In terms of sculpture, as in many other artistic areas, Málaga became dependent on nearby Granada after the Reconquest of the city by the Catholic Monarchs. During the Baroque period (17th to 18th centuries), post-tridentine religious exaltation and subsequent demand for works to supply the new brotherhoods of the times was to have a decisive influence. The work of the distinguished sculptor Pedro de Mena y Medrano (1628 - 1688) alone was sufficient to supply the whole of that century and the next. This Granada artist, who travelled to Málaga to design the choir stalls in our Cathedral, would live and end his days in our hospitable city and, naturally, he carried out a great number of religious works. Some of them were of great importance such as his renowned image “Cristo de la Buena Muerte” (Christ of the Good Death), which sadly disappeared in 1931. This piece was of such quality that, even today, the people of Málaga continue to call the present-day carving (a magnificent sculpture by Palma Burgos) the “Cristo de Mena”. In the 18th century, Mena was followed by other sculptors of stature such as Fernando Ortiz, to whom we owe the artistic legacy of the image of Christ, Ntro. Padre Jesús Orando en el Huerto (Our Father Jesus, Praying in the Garden) or Our Lady Virgen de los Servitas (Our Lady of the Servites), but above all this was a period in which many anonymous works appeared. A particular example are what is commonly referred to in Spanish as “ dolorosas ” (plural form of Our Lady of Sorrow). They are figures of intimate pain and self-absorption, generally depicted with joined and imploring hands, and which was to become the authentic “Málaga school” of religious imagery. Some works in this style have been preserved to the present day such as the images belonging to the Brotherhoods of Dolores del Puente, “Mena” and La Pasión. Others, though somewhat transformed, still conserve their original spirit as is the case of the “ Dolorosas ” of the Brotherhoods of San Juan and La Expiración.
During the 1931 uprisings and subsequent burning of churches, almost all the Brotherhoods’ heritage was destroyed. Artists from Granada and Málaga began to restore Málaga's lost heritage once more during the post-war period. In this period, Francisco Palma Burgos sculptured the previously mentioned Cristo de la Buena Muerte, though he also left us works such as the Cristo de la Humillación (Christ Humiliated) (and the group called La Piedad, i.e. Mercy and a tribute to the memory of his father, Francisco Palma García, also a maker of religious images who died during the Spanish Civil War).
However, times change and the 1960s brought new ideas to the Brotherhoods. The change in aesthetic tastes now made Seville the place to which the leaders of the Brotherhoods directed their gaze and artists such as Buiza Fernández, Castillo Lastrucci, Álvarez Duarte or Dubé de Luque became the favourite makers of religious images. Expressive and sweet but not over melodramatic images were replaced by others of great realism, which depicted the harshest elements of The Passion. Fortunately, all trends continue to coexist peacefully in Málaga, and there is even some Levantine art (such as the magnificent works of Mariano Benlliure: the images of Christ of the Brotherhoods of Expiración and Esperanza).
There is a huge difference between the first “andas” (rudimentary portable platforms) with hardly any decoration that were used from the 15th century to the beginning of the 20th to the monumental thrones that became popular after the Spanish Civil War. The fact is that these oversized and enormously heavy constructions have become the model for the Málaga throne. Built mainly of carved and gilded wood, their main characteristic lies in the combination of volumes which seeks to play with the light and shade to offer a true “walking alter piece”. The Granada artist Luis de Vicente contributed decisively to this popularised style of the throne during the 1920s although his work, unfortunately lost, was of such quality that it influenced many post-war sculptors and particularly his disciple, Pedro Pérez Hidalgo. However, the change in tastes that came with the 1960s was also decisive. Apart from reducing the pieces' dimensions, a logical step in those Brotherhoods doing penitence in the Cathedral and who needed thrones that could pass through the temple gates, the thrones were now made in gold and with the same degree of detailed design and as the canopies.
The art of working with gold, silver and other precious metals is synonymous with Holy Week. From the jewels that adorn the images to the thrones on which they are carried in procession as well as the articles that some of the penitents carry during the procession, Baroque metal decorations are always present. The silverware production centres were Cordoba and Seville, which are once again prevalent today, especially in the design and volume of the ornamentation: meticulously detailed openwork is the predominant style.
The images of the Virgin and her thrones reflect this art in all its splendour. In addition to their aesthetic and decorative function, all these elements have a practical function; for example, a highly decorated candlestick will serve to hold the candles to illuminate the images.
While it is true that a procession may appear in the streets without any of its embroidered materials, such a sight is not common, especially when you consider that these heavily embroidered pieces confer prestige. Often the tunics for the images of Christ or smocks are embroidered over their entire surface, but it is on the canopies and capes of the Virgin where the most elaborate work is to be found. The embroidery, almost always on velvet, is usually done with gold and silver thread as well as coloured silks. All these pieces are usually placed over cloth or cardboard structures to give them volume, taking forms that are generally inspired by vegetable motifs and in which Baroque, as is always the case in anything to do with Holy Week, is unquestionably the prevailing style.
The spectacular embroidery on the mantles attracts most attention and, in Málaga, these pieces may reach over eight metres in length. Today, embroidery is unquestionably one of the most important facets of Brotherhood art, and both the veteran professionals and the up-and-coming younger members have managed, with their skill, to promote this art and contribute to the quality and quantity of the Brotherhoods’ heritage.