Sketch of the Poem of Córdoba
Julio Romero de Torres

Sketch of the Poem of Córdoba

1913
  • Oil on canvas

    32 x 84 cm

    CTB.1995.69

  • © Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza

Around 1908, Romero de Torres's painting took a major turn as he adopted the new artistic idiom which from then on would confirm and define him as a painter. This took place in the wake of a gradual aesthetic development verifiable even from the time of his first works at the end of the 19th century. As was then customary among his contemporaries, Romero de Torres also took part in the National Exhibitions and as a result produced some of his greatest symbolic compositions. Examples in this respect are Divine Love and Profane Love, Our Lady of Andalusia, Altarpiece of Love and La consagración de la copla ("The Consecration of the Couplet"), all painted between 1908 and 1912.

Around 1913 Romero began working on the Poem of Cordoba, which he presented together with another fourteen paintings at the 1915 National Exhibition. Without a doubt one of the most specifically symbolic paintings in the whole of the artist's pictorial production and his greatest exaltation of the city, this work sums up to a very large extent the painter's relationship with Cordoba, a city always in his mind, despite all the years in Madrid.

Several drawings dating from 1906 and made by Romero de Torres in the Museo del Prado (now in the Cordoba Museum of Fine Arts) and the extremely interesting sketch on this page serve to illustrate the similarities and differences between the original idea and the attractive final composition.

The Sketch of the Poem of Cordoba is markedly horizontal in format, with the vertical lines emphasised by the division of the scenes and the seven female figures (of the total of eight) in a standing position. From left to right, the figures depicted are Almanzor (subsequently replaced by the Great Captain), St Pelagius, Maimonides, Seneca, Góngora and Lagartijo, i.e. a warrior, a saint, two philosophers, a writer and a bullfighter, all acknowledged as among the most outstanding figures in local history. They were included in the final composition as representations of Warlike Cordoba, Religious Cordoba, Jewish Cordoba, Christian Cordoba, Roman Cordoba, Baroque Cordoba and Cordoba the Bullfighter, each represented by a woman.

The arrangement of the allegories is virtually identical in the preparatory painting and the final piece, with the exception of a change in position of Religious Cordoba and Baroque Cordoba. As regards the composition of the different figures, these two panels are again affected, as is also the central Christian Cordoba panel.

In this exceptional allegorical composition Romero de Torres recreated the formal design of the altarpiece, a Christian compositional method he also used in other works such as the Altarpiece of Love and Santa Inés ("Saint Agnes"). For a more faithful rendering of what he intended as the final version, he added a number of lines to suggest gilt wood frames.

His model for Warlike Cordoba, personified as the Great Captain, was Dolores Castro, also known as Pirola la Gitana (Pirola the Gypsy), who wore a richly embroidery dress and large shawl draped around her shoulders. Behind her the artist sketched in a monument to Gonzalo Fernández de Cordoba, the Great Captain, to which in the final version he added views of the façades of the mosque/cathedral and the Páez de Castillejo family mansion (currently the city’s Archaeological and Ethnological Museum).

The next panel in the Museo Carmen Thyssen picture depicts St Pelagius as the embodiment of Religious Cordoba. Here Romero's model was Rafaela Ruiz, whom he painted frontally wearing a black mantilla and holding a book. In the background is the quiet Plaza de Capuchinos. Although the position of the panel and the posture of the figure – with her arms folded in front of her chest – have changed, in the final version Romero left in the solemn façade of the Capuchin monastery and the famous Christ which also gives its name to the popular square containing the tomb of Bishop Ossius.

The model for Maimonides, who personifies Jewish Cordoba, was Amalia Fernández, also called La Gitana (The Gypsy). Although in both cases the pose and garments are identical, Romero made slight changes to the background and replaced the landscape in the preparatory painting with the small door or Portillo of the Calle de la Feria and the house and fountain of La Fuenseca, situating an imaginary monument to the Jewish physician and philosopher in front of it. Once again he brought together a number of physically very distant city landmarks.

In the preparatory painting, the figures in the central scene, which in both cases is higher than the others, are not named, although in the final version they personify Christian Cordoba. Romero's models were Adela Portillo, the guitarist Andrés Segovia's first wife, and Rafaela Torres. It is in this panel where the greatest number of differences between the two versions of the Poem can be seen. The background in the first becomes two clearly traditional local buildings with a fountain before them. Romero also changed the postures of the two women: in the canvas there are two working-class women, one sitting, the other standing behind her. In the panel in homage to Raphael, the two women are holding high a statue of the archangel (copied from Valdés Leal) in silver and gold – evoking the importance and tradition of the Cordovan gold- and silversmiths. Furthermore, these women – one of whom is a member of the bourgeoisie while the other is working-class – symbolise unity in the city's devotion to its guardian angel.

Adela Moyano embodied Roman Cordoba as personified by the philosopher Seneca. The dress and shawl are similar in both versions to those in Jewish Cordoba, the main difference being the colour of the shawl. The building behind this serene figure can be none other than the Puerta del Puente gate, which commemorates Philip II's entrance into the city. The other monument in front of it is imaginary and dedicated to Seneca.

The great poet Góngora, for whom Encarna Rojas posed, could only symbolise Baroque Cordoba. Here the differences between the two versions are substantial, as in the canvas the female figure faces almost to the front and holds a book in her hands, while in the final version, her hands are crossed in front of her and she stands in a black shawl on a high parapet. Visible in the background are the handrails on the bank of the Guadalquivir, a number of buildings, and once again a monument to the person paid homage to.

In the last panel, Cordoba the Bullfighter is symbolised by one of the legends of Cordovan bullfighting – Lagartijo. Romero's model was Ángeles Muñoz, with a large suggestive red shawl and, behind her, the Plaza de la Corredera (which is closely connected to the origin of bullfighting in the city) with the monument to Lagartijo painted shortly before by Romero in Machaquito como apoteosis del toreo cordobés ("Machaquito as the Apotheosis of Cordovan Bullfighting").

The points in common linking these seven allegories of Cordoba by Romero are: in some cases a female reminiscent of previous works such as Flower of Holiness or the poster for the 1913 Cordoba Fair; an imaginary memorial to great figures in Cordovan history; an unusual interpretation of Cordovan town planning, as the buildings in Julio Romero's paintings often exist, but not in the locations he assigns them; and, as in other paintings, the inclusion of small scenes or secondary figures.

Fuensanta García De La Torre