Descent of Saint John from the Abbesses

Descent of Saint John from the Abbesses
Descent of Saint John from the Abbesses

During the Romanesque period, sculpture was always linked to architecture, in fact there are relatively few examples of exempt works that remain at this time, since sculpture was always reserved as a decorative element of architectural constructions linked to the capitals, portals or jambs of the temples. In addition, and as was the case with painting, sculpture enjoyed a strong didactic character; At a time when the majority of the faithful had no education or were illiterate, images were the only vehicle for transmitting knowledge. This would explain the presence of monstrous beings on the capitals of the churches, threatening the faithful if they dared to stray from the path of righteousness.

However, in the last decades of Romanesque aesthetics, in what has been known as the Final or Proto-Gothic Romanesque -for announcing the arrival of the new artistic parameters of Gothic aesthetics- we began to find some round sculptures that go beyond the typical image of devotion, are sculptural groups made up of various figures in which some features of Gothic aesthetics begin to be appreciated with greater naturalness or freedom of movement.

111. X. Romanesque Art - Descent of Saint John from the Abbesses (Girona)

Most of these groups are found located in the main apse of the temples, makingthe times of main altar in a time in which the great altars begin to appear. All these characteristics can be found in the sculptural group of The Descent found in the church of San Juan de las Abadesses, an old Catalan monastery founded in the mid-10th century, around the year 945.

The sculptural group analyzed here is somewhat later, from the mid-13th century and in it we find seven figures: Jesus Christ, Mary, Saint John the Evangelist, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and the two thieves crucified next to Jesus, of whom it is estimated that Dimas must have been executed later since he does not follow the same characteristics as the rest of the figures in the group.

All of them are pieces made of polychrome wood. In the center of the composition, the body of Jesus Christ, already dead, is lowered from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who do not establish any connection between them. Paradoxically, one of the arms of Jesus Christ is stretched towards his Mother, something obviously unrealistic. On her part, the Virgin Mary raises her two arms in a gesture that is halfway between desperate plea and pain. Next to her Saint John the Evangelist takes one of his hands to his face as a sign of affliction while with the other arm he holds his own Gospel. Completing the group are the figures of the two thieves who look straight ahead without establishing any connection with the rest of the characters.

Be that as it may and despite the isolation of the figuresIt is true that this Descent shows some of the characteristics that little by little will give way to the Gothic aesthetic.

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