender sinuous figures of Moses and Elijah in their thick draperies (specifically the mantles), a notably
Mannerist technique. The contrapposto stance of Moses, with the right arm leaning upon the upright
tablets of the Commandments, relaxes the posture, placing all of the weight on the left leg in a pose
derived from Greek classical sculpture, and is evocative of the Apollo Sauróktonos of Praxiteles.
Fernández contrasted the overall sense of relaxation in the pose with the gesture of the right hand,
which, with the index finger slightly extended, clasps the bunched folds of his mantle. This very
characteristic pose of the hand, one which Fernández used repeatedly, is derived from ‘Los Leoni’.
The lack of distinctive attributes makes identification of the other figure more problematic. In contrast
to the serene aspect of Moses, this figure, which is clearly meant to be a prophet or a patriarch –
possibly Elijah4 – is more dynamic. In Elijah we see the same physiognomy as in Moses, that is, a high
forehead, straight nose and long curly beard. However, here, the figure is turned to the right, with the
left foot slightly lifted, giving the piece a sense of torsion and dynamism, which runs along the extended
right arm and then continues in the twisted folds of the mantles that cross the figure and are then
gathered bunched in the clenched fingers of the left hand.
Both sculptures correspond loosely to figures of the Church Doctors, the Virtues and angels produced
by Fernández for the main altarpiece in the old parish church of San Miguel in Valladolid. This
altarpiece was contracted from the ensemblador Cristóbal Velázquez in a contract dated 6 October 1606, twenty days after Fernández was engaged to produce
the sculptural decoration, with the assistance of Diego de
Basoco and Juan de Muniátegui, who would work with
Fernández to ensure the work’s completion.5 It is indeed
unfortunate that this contract is in fact the only concrete
evidence we have for this altarpiece because, if it now
existed, it would be a valuable key to understanding
Fernández’ chronology and stylistic development, as well as
providing examples to compare with attributed works.
Nevertheless, we do know that Fernández used the same
figure types as the present sculptures, with slight iconographic
changes, in two figures for the Villaveta altarpiece, which was
completed around 1610 (Figs. 1a, b, c).6 One of these works,
King David (Figs. 2a, b), is in the same pose as the exhibited
Moses, but resting upon a harp instead of the tablets of the
Commandments. Conversely, the figure of Moses in Villaveta
(Figs. 3a, b) stands in the same pose as our Elijah, but with
the head veiled by his mantle and his arms extended and
raised to gather the holy tablets, rather than Elijah’s bunched
and twisted mantle.7
The stylistic and formal characteristics shared by both the
present works and the sculptures from Villaveta correspond
to those in written contemporary accounts of Fernández’
work. Moreover, we know that Fernández apparently
produced all of this type of altarpiece sculptures between
1606 and 1612 (excluding his work on the main altarpiece
of Plasencia Cathedral, which was executed between 1625
and 1632).8 Bearing all this in mind, we can now argue,
with reasonable certainty, in favour of a date between 1610
and 1612 for the Moses and Elijah here exhibited.
Moreover, the polychrome, while not executed by the
sculptor himself, as is the case in all his sculptures, is
contemporary to the facture in both works, and is
consistent with similar pieces from Fernández’ early period
in which the use of gold predominates, with blue, red and
ochre floral motifs, and is complemented by the pinkish
glazes used in the hands and faces.

Fernández participated in the production of several
ostensoria for churches throughout Valladolid, among them
the parish church of San Miguel (1606–1607),9 and the
Church of the Convent of San Diego (1606),10 and for
churches in the nearby villages of Velliza,11 Villaveta de
Medina (1609–1613)12 and Tudela de Duero.13 All of these
altarpieces were or still are decorated with sculptures
stylistically similar to the present Moses and Elijah.
Having now compared the formal and iconographic
similarities shared by the present sculptures with those
belonging to the ostensorium of Villaveta, we turn now to
the question of their original location. When Martín
González studied the Villaveta series, which had been
acquired by the Parish in 1626 from the Carmelite Descalzes
nuns of Burgos, he related Fernández’ sculptures to the
ostensorium designed by a ‘Valladolid artisan’, whom he
assumed was, rather than Fernández, his colleague, Juan de
Muniátegui. Then, noting that Muniátegui included in his
will, drafted 7 May 1612, a debt of completion for an
ostensorium contracted for the ‘monasterio de frailes y
convento de descalços de la ciudad de burgos’,14 Martín
González deduced that the ostensorium mentioned in
Muniátegui’s will and the one located in Villaveta were the
same, and dismissed any inconsistencies regarding the
altarpiece’s original and eventual locations as merely an
error of transcription on the part of Ildefonso Francés Gil,
the parish priest at Villaveta who recorded the sale to the
Carmelites in a later document dated 1702.15
Therefore there were two different ostensoria: the one owed
to the Carmelite Brothers of Burgos by Muniátegui, as cited
in his will, and another that was purchased in 1626 by the
Carmelite nuns of Burgos. While, we have yet to verify the
authenticity of the 1702 manuscript, it is unlikely that there
has been an error in transcription, or that the ostensorium of
the Carmelite friars was passed on to the Carmelite nuns.
Instead, it is more likely that Muniátegui, with the
collaboration of Fernández, produced two ostensoria at the
same time and, therefore, in the same style. Although
practically nothing is known of the ostensorium for the friars, Muniátegui would most likely have looked to Fernández for its sculptural decoration, as he
certainly did in the altarpiece at Villaveta. Therefore, in this respect, there remains the possibility that
the present Moses and Elijah originally belonged to the altarpiece made for the Carmelite Friars of
Burgos,16 which was built by Muniátegui and completed before May 1612.

1 On the continent, and more particularly in Spain, a fashion
seems to have been introduced in the sixteenth century of
constructing ostensoria of such enormous size it was often
necessary to make the glass-fronted tabernacle in which the
Eucharist was displayed detachable, so that it could be used
for giving benediction. One of the most impressive
ostensoria was the great monstrance of Toledo Cathedral,
which is nearly four metres in height and is decorated with
approximately 260 statuettes.
2 Pompeo Leoni (c. 1530–1608) was in Valladolid in 1601
and worked for the court of Philip III, and the Duke of
Lerma. He was the son of Leone Leoni (1509–1590), an
Italian from Arezzo who is accepted as one of the greatest
portrait sculptors of the late Mannerist and early Baroque
periods. Leone was court artist to Philip II and also worked
in Valladolid for the Duke of Lerma, and other Spanish,
Austrian and Habsburg courts. His son Pompeo continued
the Leoni’s large bronze-casting foundry after his father’s
death, in a style that is not securely separated from that of
his father.
3 Now in the Museo Nacional de Escultura, Valladolid, see
J. JOSÉ MARTÍN GONZÁLEZ, El escultor Gregorio Fernández,
Madrid 1980, p. 47, pl. 29.
4 Elijah, who spent long periods of deprivation in the
wilderness seeking the Word of the Lord, was often depicted
posed to express a state of inner contemplation, his head
cocked to catch an elusive inner voice. Having said this, the
pose and covered bearded head in this figure could just as
easily represent any number of prophets, such as Abraham,
Isaiah or Ezekiel.
5 J. MARTÍ Y MONSÓ, Estudios histórico-artísticos relativos
principalmente a Valladolid, Valladolid 1901 (facsimile ed.),
p. 395. Apart from the subject matter, the contract also
stipulated the measurements of the individual sculptures: for
examples, each of the Church Fathers were to measure in
height approximately 56 centimetres, and each of the
Virtues or angels were to measure approximately 28 to 32
centimetres. For details of this contract, see the page cited
above.
6 J. JOSÉ MARTÍN GONZÁLEZ, ‘Un tabernáculo de Gregorio
Fernández en Villaveta (Burgos)’, in Boletín del Seminario
de Estudios de Arte y Arqueología, 1973, pp. 512–517.
7 Martín González clarified the iconography of David in this
piece, which was previously believed to depict the Prophet
Elijah, but evidently confused the iconography of Moses
with that of Salomon. Ibid., p. 513.
8 J. JOSÉ MARTÍN GONZÁLEZ, ‘Nuevas noticias sobre el
retablo mayor de la cathedral de Plasencia (Cáceres)’, in
Boletín del Seminario de Arte y Arqueología, XL–XLI,
1975, pp. 297–321, 309; and pp. 311–312, under document
III. The ostensorium in Plasencia Cathedral is the most
monumental of all those made by Fernández, who recorded
in 1625 that he remembered it as comprising up to fourteen
reliefs and sculptures depicting Christ the Saviour, Christ at
the Column, Christ Resurrected, the theological virtues, the
Apostles, the Old Testament prophets and angels bearing the
instruments of the Passion, few of which have survived.
Later, in the eighteenth century, Ponz specifically noted a
Moses and an Aaron included in this work.
9 For an overview and discussion of the contracts for the San
Miguel altarpiece, see MARTÍN GONZÁLEZ, El escultor
Gregorio Fernández cit., pp. 89–93; and more recently, J.
URREA, ‘El retablo mayor de la iglesia de San Miguel de
Valladolid’, in Retablo mayor de San Miguel de Valladolid,
Foundation of the Historical Patrimonio of Castilla y León.
Restoration Notebook, no. 3, Valladolid 2007, pp. 10–55.
The ostensorium that is conserved today was attributed by
MARTÍN GONZÁLEZ to ‘Fernández, but subsequently to the
contract’ (El escultor Gregorio Fernández cit., p. 92). URREA
identifies the ostensorium with the one contracted by the
Dominicos of San Pablo in 1631 from Melchor de Beya,
Francisco Velázquez and Andrés Solanes, and the similarities
of the sculpture with the style of Fernández are explained by
the fact that Solanes was one of his most talented disciples
(‘El retablo mayor’ cit., p. 48–49 and notes 55, 56; from the
same author: ‘The tabernacle of the Convent of San Pablo,
a work of Andrés de Solanes’, in Memoria Artis. Hommage
to Professor María Dolores Vila Jato, Santiago de
Compostela 2003, pp. 553–558).
10 J. URREA FERNÁNDEZ, ‘En torno a Gregorio Fernández’, in
Boletín del Seminario de Arte y Arqueología, XXXIX, 1973,
pp. 245–260, 247. See also the exhibition catalogue,
Gregorio Fernández, 1576–1636, Exposition Galleries of
Banco Santander Central Hispano, Madrid 2000, pp.
72–78; and MARTÍN GONZÁLEZ, El escultor Gregorio

Fernández cit., p. 158. This is the earliest ostensorium to
which Fernández contributed. The altarpiece, designed by
the architect Francisco de Mora, had canvases by Vicente
Carducho and sculptures by Pompei Leoni. The entire
project was commissioned in 1605 by Juan de Muniátegui,
who reserved the right to produce the ostensorium, ‘…in
accordance with the sculpture and size depicted in our
sketch’, as he wrote in the margin of the contract. The
Museo Nacional de Escultura of Valladolid houses many of
the surviving elements from this altarpiece, of which Urrea
Fernández has identified four figurines of the Virtues, which
he has attributed to Gregorio Fernández. The tabernacle
door, which is carved with a relief of the Salvator Mundi,
has been attributed to Fernández by Martín González.
11 MARTÍN GONZÁLEZ, El escultor Gregorio Fernández cit.,
p. 159, no. 107a.
12 See also the documentary references of the altarpiece and
its analysis in MARTÍN GONZÁLEZ, El escultor Gregorio
Fernández cit., pp. 96–100 and sheets 46–52; M. ANGEL
MARCOS VILLÁN and A. MARÍA FRAILE GÓMEz, Catálogo
monumental de la Provincia de Valladolid. Tomo XVIII.
Antiguo Partido Judicial de Medina del Campo, Valladolid
2003, p. 477, fig. 496. The Villaveta altarpiece (1609–1613)
has an ostensorium with reliefs and statues by Fernández, in
which two sculptures depicting Moses and Aaron are
located on the second tier.
13 A. BUSTAMANTE GARCÍA, ‘Gregorio Fernández en Tudela
de Duero (Valladolid)’, in Boletín del Seminario de Estudios
de Arte y Arqueología, XL–XLI, 1975, pp. 672–674.
14 E. GARCÍA CHICO, Documentos para la historia del arte en
Castilla Escultores, Valladolid 1941, pp. 127–132.
15 MARTÍN GONZÁLEZ, ‘Un tabernáculo de Gregorio
Fernández’ cit., p. 517 and note 6. A manuscript, written in
1702 by Don Ildefonso Francés Gil, parish priest of
Villaverta, notes the 1626 acquisition date for the work
when it was purchased by the Carmelites and is cited in A.
E. PÉREZ SÁNCHEZ, ‘Noticias sobre obras de arte en un
pueblo burgalés’, in Revista de la Universidad Complutense,
XXI, no. 83, Madrid 1972.
16 On other works by Gregorio Fernández for the
Carmelitas friars of Burgos, see also the catalogue of the
exhibition Gregorio Fernández 1576–1636 cit., p. 100.

Measurements
Each 35.5 cm (14 in.) high
Type
Wood, polychromed
Provenance

Carmelite Brothers of Burgos by 1612?; Francisco Marcos, Salamanca

Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720 & Mannerism & Cinquecento - 1530-1600
Subject
Religious: Old Testament
School
Spanish
Catalogue
Price band
Sold or not available