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SANTA MARIA LA MAYOR IN TORO
Preserving the Portada de la Majestad in Santa María la Mayor
Situated on a cliff at the edge of the fortified city of Toro, the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria overlooks the narrow, jagged streets of the city as well as the winding Duero River and the fertile plans beyond. Its construction began in the middle of the twelfth century and lasted for about a century. Its most famous feature is the grand western portal, known as the Portada de la Majestad, completed in 1240.
The portal celebrates the glory of the Virgin and includes more than 125 individual figures in its iconographic repertoire. The lower portion of the portal follows a mature Romanesque design. Above, the composition reflects the influence of Gothic prototypes from Notre Dame in Paris, imported perhaps via sculptural workshops active at Burgos during this period. In the fifteenth century a chapel was built around the portal, effectively enclosing it and protecting the rich polychromy from exposure to the elements. Following the collapse of its roof in the nineteenth century, the chapel and the portal were closed off. In 1941 the portal was reopened, which accelerated its deterioration for almost 50 years.
HOW WE HELPED
From 1987 to 1998, WMF worked to conserve the Portada de la Majestad. The project included extensive historical research, analysis of techniques and materials used for the various layers of polychromy, a comprehensive conservation assessment of the portal itself, and an exchange program between young conservators from both Spain and the United States. This research provided a fuller understanding of the composition of materials utilized over time, the condition of the polychrome layers, and allowed review of the best conservation options to incorporate the knowledge gained from the studies.
The original medieval polychromy was found to be in excellent condition over 80 percent of the sculpted surface. Where this original layer was damaged or destroyed, conservators preserved it by using a technique, style, and color very similar to the original. The program at Toro was a model of collaboration between experts and conservation trainees from Spain and other countries.
WHY IT MATTERS
Carved by anonymous craftsmen, the Portada de la Majestad is a masterpiece that demonstrates the local and international influences active in the birth of Gothic art in Spain. Shortly after its completion in the mid-thirteenth century, a new chapel was constructed to the west, encompassing the western portal and thereby protecting it from the elements. Not only did the sculpture of the portal survive magnificently, but the original, brilliant medieval polychromy that adorned the stone surfaces of the portal—a fragile skin of pigment—also survived almost wholly intact.
Such polychromy is known to have been common on Romanesque and Gothic sculpture, but practically no examples of such magnitude and completeness from this period have survived anywhere in Europe. The extent and freshness of the Portada de la Majestad's polychromy provide a rare and breathtaking glimpse of the full beauty of a Gothic portal, and make it especially valuable to scholars, historians, conservators, and art lovers all over the world.