The Carthusian Monastery of Granada is one of the treasures of Spanish baroque from the start of the 16th century until the onset of Neoclassicism at the end of the seventeen hundreds.
Its history dates back to a time prior to the conquest when the monastery of the Paular de Segovia reached an agreement to establish another convent, yet without knowing where they wanted to place it. The project got off the ground in 1513 when Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, the Great Captain (Gran Capitán) decided to establish it in one of his almunias (a type of Andalusian rural building) in Granada, the Pago de Aynadamar. Disagreements between the Order and the Gran Capitán determined the move to different location, on the same estate in 1516, now without financial help from the Fernández de Córdoba family. Now without financing, the work took three centuries, without it having been finished by the time of the ecclesiastical confiscations of Mendizábal in 1836.
Today, what is preserved is only a small part of the Cartuja complex; a church, the old small cloister and the common rooms which form an impressive amalgam of construction over different time periods and styles.
The monastery is accessed through a rich Plateresque doorway, giving way to a large atrium decorated with a good sampling of Granada cobblestone work done in 1677. A large staircase leads up to the Ionian façade of the church, the statue San Bruno, the founder of the order.
The periphery of the church was started in the middle of the 16th century, although the main effort for this part was the first third of the following century, with the graceful tower of the complex, the only one of four that were initially planned to be built.
The entrance to the monument was accomplished through the Claustrillo (small cloister), built halfway through the 17th century. It is only a single floor of semicircular galleries, that four chapels are connected to, with two of them being home to noteworthy baroque sculptures: the Virgen del Rosario by Risueño and the famous Ecce Homo made of terracota by the brothers García. This courtyard was initially decorated with rich iconography of canvases glorifying their martyrs, some painted by Vicente Carducho and others by the lay brother Juan Sánchez Cotán. Today divided into different rooms of the complex, the Claustrillo is nearly an art gallery of these great painters from the first baroque period, related to the Carthusian order.
Lay brother Juan Sánchez Cotán is the main artist of the Refectory. It was built between 1531 and 1550 in the gothic style and covered with ribbed vaults. A cross in trompe l’oeil dominates the front, along with a canvas of the Last Supper, very appropriately for a dining room in a monastery, as well as a variety of other paintings glorifying the Carthusian martyrs, some painted by Vicente Carducho and others by Sánchez Cotán himself.
Right next to it is the hall known as the Sala de Profundis del Noviciado de Legos (Anterefectory of the Novitiate of Lay Brothers). Its reredos of San Pedro and San Pablo, with three other canvases, decorate the hall.
Interior of the Carthusian Monastery
The work of Carducho is located in the following halls. It mainly narrates scenes from the life of the holy founder of the order and of the martyrdom suffered by the Carthusians at the hands of Henry VIII’s England.
The Claustrillo also includes the chapter of friars and lay brothers, which is one of the oldest parts of the complex, and the monks’ hall, the Sala Capitular.
The interior of the church was finished in 1662 with excessively ornate baroque plasterwork with a myriad of heavy polychromatic plasterwork with corbels and mouldings. Its nave is divided into three parts; the first is shorter and more understated, reserved for the people. The second part or chancel of lay brothers, with a marvellous door featuring inlay and bevelled glass, was made in 1750 by Granada lay brother José Manuel Vázquez. The canvases by Sánchez Cotán of the Baptism of Christ and Rest on the Flight into Egypt. The third and predominant part is the chancel for monks, with canvases of the Virgin Mary, by Pedro Atanasio Bocanegra. This complete Marian series of pieces is directly derived from the Cano series featured in the Cathedral.
The arms of the transept and the apse a virtually an art gallery in situ, with four pieces of the Passion of Christ from Sánchez Cotán and another six Marians by Bocanegra.
The later and most surprising areas are masterpieces of the Spanish Baroque period: the Tabernacle and the Sacristy.
The Tabernacle of the Cartuja is a extremely lavish piece. Its solemnity stems from the use of polychromatic marble, which is home to some excellent sculptures: Maria Magdalene by Duque Cornejo, Saint Joseph de Mora, and Saint John the Baptist by José Risueño. The dome is an allegory glorifying the order, the monastic life and the Eucharist: San Bruno with guardianship of a world, next to the Holy Trinity. In the centre there is a lavish tabernacle made from polychromatic marble, the most felicitous expression of these types of altars focused on Granada art.
The Sacristy is a masterpiece of Granada’s Baroque period. Its uniqueness lies in its brave use of plaster decoration. The black and white flooring, the ochre marble from Lanjarón in the base and the inlaid containers by lay brother José Manuel Vázquez. The arches on the edges accentuate the illusion of expansive space and they added strong contrasts of light: white, blue and golden hues, similar in a way to the palatal decoration of the Alhambra.