Toledo’s ‘Transparente’ Altarpiece at Toledo’s Cathedral
Forever tied to the fortunes of the Wars of Religion of the XVI and XVII century, the Baroque style represented the triumph of the Catholic Church over Protestantism. So much so that the weight of this artistic movement lasted in Spain for much longer than it did in other countries who quickly adopted the Rococo style, such as France, or the Neoclassical style, like Russia, Great Britain or the Scandinavian countries.
Hence it is quite normal to find this style in Spain’s religious buildings.
Such is the case of Toledo’s famous ‘transparente’ altarpiece, for many Spain’s most important Baroque masterpiece.
Created by the sculptor Narciso Tome in 1732, the altarpiece of Toledo’s cathedral is made of marble –shipped to Spain from Genoa- bronze and jasper, following the Baroque and Churrigueresque styles.
This work of genius is usually understood more as an architectural endeavor than a sculptural whole. This may be due to the fact that Tomé employed his four sons –one a sculptor, another a painter and two who were architects, to create it.
This multidisciplinary masterwork, which at the time cost 200,000 Ducats (about 6.2 million Dollars in today’s money) , unifies several artistic aspects –sculpture, painting, illumination, and masterfully links a concept that is both, religious and theatrical which, as academics have said, “exalts the divine side of the mysteries of the Catholic faith”.
This artistic ensemble is lit naturally thanks to the light entering through an oval window, the oculi, which is placed in a vault over the altarpiece’s center and illuminates the high altar’s tabernacle. It is this particular lighting ‘solution’ which gave the work the name ‘transparente’ (transparent). Some say that it was Toledo’s Archbishop, Diego de Astorga Céspedes, who wanted to create some sort of special lighting arrangement which would contrast with the half-dark atmosphere of the rest of the cathedral, lit as it was only by the light coming in through the stained-glass windows.
What we see today is definitely, if not a religious, then certainly an artistic triumph, and one which nobody has stopped talking about since it was finished after many years of construction.
If you want to admire this masterpiece, Madrid Experience suggests you take our VIP Tour of Toledo, where you will also see the other architectural masterpieces of Visigothic Spain’s ancient capital.
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