Little is known about the Virgen de los Ángeles sculptural group other than its early manufacture decades before the other sculptures and the altarpiece of which they are a part.
A polychromed wood sculpture group—the Virgen de los Ángeles—fills the bottom left niche of the retablo mayor (main altarpiece) in the church at the Convento de Santa Clara in the village of Villafrechós, in present day Castile and Leon, located in Northern Spain. Little is known about the Virgen de los Ángeles sculptural group other than its early manufacture decades before the other sculptures and the retablo of which they are a part. As a sculpture that is both self-contained but also integrated into the altarpiece structure, the artifact raises important questions for art history. In the paper for my Summer Mentorship through the Center for 17th– and 18th-Century Studies’ Graduate Certificate in Early Modern Studies, I showed that the sculpture attests to how traditional art historical categories of styles, artistic biography, and chronological development can occlude investigations. I suggest that the sculpture condenses a variety of motifs which become the basis of both the polychrome decoration and the design of the later altarpiece. This project has been critical to developing the methodological approach in my dissertation, which considers another polychromed wood sculptural-architectural form—the ship hull ceiling in Venice—which appears primarily in late medieval churches. Informed by my work on the Virgen de los Ángeles, my dissertation explores how to approach an artifact that is both a self-contained architectural form and a part of the larger church. Research into the Virgen de los Ángeles has also encouraged me to think about the persistence of painted wood forms over time, which has contributed to my approach to the ship hull ceiling as a site of intersecting artisanal practices. Like the Virgen de los Ángeles, the ship hull ceiling prompts a reassessment of traditional art historical terms of reference.
by Laura Hutchingame
Image: Virgen de los Ángeles, c. 1490-1510, attributed to Alejo de Vahía and workshop. Part of larger retablo sculpture within altar at Convento de Santa Clara, Villafrechós, Valladolid, Spain (Castile). Photograph from Wikimedia