High Altarpiece of the Pillar of Zaragoza

High Altarpiece of the Pillar of Zaragoza
High Altarpiece of the Pillar of Zaragoza

Inside the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza various artistic treasures are kept, including several frescoes by Francisco de Goyalike the Regina Martyrum.

But in addition to the Goyesque paintings, it is also worth individualizing the great Altarpiece dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin and which was carved in alabaster by the Valencian artist Damián Forment (h. 1475 – 1540), who spent several years working on the work, from 1509 when he received the commission until 1518 when it was completed. But a work of these dimensions was obviously not made by him alone, since a great team of sculptors, officers and apprentices worked here.


Altarpiece of the Pillar of Zaragoza

To undertake the work, it had to have as a reference the main Gothic altarpiece that was in the Catedral del Salvador de Zaragoza, a temple practically next to the Basilica del Pilar. Hence, in Forment's work a decorative architecture very typical of Gothic can be distinguished, while figuration is already characteristic of Renaissance art.

If we go from bottom to top, we can differentiate different types of scenes.

In the lowest part, that of the bank, there are several niches with scenes from the Life of the Virgin, which are separated by statuettes of the apostles and various saints. And also in that area, specifically inthe underbench shows the self-portrait of the Forment and of his wife, both in bas-relief and surrounded by profuse Renaissance ornamentation based on garlands and cherubs.

The main area of ​​the altarpiece is divided vertically into three lanes. Here the figures are already authentic high-reliefs, at times almost free-standing figures. The central street is obviously occupied by the main theme of the complex: the Assumption of the Virgin. Here, the Virgin is carried by the angels towards heaven, while the Apostles contemplate the scene.

And on the flanks there are two other scenes starring the Virgin. On the right the Birth of Mary and on the left her Presentation in the Temple

In any of the three scenes you can see the sculptural characteristics of Forment, a true master in the work of delicate alabaster, to which he knew how to give the treatment of marble, to create forms that above all are as monumental as they are natural, thus summarizing the spirit of the Florentine Renaissance art.

But as we said at the beginning that contrasts a bit with the gothic air of the altarpiece, which is mainly due to its upper part, full of crests and canopies more typical of the Flaming Gothicthat in some parts of Europe still existed at the beginning of the 16th century.

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