Luisa Roldán: Story of the First Female Sculptor of Spain

Luisa Roldán, a Spanish sculptor from Baroque who left behind several artists of the time, including his father & husband. Here’s her story.

Luisa Roldán

Through time, we understood that there was an abundance of marvellous and intelligent craftsmanship in the seventeenth century due to the two great art movements- the Baroque and the Classicism. The techniques, Naturalism and Caravaggism, dominated the dominant period of the epic art movement of baroque with sensuous feelings and emotional exuberance on the canvas to show us the reality and true sensibility of life. The period showed us some of the incredible forms of craftsmanship that scholars are still besotted with. And we are more prompt to find newer elements and things from the period through a series of research. But even though we saw a rise of artistry, perfection, inventions and applications through artists we still read today, there remained numerous artists in dark shadows of what we are unaware of. And I sometimes feel that if we are to bask in the bliss of these beautiful art movements through knowledge, we must find our hidden artists to explain to us the parts we have overlooked. So, during the hot season of constantly exploring art from some new angles, I have made up my mind to show you the artists, which we lost in the heavy binds of history. And amidst this series of the less famous ones, we have our first woman sculptor from Spain, Luisa Roldán.

Since the opening of opportunities to women artists began in the seventeenth century, we know that the number of successful women artists has increased significantly. Apart from portraits and genre paintings, they chose to specialize in a wide range of artistic disciplines. And one among them was Luisa Ignacia Roldan. She went by the name La Roldana, which derives from Seville. Let me narrate her story to you.

Life of Luisa Ignacia Roldan.

In the family workshop established by La Roldana’s father, Petro Roldan, her older sister Maria and her two brothers helped produce the sculptures while Francisa painted them. Her mother was Teresa de Mena y Villavicencio. The earlier remark of her training started from this workshop, which soon revolved around Luisa’s numerous commissions for religious sculptures of polychromed wood and terracotta in later years. We do not know much about her childhood and early life. But we do know two words- her birth, which is in 1652 and her marriage. She was married at just fifteen to Luis Antonio de los Arcos, a sculptor.

An oft-repeated anecdote indicates that Roldán’s skill was superior to her father’s. For the cathedral in Sevilla, Petro was commissioned to produce a statue of St. Ferdinand, but it did not satisfy the patrons. After a few modifications of her father’s work, it delighted the cathedral chapter, which thought it was a completely new sculpture. With the spread of her fame, Luisa Roldán attracted Cristóbal Ontaón’s attention. In 1692, Ontañón brought Luisa and her husband to Madrid and presented them to Charles II, king of Spain. The monastery at El Escorial soon commissioned a statue of St. Michael. The crown appointed her sculptor as a court sculptor on June 21, 1695, retroactive to her arrival in Madrid, with a stipend of 100 ducats per year.

Luisa Roldán received numerous commissions when she was thirty. However, it is heartbreaking to read Beatrice Gilman Proske’s intimate description of the hardships that Roldan, her husband, and their two young children faced in the following few years as a result of the severe economic crisis of the country that affected even Charle’s court’s food supply. However, amidst these hardships, Roldan produced a generous amount of sculptures to maintain the family.

Under Philip V, Charles’ successor, she continued to produce wooden-freestanding sculptures, relief sculptures, and small polychrome terracotta groups. These were her speciality among the sculptures.

Sculptures Commissioned by Luisa Roldán.

One of the crucial works of the Roldan includes a carved wooden statue of Christ Bearing the Cross. The sculpture showed us the faith behind the existence of Christ and the pain he suffered while being in the human form. If you look closely, there is an arrested motion, displayed through the body of Christ. Further, the fine details of the drapery, muscles and even the blood spill are clear, which is also the point of attention. Roldan’s naturalistic use of colour depicts the realism of the event rather than creating any symbolism here.

Luisa Roldán Sculpture Christ Bearing the Cross

Another crucial work by Luisa Roldán was The Death of Saint Mary Magdalene, which showcases the standard still-life elements with the saint herself, two large angels and a pair of cherubs. Further, it includes Mary’s scourge, a skull and a book with a lizard, snake, owl and two rabbits nibbling on the grass with some flowers. Roldan used clarity in her sculpture with bright colours and a great deal of gold, creating a naturalism in her work. Further, the sculpture displays fine drapery, rhythmic lines and other details showing the perfection of Roldan.

The Death of Saint Mary Magdalene by Luisa Roldán

Other noteworthy sculptures by Roldan include The Annunciation, The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine and The Education of the Virgin.

The Education of the Virgin Luisa Roldán

Final Words.

With the gallery of Luisa Roldán, we saw exquisite work through her sculptures. She never missed producing emotions, naturalism and motion through her sculptures. By virtue of her talent, she was a real gem in the seventeenth century!

Frequently Asked Questions.

Who was Luisa Roldán?

Luisa Ignacia Roldán, popularly known as La Roldana, was a Spanish sculptor from the Baroque period. She was the first female sculptor of Spain and was known to produce wooden-freestanding sculptures, relief sculptures, and small polychrome terracotta groups.

When was Luisa Roldán born?

Luisa Roldán was born in 1652 to Petro Roldan and Teresa de Mena y Villavicencio, a sculptor and homemaker.

What are some of the famous sculptures of Luisa Roldán?

Some of the famous sculptures of Luisa Roldán are The Death of Saint Mary Magdalene, The Entombment of Christ, and Christ Bearing the Cross.

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