Luisa Roldán (b. 1652–d. 1706) lived and worked in three Spanish cities, was sculptor to the royal chambers of Kings Carlos II and Felipe V of Spain, but left no followers and died in relative poverty. Her work relates to two different artistic traditions: intimate groups in terracotta representing the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child with saints, which met the desires of the Spanish nobility whose social status was reinforced by displaying this type of possession in their homes, and powerful, over-life-sized wooden sculptures of Christ and the saints that proclaimed a robust religious faith in niches and chapels in Andalucían churches and when carried through Seville’s streets during Holy Week. Roldán’s life and her work have begun to receive significant scholarly attention in the past half-century, placing her firmly in the canon of Spanish art history. Most of the scholarship about Roldán is written in Spanish, with increasing numbers of publications appearing in English. As a female sculptor in Golden Age Spain Roldán‘s identity invites examination through the lenses of her gender, the two very different artistic media that she used, the sociopolitical contexts of the cities in which she worked, and the reception of her work. Her social position is a complex one to understand. She was not a member of a noble family, had limited participation in her family workshop, and enjoyed only sporadic access to external patronage. A significant factor in the establishment of her public identity is the manner in which Roldán’s life and work has been approached by writers. In the first two centuries after her death fewer than ten references to her life or her work were published. The pace of scholarship increased in the 20th century after Proske’s publication in 1964 of three seminal articles attracted the interest of scholars beyond Spain. Journal articles began to appear, and in 2007 an exhibition was held dedicated to her work and her role as a sculptor at the courts of two Spanish kings. Since then details have been brought to light in journal articles, book chapters, conference papers, and exhibition catalogue entries, contributing to the development of a maturing and nuanced appreciation of Roldán’s life and work. Luisa Roldán was a resourceful and productive woman whose personal drive and creativity were stronger than any potentially restrictive societal boundaries. Her enduring and indeed growing public recognition owes much to the ability she had to adapt to changing circumstances by marrying without her father’s consent, moving cities, seeking new patrons, and changing the medium in which she worked. The bibliography that follows presents our current understanding, through the lenses of documentary evidence and scholarly analysis, which acknowledges her place in the artistic, social, and economic environments in which she lived.
Luisa Roldán’s biography has developed gradually over the past three hundred years. Although significant lacunae remain in our knowledge of details of her life, the following summary acknowledges, in chronological format, the major contributions to our growing understanding of her life and her critical fortunes. The earliest known reference to Roldán was included in Palomino’s book of artists’ biographies, published in 1724. This brief, first-person narrative is particularly valuable, situating her in the Spanish court and describing the woman whom the author had known in Madrid. Ximénez 1764 extols her sculpture of St Michael and places her in the pantheon of the ancient masters. Céan Bermúdez published the next significant contribution in 1800, offering anecdotes and perspectives that he is likely to have gained while he was a resident in Roldán’s hometown of Seville. 1920 saw the publication by Santiago Montoto of the first document relating to a specific event in her life: her controversial marriage to Luis Antonio de los Arcos. Amat’s unpublished thesis, undertaken for Madrid’s Universidad Central in 1927, includes further documentary discoveries that allowed scholars to confirm the dates and circumstances of her life at the royal court and her death. The first significant publication in English about Roldán, Proske 1964a, Proske 1964b, and Proske 1964c examining correspondence between Roldán and the Spanish court provide insight into the difficulties faced by an artist in a royal court that was under significant financial pressure. García Olloqui’s research in Seville’s church archives contributes information about the baptisms of Roldán’s children. In 1997 Hall-van den Elsen presented a brief encyclopedia entry in English that included her discovery of Roldán’s recognition by the influential Accademia di San Luca in Rome, and in 2018 Hall-van den Elsen published a monograph illustrated with more than one hundred photographs, drawing together a documentary corpus that incorporated documents from Seville, Cádiz, Madrid, and Rome and a comprehensive bibliography. Most of the texts listed below are written in Spanish, the last three in English.
Amat, Elena. “Luisa Roldán. Su vida y sus obras.” PhD diss., Madrid, Universidad Central, 1927.
Amat’s dissertation sat undiscovered in the library of the Prado museum until 1990. The manuscript contains invaluable black-and-white photographs of some sculptures that disappeared or were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Despite the inclusion of some uncertain attributions, Amat’s reference to the discovery of Roldán’s testament and her inclusion of photographs of parish documentation of Roldán’s burial make this text an historiographical treasure in its own right.
Bray, Xavier. “Luisa Roldán: ‘Eminente escultora’.” In Luisa Roldán: Court Sculptor to the Kings of Spain. Edited by Xavier Bray, Patrick Lenaghan, Jose Luis Romero Torres, and Helene Fontoira, 6–19. Madrid: Coll y Cortes, 2016.
Bray’s essay examines the trajectory of Roldán’s life and career. The chapter provides an accessible summary of the most recent literature in a suitable format for students unfamiliar with her work.
Ceán Bermúdez, Juan A. Diccionario histórico de los más ilustres profesores de las Bellas Artes en España. 6 vols. Madrid: Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, 1965.
Céan’s dictionary entry about Roldán builds on Palomino’s work, using anecdotes of uncertain origin to construct an image of Roldán as a woman who conformed to societal expectations. Many of the anecdotes Ceán includes have been subsequently disproven, but his essay influenced later writers’ assessments of Roldán’s character and her output. Originally published in 1800 (Madrid: Viuda de Ibarra).
García Olloquí, María Victoria. La Roldana, escultora de cámara. Seville, Spain: Diputación Provincial de Sevilla, 1977.
This short text was the first monograph devoted entirely to the sculptor. The author gathered together information primarily from Sevillian sources to build on Roldán’s then limited biography.
García Olloquí, María Victoria. La Roldana. Seville, Spain: Guadalquivir Ediciones, 2000.
A large-format text which complements the author’s earlier study. The text includes large photographs of works both confirmed and attributed to Roldán.
Hall-van den Elsen, Catherine. “Luisa Roldán.” In Dictionary of Women Artists. Edited by Delia Gaze, 1192–1194. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
This brief biographical sketch in English includes references to current understandings and (then unpublished) discoveries about Roldán’s later life in Madrid and Rome.
Hall-van den Elsen, Catherine. Fuerza e intimismo: Luisa Roldán, escultora 1652–1706. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 2018.
A comprehensive monograph and documentary corpus devoted to the sculptor’s life and work, drawing together information gathered from historical and more recent texts. Roldán’s socioeconomic status is discussed to facilitate an understanding of her day-to-day existence. The text is supported with copious footnotes and illustrated with color photographs of both well-known and less familiar works in public and private collections. A documentary corpus with transcripts of archival and other resources is appended to the text.
Montoto, Santiago. “El casamiento de la Roldana.” Boletín de la Academia Sevillana de Buenas Letras, 4.15–16 (1920): 113–120 and 144–148.
Montoto published the transcripts of the interviews Roldán, her future husband Luis Antonio de los Arcos, and witnesses underwent to gain ecclesiastical permission to marry without her father’s permission. Verbatim records of interview provide unique insight into her strength of character and her tenacity in the face of paternal opposition. Montoto enhances the drama of the documented event by recreating the moment in which the young couple exchanged their vows.
Palomino De Castro y Velasco, Antonio Acisclo. Lives of the Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors. Translated by Nina Ayala Mallory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Palomino’s compendium of well-known Spanish artists provided the basis of our knowledge of Roldán’s life. Palomino is the only biographer who knew her and her husband personally. Some of the dates cited are incorrect, a common error shared by many contemporary biographers. Original edition by Antonio Acisclo Palomino de Castro y Velasco 1715–1724, El museo pictórico y escala óptica. Vol 3, El Parnaso español pintoresco laureado: Con las vidas de los pintores, y estatuarios eminentes españoles (Madrid: Bedmar).
Proske, Beatrice Gilman. “Luisa Roldán at Madrid.” Connoisseur Part 1.624 (1964a): 128–132.
Gilman Proske’s groundbreaking series of three journal articles alerted English-speaking scholars to the richness of Roldán’s work. The first article references unpublished letters written by Roldán to two Spanish kings and two queens.
Proske, Beatrice Gilman. “Luisa Roldán at Madrid.” Connoisseur Part 2.625 (1964b): 199–203.
The second and third articles on this subject study Roldán’s works in terracotta, including three in the collection of the Hispanic Society of America, New York.
Proske, Beatrice Gilman. “Luisa Roldán at Madrid.” Connoisseur Part 3.626 (1964c): 269–273.
Proske provides valuable glimpses into Roldán’s circumstances in her transcriptions of her letters to two kings and a queen, the tone of which alternates pride in her achievements and humble petitioning. The documents are presented with clarity and empathy, although their interpretation tends to present her in isolation as a victim of fortune rather than one of a multitude of artisans and artists who shared similar deprivations in the courts of Carlos II and Felipe V. The articles are supported with a comprehensive bibliography.
Ximénez, Andrés. Descripción del Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial. Madrid: Antonio Marín, 1764.
Ximénez included a brief biography of Roldán in his Descripción del Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial. The biographical details are identical to those published by Palomino, but whereas Palomino extolled Roldán’s Nazareno, Ximénez praised her St Michael, declaring that its perfection could compete with antiquity’s most celebrated works.
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