Catalunya 1400

The International Gothic Style

Exhibition from 29 March to 15 July 2012

Bishope seeks artist

Rafael Destorrents, alias Rafael Gregori

Missal of Saint Eulalia,
The Last Judgement
Capítol de la Catedral de Barcelona
Arxiu Capitular © Guillem F-H

The job

On 8 March 1403, when the book illustrator Rafael Destorrents accepted the job of illustrating and decorating a missal for liturgical use in Barcelona cathedral for Bishop Joan Ermengol, he was taking the first step towards producing one of the great works of Catalan miniature art: the missal that takes the name of Saint Eulàlia and which contains a full-page illustration of the Last Judgement and a total of 18 historiated initials, in association with other elements of border decoration. The book brought together the two cathedral’s dedications, the Holy Cross and Saint Eulàlia, along with all the known Barcelona saints. The Last Judgement is a familiar theme but one that is exquisitely and delicately rendered here, with very unusual and profoundly original forms. This is an exceptional book, in keeping with the stature of its patron, Joan Ermengol, who in 1398 had been appointed Bishop of Barcelona by Pope Benedict XIII, at the request of none other than the Catalan King Martin the Humane, with whom he was directly connected. With this commission, the bishop was continuing the custom of many patrons of the time and reflecting the motivation that led many representatives of royalty, the urban elites and the church hierarchy to commission work from the most renowned masters, which was the use of works of art as elements of prestige.

The works of the artistic period known as the ‘International Gothic Style’ reveal a refined and painstaking art that combines observation of nature with stylisation. This aesthetic universe, with its aristocratic overtones, could express the desire of patrons to bolster their image and their government at a moment of political and religious conflict.

Prestige, piety and aesthetic enjoyment

Ermengol found in Rafael Destorrents, alias Rafael Gregori, the ideal artist for what he wanted, which, like all the patrons of the time, was basically prestige, piety and aesthetic enjoyment.

Paying for a work for the cathedral was a way of demonstrating his status as bishop and of perpetuating his memory with a sumptuous object that would enrich the heritage of Barcelona cathedral. Perhaps, through this work, Ermengol hoped to expiate his guilt and prepare the way for his salvation. The representation of the Last Judgement is an allusion to the general concern of the period for avoiding the cruel tortures of hell and attaining glory. Although it might seem that the values of prestige and piety would be a priority in the commission, we can imagine the aesthetic pleasure it must have produced to have a work of such beauty in one’s hands.

Rafael Destorrents

The choice of Rafael Destorrents was not an idle one. He must have been at least 28 years old when he was hired to decorate the book and probably already had an established career as a miniaturist. He came from a family of 14th-century illustrators and painters and, although he could have begun his training with his father, he must have come across other artistic models later. What’s more, there were two things about him that must have made him a particular favourite with the bishop: his devotion and his skill as an artist. His devotion materialised in his entering the church community, as shown by his ordainment in 1405 as subdeacon, deacon, presbyter and beneficiary on the monastery of Pedralbes. His skill as an artist is amply demonstrated in his images for the missal and vouched for by the many commissions he received from the city councillors and possibly also from King Martin the Humane.

Technical data
Artist  Rafael Destorrents, alias Rafael Gregori
Title Missal of Saint Eulalia, The Last Judgement
Date 1.403
General classification Book with miniatures
Material / Tecnique Parchment
Dimensions 34,3 x 26,5 cm
Work conserveted in Capítol de la Catedral de Barcelona, Arxiu Capitular