Parte 3 de 8 – Juan Bautista de Toledo, Architect and Master Builder at the Monastery of Escorial (1563-1567)   Leave a comment

An effort was made to resolve this situation in the successive Regulations drafted in 1569 and 1572, at the same time as the duties of a new branch of organisation – Veeduría (Overseers) – were laid down and which saw the setting up of a new administrative body which after 1572 became a fully fledged member of the Congregation with the same decision making capacity as that allocated to the post of Contador (Accountant).

The absence of any Maestro Mayor and the need for a person to safeguard the progress of the work and exercise control over the Aparejadores gave rise to the setting up of the post of Veedor (Overseer), initially 1570 to 1572 – linked to the Contaduría (Accounting), a role filled by the Accountant Andrés de Almaguer himself and later by Gracía de Brizuela, who was now given independent powers reflected in the 1572 Regulations (Cano de Gardoqui 1994, p.29): ” El oficio de veedor y proveedor parece que es tener cuenta con ver cómo se trabaja en la fábrica y cómo andan y asisten los aparejadores y sobrestantes y mayorales de la carretería…y hacer maherir carretas y bestias y oficiales y peones… y los que no asistieren en la Fábrica, así como aparejadores y sobrestantes, apartarlos como les pareciere; y asistir en la Congregación, y tener cuenta con hacer proveer los materiales…y dar recaudo a los destajeros.” A short time afterwards, a document signed by Philip II himself established the position of Overseer as having power over the Aparejadores and Superintendentes (Supervisors) even during the absence of the Prior and the Curate (ABE Carp. III l. 58).

This situation clearly reflects to what extent the administrative and building tasks involved in the work at this period were fulfilled without the presence of any Maestro Mayor, culminating in the Royal Warrant of September 14, 1577 (Llaguno 1829, vol. II, pp. 269-270) in which Juan de Herrera’s salary as an architect was increased to 800 ducats “upon condition and obligation that he undertake all duties related to the work and architecture, and any other tasks which may be attributed to his profession”. 400 of these were paid by the Paymaster of the work at the Alcázar de Madrid and the Casa Real del Pardo, the remaining 400 ducats being paid by the Paymaster at El Escorial, without specific mention being made of Herrera as Maestro Mayor for any these works, although he was referred to as architect.

This represented the final separation of the Architect from the position of craftsman builder, Juan de Herrera being the first representative in form and content of what might be termed Architect, although this had in fact existed since March 14, 1567 (Iñiguez 1948, p. 159) when two months on from the death of Juan Bautista, Herrera, who for some time had been serving as Toledo’s assistant in drawing up the plans for the monastery, was awarded an increase which took his salary to 250 ducats per year on condition that he “serve and follow the orders which We or our ministers may issue him with and which relate to his profession, and that he be obliged to reside wherever we shall require and that he discharge those duties wherever they shall be necessary”. In addition to the Royal Warrant, one significant aspect was a footnote stating: Juan de Herrera, architect.

This raises another final matter of interest, namely that the question of the plans for the design of the Monastery may to a certain extent, together with the administrative and building concerns already addressed, account for the gradual disappearance of the of the figure of Maestro Mayor at El Escorial.

Here the unusual position of Juan Bautista de Toledo within the context of Royal Works is worth highlighting. He was appointed Royal architect after 1559 (Barbeito 1992, p. 226 and Bustamante, 1994, pp. 17-18), a position hitherto absent from contemporary Spanish architecture, a position which was for life and which focused on the tasks of design and planning, yet without officially being assigned to any specific work, for which the corresponding Maestros Mayores continued to be in charge – Alonso de Covarrubias at the Alcázar de Toledo; Luis de Vega at the Alcázar de Madrid, the Palacio del Pardo and Aranjuez, and his nephew Gaspar de Vega at the Palacio de Valsaín. As of 1562, Juan Bautista also became Maestro Mayor of the Alcázar de Madrid and of the Monastery of El Escorial.

In practice the dual nature of the work led to clear priority being given to the task of designing, thus leaving aside any legal, administrative and financial concerns. At El Escorial, in line with the opinion of Philip II, these duties were entrusted to two Aparejadores, answerable to Juan Bautista and charged with carrying out the responsibilities formerly assigned to the Maestro Mayor, unable as Toledo was to devote his attention full time to the design and planning of the Monastery.

Toledo’s salary – 500 ducats per year – saw the end of the daily rate of pay which Maestros Mayores had usually been receiving through their involvement in day-to-day work.

Indeed, the traditional position of Juan Bautista, both in terms of planning and involvement in executive and administrative affairs was far removed from the duties formerly assigned to the Maestros Mayores in Spain at the end of the XV as well as during the whole of the XVI and part of the XVII centuries (Marías 1983, vol. I, pp. 77-78).

Responsible for the presence of the workers and ensuring they fulfilled their duties, charged with valuations and assessment of the work, drafting plans for various sections of the work as it progressed, the traditional Maestro Mayor de Obra contracted the execution of the work, regardless of whether or not he had actually drawn up the plans himself. Absence from the building site meant losing a day’s pay, and he was thus forced to be present there every day. This was very much in line with a legal system for the workforce of rendering of services or medieval system of Maestría whereby a worker – a master or official – rendered his services for a day’s work without being under the obligation to complete any particular task (Cano de Gardoqui 1993, p. 28).

Although during the early stages of the work at El Escorial (1562-1567) supervised by Juan Bautista, the system of rendering of services was used for the bulk of the tasks which involved basic locating, preparing and extracting stone from the quarries, felling wood in forests near the monastery, construction of limestone and brick kilns, laying of foundations and so on, for the most crucial parts of the building process, as pointed out, Toledo attempted to implement a system of valuation, – not a fixed price for the work – based on a day’s pay. This system of valuation or appraisal together with piecework is one which is reflected in modern-day contractual agreements.

However, it should be noted that during the first third of the XVI century Spain had, on one isolated occasion, already witnessed a change from a strict system of Maestría to an intermediate arrangement, merging the latter with architectural organisation based on a contractual agreement (Hoag 1985, p. 45). Such a significant arrangement had been reached for the Royal Work carried out on the Alcázar at Seville, as well as Toledo and Madrid (Llaguno 1829, vol. I, p. 304 and vol. II, pp. 166-168).

Indeed, when in 1537 Charles V appointed Alonso de Covarrubias and Luis de Vega as Maestros Mayores of these works, they were paid an annual salary of 25,000 maravedíes in addition to four reales for each day’s work. Yet, what might be seen as a clear example of the system of Maestría or rendering of services is open to question due to several unusual factors. Firstly, no specific work was assigned to any one particular Maestro, three works in fact being entrusted to two master builders, both of whom were under the obligation to take up permanent residence for only six months as a result of having to oversee and design the plans. No mention is therefore made of taking charge of the workforce, although there is a six-month period in which the maestros are given a free hand to contract their own work – maestrías -, at the same time as they become “payroll” architects, swelling the number of official Court workers.

The freedom of the Tracista (designer) in his work as a craftsman, his separation from the actual execution of the work, here hinted at, was to be confirmed later by the fact that neither Covarrubias nor Vega contracted the work for which they were directly responsible, a responsibility which now focused on the drafting of plans and designs rather than concerns for materials and the execution of the buildings, this work being left to maestros, contractors and pieceworkers. The application of the modern contractual system for this architectural work reflects the increasing appreciation of the Maestros Mayores for their design and planning skills.

Henceforth, the training given to the Maestro-Tracista (builder-designer) – geometry, mathematics, designing – would be a factor to be considered in their choice as architect or public official in the Court. Master builders involved in the Royal Works during the first third of the XVI century began to take on a role more in accordance with the progressive ideas put forward by Italian and French architects such as Alberti or Delorme, ideas which were to reach Spain some time later under the Court patronage of Philip II, the true promoter of a modern system for organising building work (Bustamante 1976, pp. 227-250 and Marías 1983, vol. I, pp. 72 and ss.).

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


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