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The Spanish “Eighth Wonder of the World” located in the apse of the Cathedral of Toledo, created for the purpose of lighting an altar piece deemed too distracting for normal positioning in the nave.

This is the original altar piece, relegated to the apse, without light, until the transparente was created.

This is the upper part of the altar. The entire design, orginally placed on the congrgation side of the apse, behind the altar, caused so much distraction – visitors, pilgrims, kept disturbing the services to view the masterpiece – that the entire altar was placed inside the apse, where it, unfortunately, had virtually no light with which it could be viewed.

We shall approach this with our “serial vision” aspect. The small windows on the left are original openings allowing minimal light into the apse. The upper right is our first glimpse of the opening which replaced an entire vault in the apse, to bring light to shine on the altar piece.

An opening was made in the rear wall of the Cathedral, allowing light to enter. But that is only the beginning of the story. That opening, partially in the roof, and partly in the wall, was so created that it seems as if the heavens were opened, with clouds, and angelic figures swirling about. A travel guide describes it thusly: “A beautiful carved Baroque sculpture of the Virgin is lighted by the rays of sun which piers (sic) through a transparent roof.” Attributed to Virtual Tourist.

The work employs painting, sculpture, and of course architectural expertise. It could only have been done in such pure integration of the arts as it was, by one family of designers and artists. The Spanish Architect Narciso Tomé and his four sons were responsible. Two sons were architects, one a painter, and another a sculptor. They totally integrated the arts into a visual wonder! The altar appears under the opening. Notice how two dimensional painting morphs into three dimensional sculpture.

And, personally, I believe that it was their familial closeness, which not only enabled, but also produced, this magnificent creation. It embodies the major principle of this course, that of the integration of the arts with architecture. A not uncommon situation – history books rarely mention this creation, or give it lip service at best and shrug it off. What must be understood in art and architecture is that all artistic works, regardless of origin, can and should be respected, if they are deserving of respect.

Politics, pettiness, or artistic myopia has no place in viewing history, and particularly artistic history. The best description of the “Transparente” can be found in a non-text, James Michener’s Iberia. In fact, I would recommend reading any of Michener’s books prior to visiting a country about which he wrote. He was more than prophetic writing Caravans about Afghanistan, even before the Russian incursion, Poland before perestroika, and Iberia when tourism was nil, and Franco was just about to loosen his grip on the country.

But here is a serious question: I saw the opening, and the altar piece, and always assumed that the “transparente,” which translates out of the Spanish to “it is transparent,” was the opening in the apse shining light upon the altar piece. Yet, somehow, almost every source calls the altar piece itself the “Transparente.” This would be a definite research project, to determine if the original term for the opening somehow became confused with the object upon which it was shining. In any event, it is exraordinary, and rarely mentioned, and when spoken of, is often derided.

© Architecture Past Present & Future - Edward D. Levinson, 2009

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