For the last couple of years, I have been so busy with the Tolomato Cemetery Preservation Association, a group founded here in St Augustine for the preservation of an historic cemetery, that the Spanish Nativity blog and website have both suffered near-abandonment. And because there is no belenista activity here in Florida, and in fact, very little in the United States in general, I have often found myself without a topic on those rare occasions when I did have time to write. On top of that, I had another blog, Towers of Avila, which I had created primarily to share art-related items found during trips to Spain or Latin America but which made me feel rather guilty because it received even less attention. I think my last post on that blog was around Christmas…of 2012.
The Varela Chapel at Tolomato Cemetery
But on a recent trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the obvious solution came to me: Combine the two, thereby relieving me of bad-blog-mother guilt, on the one hand, and providing readers with a broader stream of information. So while the “new blog” will still be named Spanish Nativity, it will also, as its subtitle says, look at Spanish art and arts in general. In keeping with the Nativity Scene theme, much of the art will tend to be early art and most of that will be religious art.
16th-17th Century Nativity Scene at Las Carboneras in Madrid
This is in part because I am interested in it, but also simply because most pre-19th century Spanish art, both in Spain and in its colonies and including popular art as well as fine art, was in fact religious art. As scholars have pointed out, there was very little market among Spaniards and Colonials for the paintings of nymphs and landscapes that sold so well in the rest of Europe. The result was that both the art of the Peninsula and the artistic skills that the Spanish brought to the New World and taught to the native peoples tended to be religious in nature. These arts were not only for the ecclesiastics or well-off families who could buy silver and gold church furnishings or commission splendid paintings of the Immaculate Conception or their favorite saint, but for the Spaniard who was busy making little clay figurines for a Nativity scene in his village or the santero in New Mexico who was painting a retablo (not an altar-piece, but a painting on a panel of board) or carving a bulto (statue) of San José.
18th Century Spanish Sanctuary Lamp at the Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine
Thus, we’ll be looking at new things in new places this year. We’ll discuss matters such as the inventory of church goods belonging to St Augustine, FL in 1763, interesting sites in Spain (I’m hoping to revisit Mallorca to see where some of the 18th century Franciscan missionaries got their inspiration), and probably random discoveries from Mexico and the US Southwest and California. Oh – and Nativity Scenes. Those will certainly not be forgotten; for example, we’re going to look at Letizia Arbeteta’s work in restoring the symbolic aspect of the Spanish Nativity Scene through her use of 18th century and earlier materials to recreate these beautiful and entirely different scenes.
NM Museum of Art … an 18th century Sta. Barbara by Miera y Pacheco
So my apologies to the Niño and to blog readers over the years for my neglect of this blog – and a request for special Epiphany blessings in starting it up again!
A Tiny New Mexico Nativity