View of Bermeo
Madrid, 11/02/1746-Madrid, 14/02/1799
Oil on copper
61.5 x 83.2 cm
Luis Paret (bottom left hand corner)
Last quarter of the 18th century
Acquired thanks to the sponsorship of BBK and the support of the Friends of the Museum in 2017
To our knowledge, View of Bermeo, signed and dated in 1783, is the first view that Paret painted, and is also considered to be the one that preceded all the others. It corresponds to number 215 -the numeration that still appears on the front of the painting- in the inventory of works conserved by the Prince of Asturias in the Casita de Abajo (House of the Prince), where it must have been paired with another similar view which was painted during a storm, instead of during low tide like this one.
Paret depicts what used to be known as "cay" or "small harbour", which is currently the old harbour of Bermeo (Bizkaia). To paint it, the artist placed his easel on the right-side pier at the mouth of the bay, today the Venancio Nardiz pier, specifically in the place where the Néstor Basterretxea sculpture The Wave is located. From there he could catch sweeping views of the town, which peered out over the harbour atop a cliff.
This scenic view starts with Gothic church of Santa Eufemia, located on the left side of the composition, then moves on to the Ercilla house-tower in the centre, and finally reaches the ruins of Santa María de la Atalaya church on the right side. Built of sandstone in the Gothic style, this church, which has been documented as far back as the early 14th century, had been one of the most impressive religious buildings in Bizkaia because of its size (84 metres long and 55 wide) and was the venue where the meetings of the town's guilds and brotherhoods were held. With its Latin cross layout, it had three naves, a main transept, numerous chapels and sacristies and two belfries, as well as four entrances located at the cardinal points. The church was seriously damaged in the fires in 1504 and 1722, and it finally fell into ruin in the late 17th century.
According to Juan E. Delmas, "the vaults [of Santa María de la Atalaya church] collapsed in 1776, so mass has not been held there since 9 February 1784, when the decorations, images and other treasures were moved to the parish church in the Nuestra Señora de la Atalaya hermitage." For this reason, on 12 June 1782, an edict was issued "to halt worship in this church, and the decision was taken to reform the nearby Santa Eufemia church," which had also been declared in ruins since 1780. In 1784, Juan Martín de Uriberrondo "recognised the church... and was appointed to tear it down so its good materials could be reused." The tower was saved from the ruins, and it is easily recognisable in Paret's view, but given the risk of collapse it finally had to be torn down in 1853. It is known that some remains of this church survived until 1859.
Likewise, with regard to Santa Eufemia church, on "23 April in the year 1782 the tower of the parish church of Santa Eufemia del Castillo began to be demolished, since it was threatening ruin, and Mr Joaquin de Uriarte and Mr Manuel de Aurrecoechea were hired by the village, as stated on the deed signed before Santiago de Barandica, royal scribe of this borough: the new one was begun on 17 June of that same year." On 17 June of that year, construction began on the new tower following a design made by master Gabriel de Capelastegui "and it concluded on 11 July of 1783 and the parish functions were transferred to Santa Eufemia on 16 February 1784." The cross was placed on the tower on 1 August 1783, and as mentioned above, mass once again began to be held in Santa Eufemia on 16 of February 1784-although Delmas cited 9 February.
In the painting, one can clearly make out how the Santa Eufemia tower is in the midst of construction, with the belfry half-finished. Therefore, given the advanced state of the tower's construction, and bearing in mind that it was finished in July 1783, we can assume that Paret was in Bermeo starting his tour in the first half of that same year. Even though his presence in the village could be moved back to 1782, the advanced state of construction on the tower, the date of the work and the painter's preference for working outdoors in favourable weather conditions mean that we can posit that Paret started it in the spring-summer of 1783.
Due to its artistic quality, View of Bermeo was used as a model in the creation of an exquisite table top made of onyx, chalcedony, serpentine and other precious and semiprecious stones, a conversion undertaken by the Buen Retiro Royal Laboratory of Hard Stones most likely during the last years of this institution under the oversight of Luis Poggetti. (Javier Novo)
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