The Gayarre Mausoleum by Mariano Benlliure
Marble and bronze for immortality
The mausoleum is comprised of two well-defined parts:
The lower part, made of white Carrara marble, lies on a staircase and simulates a false sarcophagus profusely decorated with child singers carrying phylactery with the names of Gayarres most successful operas, garlands and bucrania. The front features the beautiful figure of Music collapsed on the staircase in mourning with its head supported on the sarcophagus and face hidden from view. On the opposite side, there is an opera curtain hanging to the floor which symbolically falls after the final performance. The valance is engraved with the names of Donizetti and Rossini whose compositions were interpreted by the Roncal-born tenor.
The static composition of the lower part contrasts with the dynamics Benlliure used on the upper part, cast in bronze with the allegoric figures of Harmony and Melody hoisting the tenors figurative coffin in their hands. The coffin is decorated with a bas-relief of putti, floral groups and musical motifs accompanying the inscription: Julián Gayarre 1890. The genie of Fame bends over the sarcophagus supporting its head near the coffin in an attempt to continue to listen to the angels voice, a highly correct psychological detail due to the nickname used for Gayarre.
The sculptors technical mastery is well apparent in this piece as an able interpreter of a language combining classicism, Renaissance sculpture, late Romanticism and modernism all together.
Julián Gayarres mausoleum marked the start of funerary art in Benlliures production and is the only example that does not include an effigy of the deceased as all meaning is manifested through symbolism, as stated by the sculptor himself: its the only piece that does not feature a portrait, the figures tell it all.
Julián Gayarre died in Madrid on 2 January 1890 at the age of 45. Following a massive funeral procession through the streets of the capital city, his body was laid to rest in the Roncal cemetery three days later. Gayarres family, led by his nephew Valentín, commissioned the sculptor Mariano Benlliure (El Grao, Valencia, 1862-Madrid, 1947) with the creation of a mausoleum to cover the tenors tomb. The famous Valencian sculptor was one of the greatest representatives of Spanish sculpture at the turn of the century and had also enjoyed a close friendship with Gayarre which had budded during the Navarran tenors visits to Rome to interpret his major opera successes.
The mausoleum construction process in Rome, where Benlliures study was located, was long and complex. The sculptor finished a sketch in August 1890 and began sculpting in 1891; however, it was not completed until 1897. The main reason for the delay was the need to handle the endless number of commissions received from different official institutions during those years. Yet despite finishing in 1897, it was not installed in the Navarran cemetery until 1901. Proud of his work and with permission from the family, Mariano Benlliure exhibited at different fairs and art exhibitions. It was present at the VI Biennial Circle of Fine Arts Exhibition held in 1898 at the Glass Palace in Madrids Retiro park where it was met with great acclaim: A poem of marble and bronze with endless detailed beauty (El Imparcial, 28-5-1898). In 1900, the mausoleum won the Medal of Honour in Sculpture at the Paris World Fair held at the Grand Palais where Violeta Montoliu, the artists biographer called it a total triumph. After this success, the mausoleum was transferred to Madrid where reigning Queen Maria Cristina showed an interest in installing it in Isabel II Square opposite the Royal Theatre, but the tenors family insisted on bringing it to Roncal where it arrived in 1901.
Gayarres mausoleum was installed in the Roncal cemetery in mid-July 1901. Benlliure himself supervised the installation work with moments of great nostalgia upon leaving his creation in the Pyrenees village where he believed it would not be given the attention it deserved. The monument was officially inaugurated on 1 October 1901. One good example of his affection for Gayarre and the importance he placed on this piece was the fact that Mariano Benlliure would personally clean the mausoleum for decades. He shared this work with his disciple Fructuoso Orduna who took responsibility for this task alone following Benlliures death in 1947. After Ordunas death in 1973, the work of art began to show signs of degradation which required successive restorations in 1989-90, 1996 (when it was declared Heritage of Cultural Interest by the Government of Navarre) and 2010.
An extract from a conference offered by professor José Javier Azanza López in the Valley House in Roncal on 19 September 2015