The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the Goya Tapestries

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1746-1828
An Avenue in Andalusia or The Maja and the Cloaked Men (detail), 1777, Royal Tapestry Factory, from a Goya Cartoon, Tapestry – Wool and silk, 337×217 cm, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Collection, Spain

On the 10th of May, I visited The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the Goya Tapestries, among the masterpieces I was anxious to see intrigued by their unbelievable charm and allure …

Francisco Goya, renowned for his masterful paintings and prints, also delved into the realm of tapestry cartoons, creating a series of remarkable works that showcased his artistic versatility. Commissioned by the Spanish royal family, Goya produced a collection of tapestry cartoons between 1775 and 1792, intended to be transformed into large-scale tapestries to adorn the royal residences. These cartoons, characterized by their intricate detail, dynamic compositions, and vibrant storytelling, demonstrated Goya’s adeptness in translating his painterly vision into the medium of woven textiles. The tapestries created from his designs adorned the grand interiors of palaces, reflecting the royal court’s opulence and Goya’s unique ability to capture the essence of human experience through his art.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1746-1828
An Avenue in Andalusia, or The Maja and the Cloaked Men, 1777, Oil on Canvas, 275×190 cm, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain
An Avenue in Andalusia or The Maja and the Cloaked Men, 1777, Royal Tapestry Factory, from a Goya Cartoon, Tapestry – Wool and silk, 337×217 cm, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Collection, Spain

The Cathedral Museum of Santiago de Compostela houses an exceptional collection of tapestries, originally woven at the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Bárbara from designs by the celebrated Francisco Goya. These tapestries, based on cartoons mostly preserved at the Prado Museum, were part of a commission by King Charles III between 1777 and 1780 intended to adorn the Royal Palace of El Pardo. The illustrious Pedro Acuña y Malvar, a canon who served as Secretary of State for Justice under King Charles IV, bequeathed these artworks to the museum upon his death in 1814. Acuña, noted for his significant art collection in Madrid, thus ensured that the Cathedral Museum became the custodian of these invaluable cultural treasures, enriching its offerings and preserving a vital piece of Spain’s artistic heritage within the sacred walls of Santiago Cathedral.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828)Tapestries including An Avenue in Andalusia or The Maja and the Cloaked Men, Wool and silk, 337×217 cm, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Collection, Spain – Photo Credit: Amalia Spiliakou, May 10, 2024

Francisco Goya’s artistic legacy is marked by his masterful exploration of costumbrista themes and his adept use of colour and light. His tapestries, such as The Maja and the Cloaked Men, eschew religious motifs in favour of depicting local customs and traditions. Through these works, Goya invites viewers into the vibrant world of 18th-century Andalusia, capturing the essence of everyday life with keen observation and wit. His cartoons, serving as blueprints for the tapestries, reveal his meticulous attention to detail and his ability to convey emotion through the interplay of light and shadow. Goya’s use of wool for darker hues and fine silk burlap for lighter tones further accentuates the richness of his palette, showcasing his unparalleled skill as both a painter and a storyteller.

Boys Playing Soldiers, 1777, Royal Tapestry Factory, from a Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) Cartoon, Tapestry – Wool and silk, 337×217 cm, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Collection, Spain – Photo Credit: Amalia Spiliakou, May 10, 2024

The exhibition of Goya’s tapestries at the Cathedral Museum provides a captivating glimpse into the artist’s oeuvre and the cultural milieu of his time. Originally housed in the cathedral’s tailor’s workshop, these remarkable works were later unveiled to the public during the Corpus Christi festivities. Now, as part of the museum’s permanent collection, these tapestries are prominently displayed in dedicated rooms, offering visitors a comprehensive overview of Goya’s contributions to the art of tapestry-making. The legacy of Pedro Acuña y Malvar, who bequeathed these treasures to the cathedral, ensures that Goya’s legacy survives, providing a testament to the enduring significance of his work in shaping the artistic landscape of Spain.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

For a PowerPoint of Goya’s Tapestries in the Museum of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: and

The Cave of Altamira

Cave of Altamira, Paleolithic Cave Art, Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, SpainScientists believe the paintings date from c. 14,820 to 13,130 years ago
The original Cave of Altamira is closed to the public, but a Replica Cave and Museum were built nearby in 2001 by Manuel Franquelo and Sven Nebel, faithfully reproducing the Cave and its Art.
Photo Credit: Mariola Salceda

Nestled in the verdant landscapes of northern Spain, The Cave of Altamira stands as a testament to the artistic prowess and ingenuity of our prehistoric ancestors. This remarkable archaeological site often hailed as the “Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric Art,” offers a captivating glimpse into the lives and minds of the people who roamed the Earth over 20,000 years ago.

Discovered in the late 19th century, the cave’s walls are adorned with stunning depictions of bison, deer, horses, and other animals, rendered in vivid hues of red, black, and ochre. These paintings are not merely decorative, they are believed to hold significant cultural and possibly spiritual meaning for the Upper Paleolithic societies that created them.

The Cave of Altamira’s discovery is a tale of serendipity, curiosity, and a bit of luck, intertwining the lives of a local landowner and his inquisitive daughter. In 1868, Modesto Cubillas, a hunter from the Cantabrian region of Spain, stumbled upon the entrance to a cave on the estate of Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola. Though Cubillas mentioned the cave to Sautuola, it wasn’t until a decade later that its true significance was unveiled. Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, an amateur archaeologist and nobleman with a keen interest in natural history, began exploring the cave in 1875. Initially, he found nothing more than a few animal bones and flint tools, which piqued his interest but did not hint at the artistic treasure that lay within.

The breakthrough came in 1879 when Sautuola returned to the cave with his eight-year-old daughter, María. As the story goes, while her father was busy examining the cave floor, young María wandered off and looked up at the ceiling. She was the first to notice the vivid paintings of bison, which she excitedly called to her father’s attention, describing them as “painted bulls.” Sautuola was astounded by the discovery and immediately recognized the importance of the paintings. He published his findings in 1880, suggesting that the artwork was prehistoric. However, his claims were met with scepticism and ridicule by the scientific community, which doubted the authenticity of such sophisticated art being so ancient. It wasn’t until the early 20th century when other similar cave paintings were discovered across Europe, that the significance of Altamira was universally acknowledged, and the cave received the recognition it deserved.

The art discovered in the Cave of Altamira is a breathtaking collection of Paleolithic paintings and engravings, primarily featuring vivid depictions of animals such as bison, deer, horses, and wild boars. These images, rendered in red, black, and ochre pigments, showcase a remarkable understanding of perspective, movement, and naturalism, with many of the figures appearing lifelike and dynamic. The cave’s ceiling is particularly famous for its polychrome bison, which seem to leap off the rock surface, demonstrating the prehistoric artists’ advanced skill and creativity. This extraordinary art provides a profound insight into the lives, beliefs, and artistic achievements of our ancient ancestors.

In addition to its iconic animal depictions, the Cave of Altamira features non-iconic art that includes abstract shapes and handprints, adding to the cave’s enigmatic and culturally rich tapestry, and offering a different perspective on prehistoric expression. The handprints, created by placing hands against the cave wall and blowing pigment around them, result in striking negative images that convey a direct human presence from millennia ago. These stencilled hands, along with various geometric patterns and symbolic marks, suggest a complex cultural and possibly ritualistic significance. This non-iconic art complements the more detailed animal figures, highlighting the multifaceted nature of the early human artistic endeavour and providing deeper insights into the cognitive and social practices of the Upper Paleolithic inhabitants.

Today, the Cave of Altamira is celebrated as a cornerstone in the study of prehistoric art, offering invaluable insights into the creativity and cultural practices of our distant ancestors. The tale of its discovery remains a fascinating chapter in the annals of archaeology, underscoring the importance of open-mindedness and the unexpected contributions of youthful curiosity.

On the 15th of May, I was fortunate to visit The Replica Cave and Museum of Altamira with my ‘Art Group’ friends and my colleague and dear friend Mariola Salceda from the University of Saragoza… It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a convergence of history, art, and friendship that left me utterly speechless. It was a journey through time, a profound encounter with humanity’s earliest expressions of creativity, and a moment I shall cherish forever.

For the PowerPoint on Paleolithic Cave Art in Spain, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: and and