Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 116



115
Pedro Orrente and the Nine Worthies
JOSÉ GÓMEZ FR EC H I NA
The so-called Golden Age of Spanish art saw a number
of felicitous intersections between literature and painting.
This article will focus on a late pictorial example of the
medieval literary theme of the Nine Worthies, executed
by Pedro Orrente (Murcia, 1580 – Valencia, 1645) while
he was in Valencia during the reign of Philip IV. Following
the complete identification and reproduction of all of
Orrente’s paintings from this series, the article will analyze
the works’ possible original provenance, their subsequent
history, and their influence on Valencian painting.
THE NINE WORTHIES
The canonical list of the Nine Worthies was first
established around 1312 in a chanson de geste written by
the Lorraine-born poet Jacques de Longuyon entitled
Les Voeux du Paon, a work commissioned by Thibaut
de Bar, Bishop of Liège.1 In order to underscore the
bravery of the warrior Porrus who fights the armies of
Alexander the Great on the death of his father Clarus,
Longuyon cites a roll-call of historical or mythical
heroes whose deeds and characters perfectly embody the
ideals of chivalry and nobility in the social and cultural
context of the Hundred Years’ War. The heroes are
divided into three categories: pagan (Hector of Troy,
Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar); Jewish (Joshua,
King David, and Judas Maccabeus); and Christian (King
Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon).2
Fig. 1 / Pedro Orrente,
Hector, oil on canvas,
158 x 122 cm, Private
Collection.
Chronologically, these figures extend from Homer’s
Hector of Troy to Godfrey of Bouillon, a Frankish
knight involved in the First Crusade and the Christian
conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. As noted by Schroeder,
the tripartite division of chronological periods –
pagan antiquity, the Old Testament, and the medieval
Christian era – corresponds to Saint Augustine’s
division of history: ante legem (from Adam to Moses), sub
lege (from Moses to Christ), and sub gratia (after Christ).3
The literary theme of the Nine Worthies assumed a
significant place in the collective imagination from
the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries through the
representation of these heroes in sculptural groups
such as those in the Town Hall in Cologne and the
Schöner Brunnen in Nuremberg; fresco cycles including
those in the Castillo de la Manta in Piedmont4 and
the Villa Castelnuovo near Turin;5 and tapestries like
those in the château de Langeais in France,6 as well as
the incomplete series made for the Duke of Berry, now
in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.7 The inventories
of tapestries (draps de parets istoriats) belonging to the
Aragonese monarch, Peter the Ceremonious – almost
all acquired in various French cities during his marriage
to Eleaonor of Sicily – reveal that in 1351 Peter paid
the considerable sum of fifty gold florins for a drap de
paret illustrating the Istoria Novem Militum.8 Although this
tapestry has not survived, the high price paid indicates
that it was extremely important, and it was one of the first
to represent the literary subject of the Nine Worthies.
Almost a century later, during Henry IV’s triumphal
entry into Paris on 2 September 1431, the ceremonial
procession included the pagan goddess of Fame,
accompanied on horseback by the Nine Worthies with
their coats-of-arms, along with their female counterparts,
nine heroines worthy of commemoration for their virtues.9

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