The Royal Chapel (Capilla Real) as far as art is concerned represents the transition from the Medieval to Modern period, just as the Catholic Monarchs represent this for the transformation of Spain. In its composition we can appreciate how the first Renaissance detailing contrasts with the late, already disappearing, gothic style. The monument can be visited on our Guided Tour of the Cathedral and the Royal Chapel.
The founding of the Royal Chapel takes us back to 1504, as confirmed in Queen Isabella of Spain’s will on October of the same year, a month before her death. In the beginning, the planning of the building, right in the heart of Granada, was left to Enrique de Egas in 1506, who, influenced by Cardinal Cisneros, committed to creating this extremely austere building. Furthermore, it was decided that the chapel should form part of the future Cathedral of Granada both physically as well as aesthetically.
King Ferdinand however wanted to make the chapel an innovative building, rich and far from the simplicity imagined by Cisneros, a project that had the backing of the Count of Tendilla. The chapel ended up being a fusion with rich ornamentation on the inside, with a sober architectural style, resulting in a pioneering combination for the Spanish Renaissance.
It was institutionally completed in 1517. It is worth pointing out as far as its ornamental richness that the work carried out in the Tomb of the founding kings by Domenico Fancelli; later the work of Bartolomé Ordoñez for Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad, as well as the series of work done after the arrival of Charles V, which was influenced by theories of new humanism. The early contributions were by artists such as Fancelli, Ordoñez, Bigarny and Jacobo Florentino, although they would be reinforced by the work of two of the main artists from the Granada School of the 16th century, Pedro Machuca and Diego de Siloé.
Inside the chapel you can see some of the interior walls almost completely devoid of decoration, adorned with a wide frieze alluding to the Conquest of Granada, the death of the Monarchs and the completion of the chapel, in Isabelian gothic style. Just like on the building’s exterior, the royal heraldry can be seen repeatedly throughout the chapel.
Inside, it stands out both for its novelty and artistic mastery; the tombs, the main grille and main reredos are true benchmarks in Spanish and international art.
The Tomb of the Catholic Monarchs
The tomb of the Catholic Monarchs was sculpted by the Italian Domenico Fancelli and is a particularly unique piece as far as funeral sculpture during the Spanish Renaissance was concerned.
On the slabs, the reclining figures of the Catholic Monarchs presents Ferdinand to us as a soldier, with a sword, cuirass and cape. Isabella, with her courtier attire, is presented without any commanding characteristics. On the other hand, the tombs of Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad work by sculptor Bartolomé Ordoñez, show a more ostentatious style and make heavier use of sculptural and sensitive elements.
Main Grille of the Royal Chapel
This wonderful grille is the work of master grille creator Bartolomé (Bartolomé de Jaén), one of the all-time most important representatives inthis field.
A large coat of arms of the Catholic Monarchs accompanied by the characteristic emblems of the yolk and arrows takes up the second middle section. On the sides, the two Apostles with their characteristic features and on the upper part of the gapped cresting, topped off in this case with scenes of the Passion of Christ that Bartolomé himself decided to add even though it was not part of the original idea. All of this was embossed and chiselled on both sides and accompanied by stunning colour work that makes it particularly impressive.
Main Reredos of the Royal Chapel
On this reredos, which is the work of French Sculptor Felipe Bigarny, we can appreciate the inclusion of a collection of reliefs that recall the surrender of Granada. Placed on the lowest part of the reredos, at the front of the altar, we are presented with the Surrender of Granada (the royal party and Boabdil handing over the keys at the Puerta de la Justica). On both sides, two ledges hold up the praying figures of Ferdinand and Isabella, safeguarded by St. George and Saint James, patron protectors of the monarchs.
Inside the chapel there are many other interesting pieces, many of which done by renowned local artists, such as is the case for the doors of the sacristy, a piece by Jacobo Florentino.
Treasure of the Sacristy
The Catholic Monarchs, and more specifically Isabella, wanted some of her personal objects placed next to their bodies in the chapel. To do so, a museum was opened in the sacristy were some of the main pieces on display such as Ferdinand’s sword or the middle of Isabella’s crown.
The collection of paintings is also noteworthy since the queen’s Flemish panel painting collection was the largest at the time. Among these paintings we find pieces from the first Flemish school (by artists such as Rogier van der Weyden or Hans Menling) next to other pieces from the Spanish school (for example by Bartolomé Bermejo) and the Oración del Huerto, attributed to Boticelli.