Parte 2 de 8 – Juan Bautista de Toledo, Architect and Master Builder at the Monastery of Escorial (1563-1567)   Leave a comment

With regard to El Escorial, one might be tempted to think that this lack of any Maestro Mayor would lead to a slowing down of the work. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the years following the death of Juan Bautista witnessed a significant increase in the number of contracts and works undertaken (Kubler 1982, pp.199-205 and Cano de Gardoqui 1993, pp. 399 and ss.). This was thanks to the tremendous increase in the number of tasks traditionally assigned to the Aparejador, who rather than merely dealing with officials and labourers or the choice and distribution of materials (Cervera 1985, p. 47), became involved in providing basic design work – although this was executive rather than creative -, moulds and counter-moulds, the workforce, as well as drawing up contracts and working conditions for the piecework.

As regards the importance of the aparejadores, above all in masonry, the Hieronymite historian Fray José de Sigüenza points to how in the years 1569-1570:

(the work at El Escorial) “iba por cuenta del Rey; digo que no la tenían a su cargo destajeros ningunos, sino dos maestros o aparejadores que se llamaban Tolosa y Escalante; a éstos daba el Rey cierto salario, y ellos daban los modelos para sacar la piedra, recibían los sacadores de ella, y los que la asentaban, y eran el todo del negocio”. (Kubler 1982, p. 105).

Sigüenza makes no mention here of one significant aspect concerning the organisation of the work, namely the application of the piecework system to certain areas of the building work, which explains not only the increase in the amount of work carried out but also the fact that from 1567 to 1572 the tasks normally entrusted to the Maestro Mayor were undertaken without any difficulty by the Aparejadores and the Congregation.

Indeed, the piecework system, in contrast to the valuation system for determining the cost for a specific piece of work to be undertaken – a fixed rate subject to a reduction offered by those bidding for the work – and of a stipulated deadline for completion, led to more intense building work in comparison to Tasación (valuation system), since with the piecework system craftsmen were spurred on by the incentive of a contract and specific conditions. They were forced, for instance, to work, shape and set a certain amount of stone for a specific part of the building work – for which they had bid a fixed price, a price acceptable to them as well as to Aparejadores and Congregation, through successive orders of payment during the process of execution. Pieceworkers were thus bound by a fixed price and deadline and not, as was the case in the valuation system, by a mere estimate or quote on the part of the Maestro Mayor for the amount of stone to be worked, a system which might have created uncertainty as to how many days workers might need to be paid depending on the nature of the work – number of craftsmen, materials, tools, and so on, and one which occasionally led to the work of maestros and officials not being proportional to their pay. By contrast in the piecework arrangement, the greater the amount of work and the more quickly this was completed, the higher the pay.

The financial incentive inherent in piecework entails a faster pace in the building work, which was the Philip II’s wish, and that of his Consejo de Arquitectura (Architectural Advisory Committee), Prior and Congregation during the course of the work.

The debate between supporters and opponents of applying one system or another – Piecework and Valuation – was one of the reasons that led in 1565 to a split in the executive commission overseeing the work on the monastery (Cervera, 1986, p. 37; Cano de Gardoqui, 1993, pp. 30-31; Bustamante, 1994, p. 101 and ss.), and between the two aparejadores involved in the masonry work. The Prior and Vicar of the Monastery with the aid of the aparejador Pedro de Tolosa took over the work on the Main Cloister (ABE Carp. II, legs. 39 and 40) At this time, no plans for the Main Cloister existed as yet, its execution being left open to the possible appointment of a master builder by the King. No such appointment was made, however, and in 1569 the first work corresponding to the western section of the Cloister, split into two parts – ten arcades with their vaults – was put out to public tender with the design and conditions laid down by Tolosa and Escalante as aparejadores, to be charged to whichever Master Pieceworker tendered the lowest offer: .the four Lower Cloisters, the offices in the North east of the Monastery (the present day Colegio and Seminar) and the Corredor de Enfermos or Galería de Convalecientes (Hallway of the Convalescents). Juan Bautista de Toledo together with his aparejador, Lucas de Escalante, took charge of the main church, la Iglesia de Prestado, Philip II’s Royal Chambers, the walls of the Niches as well as the windows and the tapestry, Mediodía and Levante vaults. This conflict also led to the gradual removal of the Maestro Mayor from control over building and administrative affairs related to the work.

Although the new organisation of the work in 1565 in theory led to aparejadores following the orders of the Prior and Maestro Toledo respectively, in reality the repeated absence of the Maestro from the work and how he dealt with his aparejador – issuing spoken rather than written instructions -, led to the Prior and Vicar becoming involved in areas of the work entrusted to the Maestro, as was the case in 1565 with the distribution of officials and money for the work on the Royal Lodgings (assigned to Toledo) and the Lower Cloisters (assigned to the Prior), one third being given to Escalante and the other two thirds to Tolosa as aparejador to the Prior (AGS CySR. 260 f. 447).

The problem was not only the unfairness of this distribution but also the fact that henceforth the piecework system was to be applied, as was the case in 1567 for the work on the Lower Cloisters – when Juan Bautista was still Maestro Mayor – and which was by extension to be applied following his death.

The ninth provision in the Regulations of 1563 (Cano de Gardoqui 1993, p. 29) left the decision of what was to be piecework and what not to the Prior and Maestro Mayor. The authority of Juan Bautista initially determined that work on the more important sections of the Monastery – the Second Cloister, Claustro de la Enfermería, the Main Cloister – should be undertaken using the valuation system and the daily rate of pay. In other words, no specific fixed price was to be set for the work until it was concluded. The Maestro was thus able to assess the professional skill of the official in charge – the most qualified and not the one who had set the lowest initial bid (Piecework) -, and payment made to the builders would reflect the quality of the work carried out.

As the valuation system reflected what was a fair price, it proved the best way of ensuring quality in the work and was the system Juan Bautista sought to apply (AGS CySR. 261 f.4 and 258 f. 296), thus establishing a perfectly coordinated team composed of Maestro Mayor and Aparejadores, capable of taking on tasks ranging from design to choice of builders, and including evaluation and rates of pay for the work, thereby avoiding any intervention from Master Pieceworkers.

Since the valuation system lacked any set deadline for the execution of the work and any financial incentive for the workers undertaking it, unaware of the final cost, this procedure led to a slowing down in the pace of the work, contrary to the wishes of the King and the Prior, and less involvement for the Congregation in the construction process.

This would account for the disputes that led to the gradual separation of Juan Bautista from the position of master builder at El Escorial, and indeed the actual disappearance of the position of Maestro Mayor following his death.

With the widespread application of the piecework system at El Escorial and with the work having been widely distributed, it is hardly surprising that the Aparejadores were able to combine the traditional tasks related to their position with those of a Maestro Mayor without any official qualification, both in terms of building – drafting plans, conditions and valuation (AGS CySR. 260 f. 600) – and administrative concerns. The pieceworkers controlled by the Aparejadores take on the task of contracting the respective work, acting as maestros mayores over the teams of officials and labourers under their charge, as well as administrators of their workers’ salaries.

The importance of the Aparejadores soon grew and in 1568 and 1569 serious problems were to arise concerning their compliance to the guidelines laid down by the Congregation, as they tried to ensure the piecework was allocated to the maestros who were their friends by revealing to them the total cost of the work to be carried out prior to its being publicly tendered (AGS CySR. 258, f. 193 and Kubler 1992, p. 60). This clashed with the wishes of the Prior and the Congregation who were keen to award the piecework themselves (AGS CySR. 260 f. 112). This led to the aparejadores either delaying or occasionally even failing to draw up and hand over to the Congregation the designs, conditions and valuations of the piecework to be carried out. This information was crucial in order for the Congregation to know costs – offers and bids – and when a section of work could be finished, as the rates for piecework included the cost of the work and the price and quality of the materials to be used. This was based on a series of reports drawn up by the aparejadores, in turn based on reports issued by permanent public officials resident in the areas from which the raw materials were extracted.

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


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