Victoria Soto Caba & Isabel Solís Alcudia
The proclamation of the new king and queen, Carlos IV and Maria Luisa de Parma took place on September 21st and 23rd, 1789 in Madrid during a particular time caught between the impulses of the French Revolution and the conservativism of enlightened despotism. However, this period was also characterized by the endeavours of an aesthetic revolution which promoted the ideals of neoclassicism.
The proclamation took place nine months after the death of Carlos III, on December 14th, 1788. After a reign of prosperity and important transformations and reforms, which established the policy of enlightened despotism, the arrival of a new sovereign, Carlos IV in 1789, promised hopes of continued progress along the lines of his predecessor, especially in the renewal of the arts and the triumph of neoclassical aesthetics.
The outbreak of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille in Paris, just seven months after the death of Carlos III, provoked a conservative reaction that would nullify the serene reformism of the deceased king and ruin the expectations of the most progressive members of the populous.
Contrary to its political conservativism, from an aesthetic point of view, the reign of Carlos IV pursued the renewal initiated by his predecessor, Carlos III. The cultural policy of the two monarchs tended to suppress any revival of baroque tendencies. Accordingly, an academic and neoclassical style defined all new building projects. The Puerta de Alcalá (1778) is a good example of this development.
The adherence to the neoclassical style in Spain, especially under the influence of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, gave rise to the concept of “good architecture”, whose aesthetic program culminated in the construction of ephemeral architectural projects like those for the Madrid festivities for the proclamation of 1789.
Among the protagonists of the aesthetic revolution of the time we can count the leading figures in art and architecture of the second half of the 18th century in Spain, some of whom were also involved in the creation of ephemeral architectural projects. These protagonists included architects such as Ventura Rodríguez (1717–1785), Pedro Arnal (1735–1805) and Juan de Villanueva (1739–1811), painters such as Francisco Goya (1746–1828), Francisco Bayeu (1734–1795) and Luis Paret y Alcázar (1746–1799) and scenographers such as the brothers Ángel María Tadei (ca. 1765 - ca. 1840) and Antonio María Tadei (active between 1789–1829).
On the first day September 21st, the route followed included three streets: The Calle Mayor, the Calle de Alcalá and the Calle de Atocha, forming a triangle in the urban framework. Along this route many houses were specially adorned with ephemeral decorative elements.
On September 23rd the royal entourage followed another route by crossing the stretch that goes from the church of the Jerónimo to the Royal Palace through the Carrera of San Jerónimo.
Also on this second route a succession of ornaments and facades were erected, which adorned the core of Madrid and modified its appearance profoundly.
Of all the ephemeral constructions erected for the proclamation festivities of 1789, the most sophisticated was made by the architect Juan de Villanueva (1739–1811), who had become the main voice of Neoclassicism in Madrid.
Juan de Villanueva is the most important architect and the greatest champion of the neoclassical style from the second half of the 18th century in Spain.
Educated at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, in Madrid, he managed to obtain a scholarship to Rome in 1758, where he spent seven years studying architecture and models of antiquity. On his return to Spain he was appointed academician of merit and, in 1777, architect to the Prince of Asturias. His style owes much to a fondness for severe forms and strict adherence to rules of proportion, and notably to the austerity of Juan de Herrera’s royal palace, monastery and pantheon complex at the Escorial, which was built for Philip II in the 16th century.
Juan de Villanueva served the crown during the reigns of Charles III and Charles IV. He designed the Prado Museum, the Royal Observatory of Madrid and the Casitas del Escorial, which were summerhouses for the princes. He was also responsible for the decoration of the house of the Duke of Alba during the celebration of 1789.
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The Royal Palace of the Buen Retiro was comprised of a set of gardens and buildings located on what was the eastern edge of Madrid in the 17th century. Its construction was due to the interest of Felipe IV to have a second residence for the Court. Alonso Carbonell (1583–1660) was the architect who from 1629 to 1640, gradually incorporated and annexed a series of disconnected buildings that came to form a palace among courtyards and gardens.
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In the description of the ephemeral constructions or Ornatos, that was published in 1789 to perpetuate the celebration of the enthronement of Carlos IV, the example made by Juan de Villanueva is presented as an example of “good architecture, good taste and harmony.” The text describes the architecture and the ephemeral decoration as follows:
“Toda la Escultura imitaba mármol blanco [...] Todo lo demas de la obra se imitó á piedra berroqueña”
“All the sculpture imitated white marble [...] Everything else in the work imitated Berroqueña stone”
Another key element during the celebrations was the peculiar illumination of the facades that allowed passerby to contemplate the ephemeral constructions and ornaments also by night.
“Lo que no podemos menos de aplaudir, es la pompa de las iluminaciones; en donde no eran solo para celebradas la varia disposición de las luces de muchos colores, la grata claridad que resultaba de verse la luz y no la llama, y la gran copia de cerca de once mil vasos distribuidos en el aspecto exterior del ornato”.
“What we can not help but applaud is the pomp of the illumination; not only to celebrate the arrangements of the lights of many colours but also the pleasant clarity that resulted from seeing the light and not the flame and also the large repetition of about eleven thousand glass vessels on the surface of the ornamentation.”
Concerning the colouring of the ephemeral decoration of Juan de Villanueva there is scarce information, but it is likely that in those days of September 1789 a young disciple of Villanueva, Isidro González Velázquez (1765–1840), made some records of it painting a gouache, which he touched up and signed on the backside in 1834.
This gouache is an exceptional document allowing us to admire the external appearance of the facade of the Ornato and the colouring achieved based on marble imitation and the use of other colours in pastel shades.
In order to digitize the ephemeral architecture of Juan de Villanueva and to apply an immersive, experimental colouring to it, we superimposed a “wire mesh” over the gouache of Isidro González Velázquez.
This “wire mesh” is the result of the process of vectorization of the building’s structure.
The process begins with a scan of the engraving, onto which an OCR technology is applied in order to establish a hierarchy within the lines and shapes that make up its geometry. The next steps are to analyze the data obtained, compare the information and define the polychrome application of the ornament. In the next step the digital reconstruction criteria (location and geometrization) are defined further within a modeling and mapping process. Once the silhouettes are obtained in 2D and 3D, it is possible to generate a “wire mesh.” A texturizing process then occurs, generating what is called “gray solids,” necessary for applying colour to the elements that make up the architecture.
The work of Juan de Villanueva during the celebrations of 1789 exemplifies the aesthetic ideals of the buena arquitectura or “good architecture.” These ideals came to fruition throughout Madrid according to the urban reforms first introduced by Carlos III and continued by the new monarch Carlos IV.
The commissioner of the Academia de las Tres Nobles Artes de San Fernando, Josef Moreno, to whom historians attribute the Descripción de los Ornatos, praised some of these ephemeral architectural decorations and constructions, assuring that if they would be erected as real structures, that is, not as temporary artifacts, Madrid’s prestige would raise, making of it one of the preeminent capitals of Europe.
There is no doubt that the most talented artists and designers of the moment participated in this project: the best architects led by Juan de Villanueva, the best painters under the command of Francisco de Goya, who was Lieutenant Director of the Academia, and the most outstanding sculptors, helped by set designers and a large group of plasterers and other craftsmen. However, historical circumstances would halt any hopes of renovation, leaving these ephemeral constructions merely as proposals for more permanent buildings: they remained simply vestiges from a moment of elusive pomp.
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––––– Juan de Villanueva. Akal, Madrid 1998.
––––– Isidro González Velázquez (Madrid, 1765 – Madrid, 1840). Ayuntamiento de Madrid, Madrid 2009.
––––– “Vida y obra de Juan de Villanueva: estado de la cuestión”, Boletín de Letras del Real Instituto de Estudios Asturianos, 179–180 (2012), 221–252.
José María Prados, “Isidro González Velázquez y la arquitectura efímera”, III Jornadas de Arte. Cinco siglos de arte en Madrid (XV-XX), Madrid, 1991, VV.AA, Ed. Alpuerto, Madrid 1991, 87–93.
Carlos Sambricio, La arquitectura de la Ilustración. Instituto de Estudios de Administración Local, Madrid 1986.
––––– "El problema del estilo en la arquitectura madrileña del siglo XVIII. A propósito de la una colección de dibujos de Juan de Villanueva", in Carlos Sambricio (coord.), Carlos III, Alcalde de Madrid. [Cat. Exp.] Ayuntamiento de Madrid, Madrid 1988.
Victoria Soto-Caba & Isabel Solís-Alcudia, “Virtualidad sobre estampas. Un ejemplo de Innovación Docente en el estudio del arte efímero del Antiguo Régimen. Póster”, I Simposio Nacional sobre Documentalismo del Patrimonio Histórico y Medioambiental (SIDOP): La imagen del Patrimonio: Fotografía y Documentalismo, Granada 2017.
––––– “Temporary polychrome: Colour Digitization of the Ornamentation for Carlos IV’s Entry into Madrid, 1789”, in Cities in the Digital Age. Exploring past, present and future, coord. A. Gago da Cámara et alt. CITCEM, Porto 2018. 63–82.