The altarpiece of San Esteban located in the anonymous convent run by the Dominican community in the capital of Salamanca is one of the most outstanding examples of Churrigueresque art and marks a new typologyboth sculptural and architectural in the conception of altarpieces in Spain. Although the piece was designed at the end of the 17th century, the famous altarpiece would lay the foundations for the elaboration of altarpieces throughout the following century, surpassing the aesthetic marked in the Renaissance of the division of streets.
With the term churrigueresque a stage of the baroque period has been called, the last baroque also known as estípite baroque,where the profuse decoration and the great dynamism of the compositions. But without a doubt, the term Churrigueresco refers above all to the art created by a family, the Churrigueras. In this context it does not seem strange that some of the most outstanding works of the time were made by members of this remarkable family.
In 1692, almost eighty years after the construction of the Convent of San Esteban was completed, the Dominican order commissioned the architect and altarpiece artist José Benito de Churriguera to build an altar to crown the main chapel of the church of the. José de Churriguera (1665 – 1725) came from a notable family of artists, trained in the workshopfamiliar was named architect of the king during the mandate of Carlos II. Despite the fact that most of his life was spent in the capital of Madrid, it was the commission from Salamanca that established him as an artist and allowed him to enjoy great fame.
The altarpiece was made of gilded and polychrome pine wood, and despite breaking with the schematic, it is possible to distinguish within it six streets or divisions that the artist creates through six Solomonic columns–columns with helicoidal shaft- and giant whose shaft has been adorned with scrolls and acanthus leaves. In the center of the composition the artist has a tabernacle or sanctuary as a temple that served to house the sacred form and was framed by two columns; to the sides of it the free-standing sculptures of two of the most prominent saints for the church San Domingo de Silos and San Francisco de Asís.
But in José Churriguera's altarpiece the highlight is not the sculpture, in fact it is subject to the magnificent architectural conception that the artist makes of the altarpiece. Thus, the artist places a broken entablature over the pavilion adorned with a curtain that the artist makes in wood and that gives dynamism to the whole, all to accommodate a huge canvas painted by the artist Claudio Coello and that represents the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. The altarpiece is sunken into the apse of the chapel as if it were part of it, as if it were born from the very walls that support the Renaissance temple.