Altarpiece of the Mejorada de Olmedo, Vasco de Zarza and Alonso Berruguete

Altarpiece of the Mejorada de Olmedo, Vasco de Zarza and Alonso Berruguete
Altarpiece of the Mejorada de Olmedo, Vasco de Zarza and Alonso Berruguete

The Altarpiece of the Mejorada de Olmedo, has become one of the most outstanding works of Spanish Renaissance sculpture, in it not only the clear and simple forms are appreciatedthat dominated the altarpieces of the classicist era but also that two of the most outstanding artists of the time, the well-known sculptor Alonso Berruguete and Vasco de la Zarza, have participated jointly in its execution. It seems that in 1523, Doña Francisca de Zúñiga commissioned sculptors to create an altarpiece for the main altar of the Jerónimos Monastery of Nuestra Señora de Mejorada in Olmedo, Valladolid. The work had to be finished and placed in Easter of the year 1526, a tight deadline that the artists met despite the difficulties. It is an altarpiece carved in gilt and polychrome wood.


Vasco de la Zarza was one of the most renowned sculptors in the Crown of Castile throughout the 16th century; His works in the cathedral of Ávila, where he seems to have come from, were well known by the main patrons of the time, so it is not surprising that the artist was chosen to work on the Mejorada altarpiece. Alonso Berruguete (1490 – 1561) was one of the most renowned sculptors of his time, and the commission from Olmedo could have come to him due to his good relationship with the Jerónimos order. Be that as it may, the truth is that bothartists worked together on the commission until September 1524 when Vasco de la Zarza suddenly passed away; From that moment, Berruguete took charge of the conclusion of the altarpiece.

Although the current state of the altarpiece is not faithful to the original project designed by the artists –the central street that contained a sculptural group of Saint Mary and another of Saint Jerome was modified in the Renaissance - in him the classicist spirit of the composition is still appreciated. It is an altarpiece structured in two bodies and five streets, with the central one wider than the lateral ones. The lower body appears leaning on a bench or predella with a lower underbench.

The sculptural scenes are part of a typical iconography of altarpieces narrating passages from the lives of Jesus Christ and Mary. The scenes appear collected within two cycles, on the one hand a narrative cycle that includes the Birth of the Virgin Mary, the Annunciation, the Birth of Jesus Christ and the Adoration of the Magi; the second cycle is based on the stories of the Passion with scenes such as The Prayer and Apprehension in the Garden, The Path to Calvary, the Crucifixion whose representation of Calvary was caught inside a semicircular attic that crowned the entire composition and the Resurrection. The scenes of the predella and the underbench completed an iconographic program with different dedications to saints and martyrs.

Currently the altarpiece is preserved in the Chapel of San Gregorio of the National Museum of Sculpture in Valladolid.

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