Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Castle of Pedro Fajardo

Don Pedro Fajardo y Chacón (~1478 - 1546) was the much decorated 1st Marquis of los Vélez, and the 5th governor of Murcia, Spain. In between a variety of marital events, Fajardo commissioned a castle for himself, to be built in the latest fashion. At the time, a very particular style was taking Europe by storm.

What was this style? Here is a portion of the Metropolitan Museum's description:

"Raised at Isabella's court in the culture of humanism, Fajardo built a castle with a central patio, or courtyard, distinguished by opulent and fashionable decoration in the Italian Renaissance style, carved by itinerant Lombard stonemasons. In Spain this style was called a lo Romano, reflecting its origins in Roman antiquity. Designs for tiered candelabras and imaginary hybrid creatures like those around the patio's doors and windows were disseminated throughout Europe via prints and drawings by Italian artists inspired by the ancient monuments rediscovered in Rome in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The patio's carvings are amongst the earliest of this style in Spain and antedate any of the published designs."

This style was the grotesque, of course. Emperor Nero's Domus Aurea, or 'Golden House,' was the rediscovery in question; an extravagant palace covered in gold leaf, precious stones and paintings of fantastical bodies. After exploring the ruins of the Golden House, buried for centuries under layers of dirt, excavators coined the term 'grotto-esque' in reference to the wild designs that covered the walls of its underground recesses.

Fajardo must have been a bit of a hipster, getting in on the grotesque trend at the very beginning. In the early 1900s, according to the museum, the owner of the castle removed and sold the grotesque carvings. A guy called George Blumenthal ended up with them, and went ahead and stuck them on his New York townhouse. I hope it was a really big house, otherwise you can only imagine how ridiculous they must have looked.

In 1964 the museum finally ended up with the carvings, albeit in the form of two thousand separate marble blocks. Some assembly required.

Finally, I visited them. And took lots of pictures. So here they are, (allegedly) the earliest examples of the grotesque style found in Spain, a lo Romano, over 500 years old:

The level of intricate detail is extraordinary, especially when you consider that these designs were carved from stone. The effect is quite magical from a distance as well. It is all so 'busy' that the figures seem to move and twist. I really loved the bearded tadpole-man on the staircase. I'm not sure, but it looks as if he has a bunch of grapes for a tail:

No opportunity to embellish was wasted. Even the tops of the pillars had faces peering out of them!

I was unable to get clear shots of the window frames higher up on the wall, but you can still make out some of the designs.

I could look at these all day.

Anyone who has the opportunity to visit this collection should definitely do so. It is on the first floor of the Met museum, and forms an important part of the European Sculpture section.

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