The Cathedral of Toledo

Toledo Cathedral - ranked among the greatest Gothic structures in Europe.

The Christian presence in Toledo is most easy to see because it is still there today. Certainly the most visible product of this new leadership is the massive Gothic cathedral rising white and high in the center of the low, brown Muslim city. The cathedral, ranked as one of the finest in the world behind St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican, Notre Dame in Paris, and St. Paul's in London, was begun in 1226 on the site of the demolished Great Mosque and constructed in the tradition of the cathedrals and churches of France. Christianity has seen the advent of many styles in Toledo, among them Late Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque, but certainly the most typical and visible of these is Classic Gothic.

The principles driving the Great Cathedral are simple: if God is light, light should fill His house. Former Mudejar styles of construction didn't allow much light to enter buildings because the walls were the primary support structures of the buildings. To allow the opening of large windows in the walls, a new style of construction had to be found...and so the Gothic arch was born. But this arch, in time, would begin to pull apart because of the horizontal force the walls created, and so the flying buttress, a contrary force, became the identifying mark of Gothic architecture. The Cathedral of Toledo is divided into five sections, the center the highest, with the Choir and Great Altar arranged linearally in the center section. The Spanish cathedral has the Choir blocking a direct view into the Great Altar because of economic reasons (a greater number of pricey tombs could be accommodated with this arrangement), and it also, in French tradition, has a perfectly circular window ("el roseton") that represents the eye of God. The Cathedral of Toledo's original architects are not known, but we do know that it was, in part, finished by Hannequin de Bruselas, who completed the top of the tower (constructed of slate and eight-sided), La Puerta de los Leones (The Lions' Door), and an important chapel on the inside of the cathedral. This is, interestingly, the first time we have known the name of an architect, which shows the changing focus from God to man in the life of Toledo. San Juan de los Reyes

With Classic Gothicism aging and new and powerful kings ruling Spain (Ferdinand and Isabela), a new style called "El Gotico Flamigero" emerged. This is a style characterized by very abundant decoration of Mudejar influence that was often realized by non-Spanish artists. One of these artists was Hannequin de Bruselas who worked on the Cathedral and gave its tower a graceful octagonal peak that wasn't entirely Classic Gothic. The most important of the Flamigero artists in Toledo was Juan Guas, who designed the church San Juan de los Reyes as a burial place for Queen Isabela. This church contains numerous references to the Spanish monarchy including eagles with crowns, Spanish coats of arms, and, finally, granadas in the ceiling of the patio of the church to symbolize the conquest of the city and unification of Spain in 1492. Light, as in the cathedral, is used as a symbolic element, and is more abundant in the front of the church (closer to God). The ceilings of Flamigero buildings are extremely detailed and are often combinations of various stars arranged around the Gothic Arch. The patio in this picture is from San Juan de los Reyes. Notice the flame-like detail (the root of "flamigero" is "flama" or "flame") surrounding the windows and the presence of Mudejar elements in the decoration. Although Isabela was not buried in this church, it serves as a beautiful monument to the Catholic Kings and a perfect example of El Gotico Flamigero. Interestingly, this church takes the secularization of art even further, not just acting as a tribute to the monarchy but also containing a sculpture of Juan Guas in the sanctuary.

This is El Alcazar, a reconstruction of the old military nerve-center of the city of Toledo. 

El Alcazar

Though the current Alcazar is a reconstruction of a 1545 building that was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, it is true to the original and is, perhaps, the best example of the Renaissance in Toledo. The changing focus from God to man in art and society is most obvious in this building, a completely secular tribute to harmony, unity, and sophistication. Carlos V (Carl V) asked a Toledan architect named Covarrubias to construct a new Alcazar over the site of the ancient Muslim fortified zone, and so the Alcazar we see in El Greco's Vista de Toledo came into being. This building was to serve as a safe-haven for the residents of Toledo in times of war, a military headquarters, and a home for the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Covarrubias used the new techniques of proportion and perspective to create a beautifully harmonious building that was to give Toledo a "new image," one of culture, refinement, and humanity. Carlos V asked for a building that would both represent Toledo and dominate the landscape of the city, and it does both.

El Transparente in the Cathedral of Toledo (18th Century) is the last major artistic work both in the Cathedral and in the city as a whole. 

el transparente

The Baroque style came into being as a direct result of the tumultous political and religious situations that were shaking both the Catholic faith and Spain as a whole at the time. Felipe III, IV, and V (Phillip III, IV, and V) found themselves sinking into economic, social, and political crises, and, to make things worse, various new religious ideals were beginning to shake the foundations of the Catholic faith. The church responded with a mass of propoganda, and the government soon followed. This defense of Catholocism gave birth to what is perhaps the gaudiest and most theatrical style of all time: Baroque. Excessive decoration, movement, and a combination of all the arts (painting, sculpture, and architecture) are some Baroque's characteristics, and the two key players in Toledo emerged and practiced their art in the Cathedral. Diego and Narciso Tomei committed themselves to creating an art form in the Cathedral that was so highly visual it would incite an emotional reaction and rally people, intellectual, common, and everyone in between, to support the Mother Faith. This work was so important to Narciso Tomei that he even dared to open a large hole in the roof of the Cathedral so that it would show up properly. As you can see, the Transparente is extremely large and detailed and contains both painting and sculpture that depict various saints, heavenly battles, and Jesus Christ with his mother Mary. When this work was finished 25 bulls were killed in a community party that lasted three days and three nights. Art had come full circle: it had been religious, secularized, and become intensely religious once again. 

el Transparente Toledo spain

The El Transparente altarpiece looks like angels are descending or ascending. It combines heaven and earth.