Portraits of the Chapter House of the Cathedral of Toledo

Portraits of the Chapter House of the Cathedral of Toledo
Portraits of the Chapter House of the Cathedral of Toledo

History and art in the Iberian Peninsula have been strongly influenced by the Christian tradition, in fact Spain is one of the countries in which the church has had a fundamental development throughout its history. The Spanish monarchs have traditionally been great defenders of the church, conferring broad powers on their prelates. In this sense, it seems easy to understand that the church has always been one of the most outstanding powers and one of the biggest clients in the world of art. Religious institutions often competed with each other to demonstrate their power by making art a vehicle with which to achieve it.


In the Chapter House of the Cathedral of Toledo we find one of the best examples of how art can become a way of expressing power on the part of the church, it It is a very extensive list of portraits, no less than thirty-two, in which the archbishops of the Toledo church are represented. This lavish commission was made by the artist Juan de Borgoña at the express request of Cardinal Cisneros.

Cisneros was one of the most relevant figures of the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the fifteenth century, formed in Alcalá and in Salamanca his friendship with Cardinal Pedro González de Mendoza, together with the one who appears speaking in the series painted by Juan de Burgundy, served to quickly climb the ladderecclesiastical. So much so that he became the confessor of Queen Isabella I of Castile and even served as regent twice, once after the death of Felipe el Hermoso and others after the death of Fernando el Católico. However, his power was not limited to the political plane but rather encompassed important areas of art or culture, so much so that the artistic style of this time, in which we find ourselves before a more archaic Gothic aesthetic combined with very innovative, receives the art name or Cisneros style.

The idea of ​​making a series of portraits is not at all trivial since throughout history these artistic compositions have been a very recurrent means of legitimizing power by emphasizing tradition. By carrying out a commission as important as paying for the thirty-two canvases commissioned from one of the most outstanding painters of his time, Cisneros gave an idea of ​​his extensive power but also, by representing himself within the series, he legitimized it as a power of his own, as part of an inheritance.

The disposition of all the characters in the series is the same, they appear dressed in sacred clothing in which they show their power attributes. The gothic echoes are shown in the unnatural forms and especially in the neutral and lifeless backgrounds on which the characters are cut out. The work was expanded by later painters who followed the series of archbishops following the same scheme that Cisneros imposed.

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