Parte 1 de 8 – Juan Bautista de Toledo, Architect and Master Builder at the Monastery of Escorial (1563-1567)   Leave a comment

Juan Bautista de Toledo, Architect and Master Builder at the Monastery of Escorial


Lecturer: José Luis Cano de Gardoqui García

Regardless of the scale of the buildings, XVI and XVII century Spanish architecture shows a clearly traditional approach to the rules and regulations governing work as well as the functions and tasks assigned to the workforce.

As if it were some kind of unbreakable law, the organisation of building work undertaken at a site adhered to a strict hierarchical structure comprising a master builder, aparejador (architect), master masons, masons, carpenters, together with workers skilled in various trades and general labourers.

This general trend also seemed to apply to the Royal Works commissioned by the Royal Court authorities of the period. Although in the Court we may perceive certain innovative aspects in the modern architectural sense, such a paradigmatic example as the case of the Monastery of El Escorial (1562-1586), characterised by a fresh approach compared to contemporary building work (Cano de Gardoqui 2004, pp. 935-937) – regular transport of materials and supply of food for the workforce, tax benefits, legal protection, medical care for the building workers, regular payment of salaries and daily wages, which were higher than those paid elsewhere, etc. – inevitably leads us back to the traditional schematic arrangement in Spanish building of the time. This was dominated by a rigid organisational structure in which masters, officials and labourers performed purely routine functions, in accordance with the strict guidelines laid down by the Master Builder, Prior and Congregation, aparejadores and site managers, ensuring a fixed work schedule was adhered to and guaranteeing that deadlines were met, and that dismissals and wage penalties and so on were applied.

There were, however, many reasons that warranted such an organisational structure since: No project on the scale of El Escorial could afford to forgo the need to organise its craftsmen, and Philip II wisely maintained the basic organisational structure. Indeed, the traditional organisation of a large scale building project was to remain unaltered in Europe throughout the XVII century. (Wilkinson 1984, p.132)

Indeed the sheer architectural scale and complexity of the Monastery – the result of the ideological and multi-functional plan forged by Philip II – reflected the large sums of money involved in the undertaking, far higher than anything invested in other contemporary royal works of the period such as the Alcázar de Madrid, Palacio de Aranjuez, Palacio del Pardo, and so on. (Cano de Gardoqui, 2002, pp. 123-174).

Only the continued presence of a considerable number of workers and public officials – between two and three thousand at the height of the work (1573-1586) – and the existence of a hierarchical organisational structure, could ensure that such a vast amount of architectural and decorative work was completed in such a short period of time, between 1563 and 1584, when the first and last stones were laid, and 1586, when the Basilica was consecrated.

Generally speaking, the administrative organisation of the work at El Escorial in terms of authority and responsibility was headed by the Monarch and the Prior of the Hieronymite Monastery, clearly reflecting the close relationship between royal and ecclesiastical power, which was so prevalent at the time. An intermediate group – Congregation – comprising various departments (Contaduría, (Accountancy), Veeduría (Overseeing), and so on, constituted the administrative apparatus of the Work charged with carrying out the instructions of King and Prior relating to any administrative, building or social matters. Finally, those involved in the actual building work, the organisation of which was highly structured, comprised aparejadores (architects), tenedor de materiales, (building materials manager) mayorales de la Carretería (transport manager), sobrestantes or capataces, (foremen) and temporary labour (masters and labourers), who formed the base of the organisational pyramid of the work, controlled by the figure of the Obrero Mayor (Master Worker). In addition, and answerable only to the Monarch was the Maestro Mayor (Master Builder), a post which was to disappear after 1567.

Despite this rigid arrangement, a series of events were to bring about a change in practice both at the Alcázar de Madrid and other royal works, leading to a flexible and adaptable organisational structure, reflected in the enactment of successive General Legislation in 1563, 1569 and 1572, and Private Legislation (Zarco 1916-1917). These events included the development of the building work itself, the death of Juan Bautista de Toledo, the Maestro Mayor, in 1567, the gradual technical improvement in organisational structure enabling financial and labour problems to be settled, the meteoric rise of the architect Juan de Herrera under the auspices of Philip II as supreme authority over this and other royal works, together with the usual administrative appointment of a Maestro for a particular work, and so on.

These and other factors hindered any single organisation of the intricate administrative structure of El Escorial. By contrast, the idea of condensing the organisational pyramid of the work at three specific moments corresponding to the drafting of the General Legislations, as we propose here, seems to reflect more closely the development of a process which lasted for over thirty years and which witnessed significant changes in the way various positions in the administrative structure and actual building work itself were established, merged or eliminated (figs. 1, 2 and 3).

The importance of this kind of organisational chart does not hinge on absolute values but aims to guide and serve as a valuable tool to propose detailed analysis into architectural aspects in general, as well as the particular case in hand, in the broader context of Royal Works in Spain in the XVI and XVII centuries.

A comparison of these three structures highlights a clear turning point in the history of Spanish architecture; the disappearance of the figure of the Maestro Mayor in the management of a particular building in the area of royal building work under the auspices of Philip II, to give way to the emergence of the figure of the Architect – Royal Architect – reflected in the idea established by Vitrubio and Alberti as a profession distinct from the material and craftsmanship notion of building, and concerned more with a scientific – liberal and humanistic approach – in line with the new perception of Architecture, favouring the project together with a well-defined and rational geometric approach to building design.

Organisational charts 2 and 3, showing the General Regulations of 1569 and 1572 respectively, in contrast to chart 1 (Regulation of 1563), reflect the absence of the figure of the Maestro Mayor and demonstrate the emerging importance of the Aparejador (architect) – masonry, construction work and carpentry – and the increasing involvement in administration and construction of the Prior and Congregation, whose importance was established after 1572.

The first chapter of the General Regulation of that year established the figure of the Prior as the highest authority over the work at the Monastery of El Escorial. It was the Prior who delegated responsibilities in the building and administrative organisation: appointment of positions of responsibility – architects -; executive posts, and so on. The power of the Congregation was also strengthened, its various functions now clearly defined (Accounting, Overseeing). It is also significant to note that at around this period – the time of the Priorate of Fray Hernando de Ciudad Real (1571-1575) –religious rather than civil considerations prevailed in the organisational structure of the work (AGS CySR. 258, f.96, 108), despite the protests of Juan de Herrera, reflected in his annotations to the Regulations of 1572 (Cervera 1986, p.47).

The death of Juan Bautista de Toledo – Maestro Mayor of the work at El Escorial, the Alcázar de Madrid and Palacio del Pardo – on 19 May 1567, was to have an effect on organisational structure, as it led to the disappearance of this position at these works. It was a position which hitherto had been common in these as well as other areas of traditional Spanish architecture, although one which had been more closely linked to administrative and building affairs rather than the actual theoretical skills –as a designer – of the person himself.

It is significant that in no chapter of the Regulations issued in 1572 concerning El Escorial is there any mention of the Maestro Mayor. After the death of Toledo, this position remained vacant in the work at the Alcázar de Madrid (Barbeito 1992, p. 232-234). Neither Gaspar de Vega, responsible after 1567 for the work on the Alcázar de Madrid in matters related to the actual design, nor Alonso Pimentel in 1573, skilled in design, architecture and sculpture, nor Juan de Valencia architect and pupil of Toledo, charged after 1577 with the administrative duties traditionally performed at the Alcázar by the Maestro Mayor, were ever to be appointed to the post of Maestro Mayor.

Créditos: José Luis Cano de Gardoqui García, James W. P. Campbell, Departamento de Arquitectura Universidad de Cambridge

Referencia: Conference paper, Juan Bautista de Toledo, Architect and Master Builder at the Monastery of Escorial (1563-1567). José Luis Cano de Gardoqui García. Second International Congress on Construction History, Queens’ College, Cambridge University; 29/03-02/04/2006. Ponencia publicada en, Dunkeld, Malcolm. Proceedings of the Second International Congress on Construction History [Volume 1] (pp. 543-559.)


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