22/07/2015, by CLAS

Luis de Morales Altarpieces

Last Summer I spent time visiting two small churches in Extremadura, in western Spain. St Martin’s, in the town of Plasencia, towards the north, is now closed. The church Our Lady of the Assumption is an active parish church in the heart of the village of Arroyo de la Luz, near the city of Cáceres. I went to see two altarpieces painted in the 1560s by Luis de Morales. Morales (1510-1586) spent his whole working life in his native city of Badajoz, only five kilometres from the Portuguese border. The most important artist working in Spain in the mid-sixteenth century,  all his work is religious. In Counter-Reformation Spain in the century of Spanish conquest and colonisation of the Americas, the Church had a great deal of money to spend on building and decorating convents and monasteries.  Morales  produced several altarpieces for churches in Extremadura and the Portuguese province of Alentejo , many  of which are no longer in place because the Spanish and Portuguese states nationalised church property in the early 1830s. The altarpiece paintings were removed and sold off to raise money. Many of these paintings are now in public art galleries, such as the Prado, Madrid, but just as many if not more have been lost. It was therefore a tremendous privilege to see these two sets of paintings on religious topics in their original settings, in the ornate gilded altarpiece frames into which Morales would have seen them placed.

The parish priest and the tourism representative for Arroyo showed me the Arroyo altarpiece and in Plasencia, the diocesan culture officer opened the church especially for me. They could not have been more welcoming or more helpful. The culture officer in Plasencia told me that the last time she had set foot in the church was for her own wedding some years before. These days, ironically, it is used for Protestant prayer meetings.  I wonder what Morales would have made of that.

The Prado Museum in Madrid is running an exhibition of Morales’ work from 6th October 2015 to January 10th 2016, the first major exhibition of his work for decades.  https://www.museodelprado.es/en/exhibitions/exhibitions/at-the-museum/el-divino-morales


The Arroyo de la Luz altarpiece (in Spanish): http://www.parroquiaarroyo.org/retablo/retablo.html

Churches in Plasencia (in Spanish): http://www.plasencia.es/web/iglesias

Research funded by a grant from Santander Universities in 2014

Jean Andrews

Posted in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies