In 1518 Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães in Portuguese) had proposed his idea of reaching the Moluccas to obtain spices to King Manuel I of Portugal. Faced with his refusal, he presented his project to the young emperor Carlos I of Spain and V of Germany, at that time the most powerful monarch of Europe. In full expansionism of the kingdom of Castile, the emperor supported the company and gave Magellan the money necessary to charter five ships with 245 men. The expedition was going to be very profitable economically if they managed to trade in the Moluccan Islands and get the precious spices there: Cloves, Cinnamon, Pepper, Ginger, Nutmeg …

Why were spices so precious in Europe?

Por qué eran importantes las especias en la primera vuelta al mundo

In 16th century Europe, spices were almost or so much more valued than gold. Their value resided on the one hand in food preservation and they were also an ingredient for perfumes, medical recipes and a luxury for dishes in an increasingly rich and refined Europe. Like silk, porcelain, and of course gold and silver, there was a great demand for spices. And the place to find them was far away, on the other side of the world, in the exotic Spice Islands, called Moluccas and today corresponding to the Indonesian archipelago.

To get there, the the usual route was bordering Africa and crossing the Indian Ocean. But that area was in Portuguese power. A new route arose in Magellan’s mind, sailing west across the Atlantic, finding a passage to the Pacific (later known as the Strait of Magellan) and arriving after the long journey to the Spice Islands. The return trip would be made bordering India, crossing the Indian Ocean and going to the Atlantic by surrounding Africa.

Three years of adventure and hardship lasted this journey. Of the 245 men, only 18 survived, of the five ships that started the expedition, only one, with a symbolic name, returned to Seville: Nao Victoria (Victory).

Along the way riots, shipwrecks, diseases, internal struggles and fights with the indigenous people threatened the trip. However, despite the large number of human losses, the objective of the expedition was fulfilled: they successfully traded, returned laden with spices and it was also the first time that the roundness of the Earth was 100% demonstrated. A milestone that at first they were not looking for, they had made for the first time in History the First World Tour.

Why Seville

Por qué Sevilla en la primera vuelta al mundo

The Andalusian city was the starting and ending point of this trip.

Seville became in 1503 the world center of commerce with America. This decision made by Queen Isabel de Castilla was motivated by the strategic position of the Andalusian city crossed by a river, the Guadalquivir, which was navigable to its mouth in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, allowing the arrival of the ships 80 km inland. This made Seville much safer than any other city on the Atlantic coast. The Guadalquivir was therefore the gateway to the first products to come from the New World: tomatoes, corn, tobacco or cocoa. And, of course , gold and huge amounts of silver from the mines of Mexico and Potosí (Bolivia). All the overseas expeditions managed by the House of Trade, nowadays in current dependencies of the Real Alcazar of Seville.

The Port of Seville in August 1519 saw the five ships commanded by Ferdinand Magellan in search of the Spice Islands depart towards Sanlúcar de Barrameda first and then west.

A Portuguese and a Spaniard

Magallanes y Elcano: La primera vuelta al mundo 1519-1522

Ferdinand Magellan, captain and ideologist of the expedition organized this trip with the help of the also Portuguese cosmographer Rui Faleiro. However, the expedition also included men of 10 nationalities, of whom 166 were Spanish men.

Magellan had the misfortune to die in the middle of the trip in a skirmish with the indigenous people in the Philippines (they would be called with this name years later in honor of King Felipe II). Luck wanted an experienced Basque sailor from Guetaria (Guipúzcoa), Juan Sebastián Elcano, to command the expedition. He was the one who ended the trip in Seville on August 13, 1522 when the battered Victoria with 18 survivors climbed the Guadalquivir and arrived in our city.

In such a way that the feat was shared by two navigators, from two different nations: the Spanish and the Portuguese.

The first round the world was made, and with it the roundness of the Earth was demonstrated, since always marching in the same direction, the starting point was reached. The emperor Carlos I, upon receiving Juan Sebastián Elcano, gave him as a shield a globe with the Latin legend: Primus circumdedisti me (“you were the first in surrounding me”). And also 500 ducats of income per year.

What can we see in Seville in relation to the First round the World

Qué podemos ver en Sevilla en relación con la Primera vuelta al Mundo

In addition to the Guadalquivir river, which witnessed trade and expeditions to the New World and beyond there are historical places and monuments in Seville that inform us and illustrate this important event and the History of the Andalusian capital in the 16th century. These are the most remarkable ones:

  • Tower of Gold. Built as part of the Wall in the 13th century by the Muslims, it was the starting and ending point of trips to the Indies. Today it houses an interesting Naval Museum and clearly exposes the main events of the First World Tour.
  • Archive of the Indies. Declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, it houses a true treasure inside. There is all the documentation about this trip. Unfortunately for us, the documents are reserved for researchers and there is very little that they reveal to the general public. The impressive Exhibition “The Longest Journey” about the first round world has been hosted from September to February can now be visited in the city of San Sebastián.
  • Monument to Juan Sebastián Elcano. Fountain built in the 70s by the sculptor Antonio Cano Correa. It is Seville’s tribute to the figure of this Basque navigator, captain of the expedition at the arrival.Monumento a la Primera Vuelta al Mundo en la calle Adriano. Mas reciente del año 2014 es este monumento hecho en mármol que recuerda la expedición. Estáestratégicamente situado en el antes llamado Monte del Baratillo del Barrio del Arenal, barrio marinero por excelencia en aquel tiempo.
  • Monument to the First Round the World on Adriano Street. Most recent in 2014 is this marble monument that it is a tribute to the expedition. It is strategically located in the formerly called Monte del Baratillo of Barrio del Arenal, a sailors district at that time.
  • Armillary sphere-Mile 0 next to the “Muelle de las Mulas (Mule’s Dock)” in the Plaza de Cuba. From here the expeditionaries left and here the returned three years later. A few meters from the Gold Tower, this great sphere is a tribute to the scientific expeditions that changed our world.
  • Chapel of the Virgen de la Antigua (at Seville Cathedral). In the largest chapel of the Cathedral, this precious image of a Gothic Virgin was especially venerated in the 16th century. Our expeditionaries entrusted themselves to her and the eighteen survivors returned to give thanks for the return. A plaque on the floor at the entrance to the Chapel remembers the name and job of those who returned.
  • Nao Victoria Foundation and replica of the ship Victoria. Next to the river, on the ground floor of the Paseo Marqués del Contadero. It is currently the most interesting and concrete exhibition we have about the First Round the World of Magellan and Elcano. Although it is not very extensive, the trip is told in a didactic way and it allows us, above all, to visit the replica of the main ship anchored on the banks of the river. For a while we can feel like sailors from 500 years ago who sailed wide unknown seas and performed feats hitherto unprecedented in the History of Humanity.

Baroque sculpture in the Fine Arts Museum of Seville (November 2019-March 2020)

The subtitle of this exhibition is “Teacher of Teachers” and this is true, since we must not forget that his art was inherited by sculptors such as Juan de Mesa or Francisco Antonio Ruiz Gijón, authors of the Christs of the Gran Poder or el Cachorro who can be contemplated in the famous processions of Holy Week in Seville.

But our protagonist of today was the called already in his time “God of the Wood”. Juan Martinez Montañés was born in a town near Jaén in 1568. At that time the most important artistic center in the south of the Iberian Peninsula was Seville, so Juan Martínez went to the capital of Andalusia to work on his sculptures. Here he could have numerous commissions from the convents and churches that flooded the city. His religious sculptures are splendid examples of naturalism and realism. The San Juan Evangelista, San Juan Bautista, Immaculate Concepcion, Christs and Children Jesus even today, 400 years later, surprise us for their quality and mastery, it does not surprise us therefore that in their time he was considered the “God of the Wood”.

Now we have a magnificent opportunity to see 57 of his best works gathered in an exhibition of the Museum of Fine Arts in Seville.

Why the sculptures where made in wood

Por qué la madera | Martínez Montañés

In Italy the sculptures were made mostly in marble, this was due to the abundance of this material in that country. The best sculptures by Michelangelo or Bernini were made in a beautiful white marble.

However, in the Iberian Peninsula, it was originally worked in terracotta or baked clay, in this material was the San Jerónimo de Pietro Torrigiano of the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville, an Italian sculptor, colleague of Michelangelo, who introduced naturalism in Spain but using a local material like terracotta.

Gradually this was passed to the wood, which allowed sculpting with greater detail and was a stronger material, not as heavy as marble, of a more moderate weight and which allowed these sculptures to be carried in procession. Those religious processions that began to become popular in these lands.

Technics for painting the sculptures whith gold

The wooden sculptures were “estofado” and polychrome. “Estofado” is a very difficult technique that consists of applying gold leaf (also silver or copper leaf) to the wood, some sheets of metal that print this golden hue on the surfaces on which it is placed. Then, with different pigments these sheets are covered, and finally by scraping these last layers, drawings are made and colored (polychrome) exposing the underlying gold. As you can imagine it is a very expensive procedure but with a brilliant result, great color and artistic richness.

Normally the sculptor did not deal with this stage but it was carried out by another artist. Often the sculptures of Montañés were polychromed by Francisco Pacheco, painter, writer and teacher, best known for being Diego Velázquez’s father-in-law.

What are the best sculptures by Martínez Montañés

His most important works in Andalusian baroque sculpture can be seen in the Fine Arts museum exhibition.

The Christ of Clemency was always considered one of his greatest works. He did it for the Priest Vazquez de Leca, a rich religious who ordered him to have it for his personal devotion. Later on this sculpture would be exposed in the Cathedral of Seville. This work of 1.80 meters, of surprisingly exact details that show us the muscles and veins of a Crucified Christ, was a role model for all the sculptors of later generations.

La Cieguita | Martínez Montañés

Do not forget your other key work, the so-called La Cieguecita, “the Little Blind”. This is a sculpture that represents the Immaculate Conception, 1.64 m high. His eyes with a low and modest look that give an impression of being blind are the origin of his nickname. This sculpture was quickly famous for its great beauty and delicacy. Its serene face and harmonious proportions make it one of the most accomplished works of its author. The Immaculate was a very repeated theme in both painting and sculpture, accompanied by its usual elements such as the crown of twelve stars, the blue mantle, the tread on the crescent moon or the heads of angels at its feet that propel it towards the heaven.

But Montañés also worked for the most influential Sevillian monasteries of the time. For San Isidoro del Campo, a Hieronymite monastery on the outskirts of Seville made a splendid altarpiece in which are the praying sculptures of Guzmán el Bueno and his wife Maria Alonso Coronel, founders of the medieval monastery. Also San Juan Evangelista and a surprisingly realistic San Jerónimo Penitente.

The Child Jesus of the church of the Holy Sacrament, the Christ of Passion or the San Cristobal from the Church of the Saviour are also among his masterpieces.

Diego Velázquez and Juan Martínez Montañés, contemporary artists

Juan Martínez Montañes, o el Dios de la madera

Among the contemporary artists of the sculptor were the writer Cervantes and the painters Rubens or Velazquez himself.

We are lucky to have a portrait of Martinez Montañés made by the latter. Diego Velazquez, somewhat younger than the sculptor, worked in Madrid for King Felipe IV but the fact of being from the same city, Seville, and that they were both artists and frequented the same circles, led him to make a portrait of the “god of wood” in 1635. In that year the sculptor was called to the Court to make a bust of the king who wanted to send to Florence. That bust, that can be see in the picture, would be the model for the statue of Philip IV of Spain that adorns the Square of Oriente in Madrid.

Black death of 1649

Velázquez y Montañés, artistas contemporáneos

The catastrophic plague epidemic of Black death this year took the lives of almost half of the Sevillians and among them that of Montañes, who was already 81 years old.

In his long life he left us amazing sculptures of the highest quality. Luckily we can see them all together today in this interesting exhibition that has its doors open until March 15, 2020.

Do not miss it!