Capilla del Salvador

Úbeda, Jaén, Spain

 Visited 19 October 2008
So far on this magnificent square, we’ve seen two of the Renaissance palaces built by a bishop and the nephew of the town’s most important figure, but what about the residence of the man himself: Francisco de los Cobos, who when he died was probably the most important man in Spain besides the Emperor? In fact, Francisco does have the most dramatic building here, both inside and out. And he has resided in his place far longer than the others combined. Rather than a palace, he has a tomb -- the Chapel of the Savior (Capilla del Salvador).

Francisco de los Cobos helped introduce the Renaissance to Spain after he journeyed to Italy with Charles I. Before then, Spain was devoid of Renaissance architecture. Specifically in de los Cobos's hometown of Úbeda, the local bishop was a great promoter of Gothic churches until his death in 1520. Therefore this chapel was the first Renaissance church in this town. The de los Cobos family hired famous architect Diego de Siloé and his then fairly obscure assistant, Vandelvira, to build their mausoleum. Like many of the buildings first built when the Italian Renaissance burst into Spain, it's Gothic in structure with Renaissance cosmetics. Probably these transitional builders like de Siloé knew how to stack stones in a Gothic manner without their falling down. They were probably less sure about Renaissance structures with their domes and lack of buttresses.

The west façade

Let’s study the reliefs on the remarkable west facade a bit more closely.

Úbeda, Spain

Two sets of coat-of-arms and small vignettes of the labors of Hercules symmetrically guard the west façade. This crest on the left (pictured above) features male soldiers guarding the de los Cobos crest. The small rectangular relief shows one of the labors of Hercules.

With Diego de Siloé and Vandelvira, Francisco De Los Cobos y Molina hired the Andalusian architectural A-team. Also a very important Spanish sculptor, as an architect, Diego de Siloé’s signature piece is the cathedral at Granada (pictures of this great building are coming soon). Because he was so busy in Granada, de Siloé had to delegate much of the work to Vandelvira. In creating this Chapel, master de Siloé drew the broad outline with his up-and-coming apprentice Vandelvira working the details in what was to be the building that would put the apprentice on the map (and put his buildings all over the map of Úbeda and the nearby cities of Jaén and Baeza.)

Úbeda, Spain

Nearly the only religious figure on this grand facade is Jamete's Esteban Plateresque relief of the Transfiguration of Christ above his adoring apostles (check out St. Peter's keys at center bottom). There is nothing Gothic about these faces! The hair of the saint at corner left is swept back with the energy blasting from the radiant Christ at center. Esteban was a 16th century Frenchman who carved mostly in Renaissance Spain. He was obviously quite talented if a sculptor of Diego de Siloé stature would allow him to decorate his building.

Úbeda, Spain
DaVinci Vitruvian Man This illustration was made by Luc Viatour

The overall layout of the facade seems influenced by Pythagorean mathematical formulas filtered through the work of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio who lived in Julius Caesar's day. Vitruvius left behind the only book on ancient Greek and Roman architecture to survive the dark ages. Rediscovered only in 1414, Vitruvius's work highly influenced Renaissance architects who, after all, were trying to recreate the classic forms. (Remember Leonardo's picture of a man inside a square and circle -- that's da Vinci's Vitruviun Man). Here we see the arch above the west door with Esteban's females holding an inscription while their own cherubs shield them with (broken) laurel garlands.

Úbeda, Spain

On the right side we have the coat-of-arms of Francisco de los Cobos wife's family -- the powerful Mendozas (shown above). At 40, Francisco de los Cobos was a bit old when he married, especially to the 14-year-old Dona Maria de Mendoza.

This chapel is somewhat unusual in that it is a freestanding mausoleum – most others in Spain are attached to religious buildings. The de los Cobos family was able to get Pope Paul III to issue a bull in 1535 allowing a Chapel to the Holy Savior to be erected and staffed. Nearly 25 years later, it opened with Dean Ortega (who owned the palace next door) as its first chaplain.

Úbeda, Spain

This chapel is Vandelvira best-known early work. He had several sons whom he trained as architects but after his death, funds dried up as southern Spain suffered a recession. One of his sons, Alonso, unable to get commissions, wrote of his father's principals, further spreading the Vandelvira influence, especially in the flourishing Spanish colonies. His text on stonecutting was especially important as the 16th century saw this become an exacting skill. (The father Andreas Vandelvira had started his career as a stone mason). Note the senior Vandelvira’s work here on these voussoirs (the stones of the arch pictured above) beneath Jamet's rhythmic reliefs. Now lets move to the...
Úbeda, Spain

... intrados (the inner part of the arch shown above), where we see mythic figures including the central image of the god of agriculture, Saturn, who, for some reason, Jamet has portrayed upside down.

Pictured below left are these ornate double Corinthian pillars which frame each side of the west door. Obviously these niches were built to hold significant statues which now seem to be missing.

Úbeda, Spain Úbeda, Spain

The south façade

Compared with the elaborate west façade facing the square, the chapel's south side (pictured above right) is restrained and asymmetric. Its highlights are the single onion-capped spire and its magnificent Plateresque door (shown below) which appears more pagan than religious. Supposedly these decorations by Esteban Jamet honor the virtue Charity.

Úbeda, Spain Úbeda, Spain

These figures look to be mythical characters than saints although the character at top left seems to be standing in front of a cross. The madonna character at center looks a little too busty to be Marian (but a certain pop singer who grew up(?) in the Detroit suburbs may swear allegiance to her).

Capilla interior

Úbeda, Spain The interior of the Capilla has quite an unusual layout. Diego de Siloé combined two classic shapes: the rectangular basilica (for the congregation) and the rotunda for the altar surrounded by burial crypts for the de los Cobos clan. (Typically the apse area would be a semi-circle in a Gothic structure but de Siloé also employed a rotunda in his masterpiece cathedral at Granada). Later Vandelvira added the rectangular sacristy which soon filled up with Jamet’s sculptures. Although a jewel in its own right (not just for the statues but also for Vandelvira's precise stone cutting), from the air, the sacristy detracts from de Siloe’s classic floorplan. But for those inside the chapel, the view is as de Siloé intended: An elaborate corner door off the first arch leads into the sacristy and is unseen while in the basilica. We have the best of both worlds: de Siloé overall vision unmarred by the nearly completely separate sculpture gallery of Jamet and Vandelvira.

The west facade and plaza are to the right.

Úbeda, Spain

Inside, photos were verboten but I found these clunky panorama shots on the web. This technology gives a broad but distorted view of the very symmetrical interior space. At center is the main altar behind an elaborate grille paid for by a Mendoza bishop, brother-in-law of Francisco de los Cobos. It’s the work of Francisco de Villalpando in 1555 and is considered one of these best examples of Andalusian metalwork. Family coats-of-arms rise above the grill between four medallions representing the four virtues which are, of course, faith, hope, charity – and justice. Just to the left of the altar/grille, the first arch holds the unusual corner doorway to Vandelvira’s vestibule with Jamet’s statues.

Úbeda, Spain

Above is a panorama of the back half of the basilica with its side chapels laid out (as they are in Vandelvira’s cathedral in Jaen) between buttresses. The chapel was seriously damaged (like many of Úbeda’s churches) during the Spanish Civil War in 1936-39, including the near destruction of the central altarpiece. Restoration is in progress (and slow since it is privately financed). During the 17th and 18th centuries, many baroque touches were added to this Renaissance space. Some traditional pictures of the interior are available by clicking here.

Let's now go back outside to see a few more buildings on or near Úbeda's Plaza Vazquez de Molina. Please join us by clicking here.

Please join us in the following slide show to give Úbeda the viewing it deserves by clicking here.

Úbeda, Spain

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