The Monastery of Santa María de las Cuevas is one of the most important monumental complexes from the historical point of view among the many that Seville has. It is located near the old town, but on the other side of the river from the center, on an island formed in the Guadalquivir that is known from the Monastery as Isla de la Cartuja.
It has an intense history dating back at least to Islamic times. Apparently, during the Almohad domination, towards the 12th century, there were pottery workshops and kilns in the area, which were supplied from the abundance of clay derived from the proximity to the riverbed. To extract these clay, the raw material for ceramics, a kind of caves were dug. Legend has it that an image of the Virgin appeared in one of these caves after the Christian conquest of the city in 1248. For this reason, a hermitage was built there to worship it, which would be the germ of the later monastery.
Around this primitive temple, there was initially a community of Franciscans, but since the beginning of the 15th century they are replaced by the Carthusians as the titular order of the monastery. This order had been founded by Saint Bruno at the end of the 11th century in the vicinity of Grenoble (France) and was characterized by the rigor in the fulfillment of the moral precepts, the austerity and the simplicity in the way of life of its members.
From its beginnings in Seville, the new monastery had the favor of important noble families of the city, which was causing a remarkable enrichment of its facilities since its inception, with an increasing number of dependent agricultural properties, not only in Seville , but in numerous municipalities of the province, derived from donations and concessions.
The importance of the monastic complex is well reflected in the number of personalities that have passed through it throughout history. Christopher Columbus himself lived here for a season, as the monument in his honor that has been in its gardens since the end of the 19th century recalls. In fact, here he received strong support from the Carthusians in his project to reach the Indies through the West. After his death, his remains were deposited in the church of the monastery for a time together with those of his son Diego, until his widow ordered the transfer of both to Santo Domingo in 1544.
Other important characters who have passed through here are the Emperor Carlos V, who visited him in 1526 on the occasion of his wedding in Seville with Isabel de Portugal, as well as later monarchs, such as his son Felipe II or Felipe IV. It has also welcomed such relevant figures of literature as Teresa de Jesús, and artists of the stature of Zurbarán or Duque Cornejo have worked in its stays.
As a result of this long history, the monastic complex was enriched with successive spaces of great artistic value, some of which have survived to this day, such as the magnificent Gothic church, the Mudejar cloister or the Chapel of the Virgen de las Cuevas and the main portal, already baroque from the 18th century.
However, much of the artistic heritage that was treasured over the centuries was lost in the monastery's tumultuous history during the 19th century. During the disastrous French occupation of Seville, it was converted into a barracks for the Napoleonic troops and most of its works of art were dispersed or destroyed, in addition to undergoing profound alterations in its appearance. The monks would return for a time after the expulsion of the French, but the monastery would be definitively confiscated in 1836.
It was then that it was used to house the famous ceramic factory of Carlos Pickman, one of the main Sevillian industries in the 19th century, whose pieces would achieve enormous fame for their quality, to the point that even today many Spanish homes treasure pieces of the Charterhouse of Seville. When used for this purpose, the monastic space would logically undergo great transformations, adding for example the large bottle-shaped chimneys, which over time have become one of the most recognizable elements of the entire island of La Cartuja, as well as in a very important testimony of the industrial heritage of Andalusia.
Already in the 20th century, the ceramic factory was moved to Salteras and all its facilities became publicly owned. During the 80s, important rehabilitation works were carried out, especially with a view to the Universal Exhibition of 1992, in which the old monastery served as the Royal Pavilion, where the heads of state and government who attended the event were received.
At present, its facilities are the headquarters of several institutions dependent on the Board: the Rectorate of the International University of Andalusia, the Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage and the Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art.
The latter is generally known by its acronym, CAAC, and has its headquarters in the Cartuja since 1997. It brings together an interesting collection of works of art with a chronology ranging from the mid-50s of the 20th century to the present day, which can be seen regularly enriched by the numerous temporary exhibitions that take place in its premises and that make it somehow a living museum, open to the most current artistic trends.
Since 2013, the CAAC has among its collection the work that we have looked at in this article. It is an installation called Alicia, by the Ubeta artist Cristina Lucas. It is inspired by a passage from Lewis Carroll's famous book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865. Specifically, it refers to the episode in which the protagonist tastes a cake on which the word “Eat me ”, Which causes her an instantaneous and uncontrolled growth, which makes her not fit in the room and have to stick her arm out of a window.
Thus, in Cristina Lucas's work, located next to the main entrance to the enclosure, we see a large head through a window, while a large arm comes out of the other, managing to convey the feeling that we are facing a giant, who it occupies an entire interior space that we do not see, to the point of "overflowing" through its windows.
The work was originally conceived for an exhibition held in Córdoba in 2009, entitled El patio de mi casa. Contemporary art in 16 patios of Córdoba. The artist's starting idea had a clear component of social denunciation and pointed to the traditional conception that women should remain in some way attached to the domestic space, in a certain way secluded and oppressed by historically prevailing non-egalitarian values and of which unfortunately many reminiscences remain.
This critical aspect fits perfectly into the whole of Cristina Lucas's work, characterized by a clear feminist component, which uses metaphorical and satirical resources to channel her complaint, through means as diverse as performance, video, installation, sculpture or drawing.
The example of the CAAC is one of the interesting reasons why it is worth visiting the old Cartuja Monastery, which with the arrival at its facilities of contemporary art collections has become a very interesting set of spaces in which they intermingle the traces of a long history with all kinds of highly topical artistic contributions. To this is added the educational and informative work carried out by the Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage. All together, it forms an almost magical atmosphere, in a beautiful monumental setting, which constitutes one of the main focuses of the cultural life of Seville throughout the year, with constant events such as exhibitions, conferences, concerts or festivals.