La Roldana, Spain's first Baroque sculptress

Luisa Roldán, the eminent.

Luisa Roldán was born in the century of the Counter-Reformation in 1652. This was the century of the Spanish Baroque, when painting had to be at the service of religion, in reaction to Protestants who rejected the authority of the Pope.
Painting and sculpture had to humanize religious representations.
Be naturalistic, with lifelike physiques that take the viewer to task.

Luisa Roldán is the daughter of the Court's resident sculptor, Pedro Roldán, who makes a handsome living from his talents.

She spent her childhood with her brothers and sisters learning sculpture and polychromy in her father's workshop. She is the most gifted. She is determined and accomplishes what she desires, regardless of advice to the contrary.
Thus, she does not hesitate to defy her father. She gives up the comfortable life that the succession of her workshop would have given her. From the workshop, she took on only one of the apprentices, Luis Antonio de los Arcos. And against her father's advice, shemarried himat the age of 19.

Ahead of its time

Forced into independence, Luisa Roldan works as a polychromist, just like her husband. Able to work color on stone, wood, bronze and silver, it is she who provides the household's main source of income. Once again, she is the most gifted.
La Roldána's subjects are so expressive: often surrounded by thick locks of hair, the faces are mystical, with delicate eyes, furrowed brows, rosy cheeks and slightly parted lips. She calls them her "jewels", and they foreshadow the rococo style when she depicts them as a group, in small terracottas much appreciated by the Spanish bourgeoisie.

Around 1686, Cadiz, with its aura of prestige, claimed it. The Cathedral was under construction. She and her husband were hired to sculpt images of angels and patriarchs. They completed almost all of them.
Her Ecce homo is still the pride of the place.

Click to discover Ecce Homo, detail. Luisa Roldán, known as La Roldana. Santa Cruz sobre el mar" Cathedral, Cadiz ©las
"Ecce Homo", detail. Polychrome, wood. Luisa Roldán (La Roldana). Santa Cruz sobre el mar" Cathedral, Cadiz ©las guiritanas

Court's first female sculptor

Returning to Madrid two years later, she was awarded the title of chamber sculptor in recognition of the works she created for the Royal Palace. She became the first official female court sculptor in the service of Charles II and then Philip V.

" Queer before its time

Despite her appointment, the country's economic crisis means that the Court cannot pay her properly. Her daily life was difficult, and she experienced famine. Unhappiness set in: four of her six children died in infancy.
Tensions were frequent in her marriage. She drew inspiration from this in her best-known sculpture: She is the archangel defeating the devil, brandishing her sword above him. A feminine archangel. So queer before its time. The devil's representation of fear is that of her husband, whom she defies on a daily basis.

"The archangel Saint Michael defeating the devil" polychrome wood, Luisa Roldán (la Roldana) Galería de las Colleciones Reales, Madrid ©Patrimonio Nacional
"The archangel Saint Michael defeating the devil" polychrome wood, Luisa Roldán (la Roldana) Galería de las Colleciones Reales, Madrid ©Patrimonio Nacional
Too proud, she refused to call on her father, who could have helped her financially. He remains the most sought-after sculptor in Seville and Andalusia.

Courageous, she begged the Queen for a place to live and clothes to wear.
And as prolific as her work is, preserved in part in Andalusia, between sculptures for churches and small terracotta subjects, she never made a living from her talents.

One of Spain's finest artists, Spain's first recognized sculptor, lived and died in poverty at the age of fifty-three! What a paradox!

After the Cathedral and San Antonio Church, go to the corner of Calle San Miguel, 16, to cross the Roldana in Cadiz. Look up.
Here you'll find a reproduction of the archangel Saint Michael. It's the work of a Basque who, a century later, placed it there in front of the gaditans. Basque pride obliges. But that's another story.

🍀 The secrets behind the restoration of the "Archangel Saint Michael". ➽ Read here

🍀 His video portrait 👇

🍀 Also in Spanish ➽ CLICK


If you liked this content, feel free to share it 🍀

Leave a comment