THE GAUDÍ STATUE OF SANT JORDI, IN "CASA BOTINES"
Manuel CARRIEDO TEJEDO
The coincidence of the placement of Sant Jordi on the building in Leon referred to on the 15th of September 15 1893 with the disease, agony and death of the bishop of Astorga, Juan-Bautista Grau Vallespinós, made impossible the physical presence of Gaudi at so solemn an act, due to which neither was he able to sign the "Casa de Botines” record; and thereafter, the statue remained installed on its pedestal, without major developments, for several decades, until the middle of the twentieth century when its alarming deterioration began to be noticed.
Indeed, the Caja de Ahorros y Monte de Piedad de Leon today integrated within the Caja España purchased the building on October 14th, 1929, inaugurating within it their head office on July 20, 1931. And just twenty years later the first documentary news item appears detailing the care required by sculptures, at a time when the Administrative Board of the Corporation, in Session on 3rd of August 1951, agreed to pay the company 'Marbles Aldeiturriaga " of Leon the invoice corresponding to the “repair of the Sant Jordi stone figure, above the main door” due to a piece of the “upper jaw of the dragon” having been dislodged, and therefore it became necessary to intervene “using iron bars and bathing the stone with a liquid designed to better conserve the same. "
But the truth is that those efforts did not yield the desired result, and furthermore, "despite those precautions, the arm of the figure was dislodged, together with a piece of the spear, and the inside jaw of the dragon," which prompted the adoption of further measures by the Institution, which then halted "the deterioration which, as a result of atmospheric agents, the figure of Sant Jordi suffered on two occasions".
Consequently, the architect from Leon, Mr. Luis Aparicio Guisasola was commissioned on 18th October of 1952, to prepare a report on the state of the sculpture, detailing within that same month "the state of decomposition of the stone, with very deep cracks in the more prominent parts, the head of the saint and the dragon, the arms and legs. " The Administrative Board discussed the subject at the meeting on October 24th, already contemplating the urgency of "disassembly to avoid possible accidents" both for staff and for customers and pedestrians, and on November 21st, after having studied the technical report in great detail, which found it “beyond repair”, agreed, without further delay "to remove the figure of Sant Jordi located on the facade of our corporate building, obtaining the photographs necessary in order to preserve the greatest number of details possible of the same. " Photographs today stored in the Historical Archives which show very clearly indeed the regrettable degradation suffered by the stone.
And it was upon dismantling the sculptural group in December 1952, when the happy discovery was made inside a lead tube containing: the only two drawings in existence today of 'Casa Botines " plan and elevation signed by the master; various copies of the León newspaper “El Campeón” from January and February of 1892, with news on the site that Gaudí eventually worked on; and the infamous “record” of the building, wherein the developers of the building work, Messrs Fernández and Andrés, left detailed records of the construction schedule, as well as those responsible for it, in all its facets.
Whilst in the city there were certainly unfounded rumours circulating about the possible replacement of the old Sant Jordi patron of Catalonia with the Virgen del Camino, patroness of León, which even had an echo in Barcelona, the fact is that at no point is there ever any documentary mention of this initiative within the remit of the Institution, as from the very first moment the governing bodies demonstrated the intention to commission an exact copy of the holy knight of Cappadocia, as manifested in November 1952, ordering the collection of "detailed photographs" and agreeing, in session on March 10, 1953, "to replace the figure of Sant Jordi in the exact reproduction of the one that existed previously."
On the other hand, it is difficult to establish today the origin of the assertion that the second Sant Jordi is the work of the famed Cantabrian sculptor, Victor de los Ríos, who left such a large mark on Leon, because the truth is that existing documentation states that, having reached an initial agreement in August 1953 with the galician sculptor Andrés Seoane who finally could not cope with the commission due to illness, the sculpture was awarded to Madrid sculptor Rafael Garcia Morales, in June 1954, completing the work with obvious delay in July 1955. And it was in the end Seoane himself, now recovered, who was elected by the owning Institution to, whenever he was able, commit the figure to stone, which after further delays was not completed until April 1956.
It was time, therefore, for the statue of the Catalán patron to be once again placed within the facade of the 'Casa Botines ", and according to what we know from precise testimony of the time, mostly collected from the press of the time, the repositioning of Sant Jordi took place between the 2nd and 8th of June of 1956, 2 days prior to the 30th anniversary of Gaudí´s death. And, due to this, those in charge of the Institution also now returned the new sculptural group, not only the primitive lead tube now containing only the “inaugural record” of 1893 and old copies of the “El Campeón” newspaper, as the drawings have remained since then in the Institutions Historical Archive, but also a second cilinder within which they wanted to leave a “brief explanation of the reasons for demolishing the original statue and its substitution with another identical one”, as well as three copies of various newspapers from león: the “Hoja del Lunes” of 4th June 1956 and the dailies “Proa” and “Diario de Leon”, both from 5th June 1956.
The new sculpture was excellently received both in the capital of Leon and elsewhere as evidenced by contemporary newspapers, and even the Board of the Savings Bank wished to expressly record in its meeting on September 18, 1956, with satisfaction, the letter sent by the Catalan association "Friends of Gaudi", congratulating the Institution "on the success of the reproduction."
NEWS IN BRIEF
Gaudi had already shown, in his signed drawing of December 1891, his intention to place the sculptural group of "Sant Jordi and the dragon" on the southern or main facade of 'Casa Botines".
The Catalan maestro could not be present for the positioning of Sant Jordi, on September 15, 1893, as it coincided with the death throes of his friend John-Baptist Vallespinós Grau, bishop of Astorga.
The "first" Sant Jordi was cast by Lorenzo Matamala Piñol, in 1892 and sculpted by Antonio Cantó in 1893, both in Barcelona.
In the mid-twentieth century the stone from which Sant Jordi was sculpted was in such a state of decomposition and cracking to such an extent that it was beyond repair.
The "second" Sant Jordi, exact copy of the first, was cast in Madrid by Rafael Garcia Morales, in 1955 and sculpted by Andres Leon Seoane, in 1956.