The Casa de Pilatos is one of the most outstanding examples of 16th century civil architecture in Andalusia, constituting a beautiful synthesis of Italian Renaissance art and the Sevillian Mudejar style.
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Its construction began at the end of the 15th century by the Mayor of Andalusia Pedro Enríquez and his wife, Catalina de Ribera, although the bulk of its work was undertaken in the time of their son, Fadrique Enríquez de Ribera, first Marquis of Rate.
He carried out a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1518, touring a large part of Italy both on his way out and on his return, a fact that would greatly mark the physiognomy of the palace. He was able to admire great works of the Italian Renaissance in cities like Venice, Milan, Rome or Genoa. In this last city he would commission the sculptor Antonio María Aprile, the magnificent portal that constitutes the main access to his palace. It is made of white marble and reproduces the shape of a Roman triumphal arch, with Corinthian pilasters framing a semicircular arch. In the spandrels there are two classic medallions with the effigies of Julius Caesar and Trajan, both closely linked to the city. On the frieze, between the family coats of arms, there is a large inscription with metal characters inserted in marble, alluding to the construction of the palace and this doorway.
The façade is topped by a Gothic-style cresting, which apparently comes from a previous palace that the family owned in Bornos. In the central part of this balustrade, there are three pillars, each one with a Jerusalem cross and the inscription "4 DAYS OF AUGUST 1519. ENTERED HIERUSALEM", alluding to Don Fadrique's pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
From this pilgrimage, which apparently deeply marked the Marquis of Tarifa, most likely comes the name Casa de Pilatos by which the palace is generally known. For a long time the legend existed that the marquis had reproduced in his home the traces of the palace of the Roman praetorian Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem and that this is where the name would come from. In fact, the portico that faces outwards on the first floor next to this façade is sometimes referred to as the “Ecce Homo” balcony, since it would supposedly reproduce the space where Jesus was shown to the people in the famous Biblical passage.
The slightest formal and stylistic analysis of the palace makes it clear that this theory is nothing more than a legend. What does seem more probable is the relationship of the popular name of the palace with the famous Via Crucis that starts from it and that reaches the Cruz del Campo temple, which is still preserved in the current Luis Montoto street.
According to tradition, the Marquis of Tarifa, on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, would have measured the exact distance that went from the praetorium palace where Jesus was tried to Mount Calvary where he was crucified. This distance would coincide with the one between the façade of the palace and the aforementioned temple.
The niche with a cross that is to the left of the main portal, made in the 17th century with colorful marbles of different colors, alludes to this circumstance. This cross would mark the first station of the aforementioned Way of the Cross, as can be read in the inscriptions that appear on the sides.
Inside, the space of the palace is articulated around a series of patios and gardens, generating a very complex layout.
The peculiar stylistic diversity of this space, which harmoniously brings together Gothic, Mudejar, Renaissance and Romantic elements, is the product of successive interventions on a rectangular courtyard, centered on the chapel and porticoed only on its short sides, built at the end of the s. XV by Pedro Enríquez and Catalina de Ribera. His son Fadrique, the pilgrim to Jerusalem, began his Renaissance transformation: he enlarged its dimensions making it quadriform, opened galleries on its four sides, replaced the brick pillars with Genoese columns and placed in its center the marble fountain also acquired in Genoa. Fadrique was inherited in 1539 by his nephew Per Afán, who, in addition to enriching its corners with the four main pieces of his sculpture collection (see no. 4), arranged around it a gallery of busts of ancient characters that, as a historical mirror, it reinforces the idea of continuity between the founding of Rome and the new empire of Carlos V. Already in the s. In the XIX century, novelties to the romantic taste are introduced, such as the opening of an access in its center, the replacement of the clay floor by marble and the placement of new pseudo-Nazarite mullioned windows.
The central and most emblematic element of the palace is the central patio. It has a marked Renaissance air, despite the profuse Mudejar decoration and the presence of Gothic elements. This is due to the profuse use of marble in columns and flooring, and the splendid collection of Roman pieces on display in the courtyard. For example, in each of the corners there are four Roman female sculptures, all original from the 1st and 2nd centuries. They represent Pallas Pacifera, Pallas as a warrior, Copa Syrisca and Faustina the Less deified as Fortuna. In the center of the patio, a marble fountain with a bust of Jano Bifronte, also original from the 1st century. In addition, the patio walls are crossed by a series of niches in which a magnificent collection of busts of original emperors is exhibited. one of the best private collections that exist of this matter.
These works are just a part of the magnificent sculptural collection that can be admired on a visit to the palace. The main nucleus of the complex was made up of Per Afán de Ribera, 1st Duke of Alcalá, mainly with works from the Viceroyalty of Naples, where he even financed excavations. The pieces have been exhibited in various rooms of the palace and many of them next to the so-called Jardín Chico, one of the two beautiful garden spaces that flank the palace.
The interior rooms generally adopt names related to the aforementioned identification of the palace with the house of Pilatos. In this way, we have the Praetorium Hall, the Chapel of the Flagellation or the Pilate's Cabinet.
The Salón del Praetorio, between the main patio and the Jardín Chico, preserves all its original elements from the 16th century, including the magnificent wooden coffered ceiling and the tile covering on the basin and edge of the walls.
The Chapel of the Flagellation, located on one side of the main patio, is considered the oldest room in the palace, built in a Mudejar Gothic style. In its center is a column, which tradition identifies with the one used in the flagellation of Jesus and hence the name of the chapel. On the altar there is a paleo-Christian sculpture from the 4th century that represents Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Perhaps this is the oldest image of Jesus among those that can be seen in Seville.
The Pilatos Cabinet, located under the tower, has a square plan and an octagonal fountain in its center, elements that relate it to the 'qubbas' of Mudejar architecture. It is covered by an imposing wooden coffered ceiling. It is made of "street and rope" lacework made up of ten-sided wheels that have a ten-pointed star as their center, forming a composition that symbolically alludes to the celestial vault.
For its part, the upper floor was ordered to be built by Fadrique Enríquez de Ribera in the 16th century and was decorated with a series of illustrious characters from Antiquity and with an allegorical composition on the Triumph of the Four Seasons. Later, Francisco Pacheco, Velázquez's father-in-law, painted the ceilings with a series of mythological themes. Currently, a series of pieces from the Medinaceli collection are exhibited in these spaces, which include not only furniture and tapestries, but also paintings by artists such as Goya, Lucas Jordán or Carreño Miranda.
In detail: The Renaissance Gate of the Casa Pilatos