Medieval Spain

Sighs of relief: Spanish religious artwork rescued from UK auction

Frieze went missing from Alcalá de Henares cathedral at the end of the Spanish Civil War

Spanish police have located a key part of an important 15th-century Spanish religious artwork missing for decades about to be auctioned in London. The alabaster relief, called Templanza (Temperance) by Sebastián de Toledo, is considered one of the finest examples of Spanish Gothic art and was removed from Alcalá de Henares cathedral in the years following the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.

The tomb of Toledo Archbishop Alonso Carrillo de Acuña, where the frieze was positioned.
The tomb of Toledo Archbishop Alonso Carrillo de Acuña, where the frieze was positioned.

The delicately sculpted work was placed in the cathedral at Alcalá de Henares, a historic town some 30 kilometers northeast of Madrid, some time before 1489 by the archbishop of Toledo, Alonso Carillo de Acuña, who died in 1482 and who was, according to the historian Arsenio Lope Huerta, “a very important person in the city.”

The piece was originally located alongside the archbishop’s tomb.

The Archbishopric of Alcalá was informed of the upcoming auction in London and contacted the Spanish Civil Guard, which, along with the Culture Ministry, was able to have the auction postponed in conjunction with Interpol.

The appearance of the piece in London has led to the discovery of another part of the relief in the Arrese Foundation museum in Corella, in Navarre, which has reportedly agreed to cede it to Alcalá cathedral.

The cathedral says it plans to clean and restore the piece, which was damaged during the Spanish Civil War and in its subsequent travels after it went missing. The cathedral has set up a fund asking for €10,645 to buy the work, and has so far collected more than €1,700.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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