CATALAN SCHOOL 14th century
Jaume Cascalls was born in Berga (Barcelona) at the beginning of the 14th century and is believed to have died in the same city in 1378. He was married to the daughter of the painter Ferrer Bassa. Both families monopolised all court orders at that time. The oldest work attributed to him is the altarpiece of the Virgin Mary of the church of Cornellá de Conflent, which dates from 1345 and bears his name. However, the piece he dedicated most of his life were the sepulchres of Poblet, a commission from Pedro el Ceremonioso. He began to work in this town in Tarragona in 1349, together with the master Aloi de Montbrai, and they would not finish until 1373. In 1360 he was appointed builder master of the cathedral of La Seu Vella in Lérida, where he moved. A decade later, he returned to Tarragona, to work in the cathedral as well as in Poblet.
The sculpture depicts a standing figure wearing a tunic and a loose cloak on top of it. The figure is quite static, but he is gesticulating with his right hand, pointing to the inscription on the phylactery he is holding in his left hand, which enables us to identify him.
The Prophet Daniel’s character, an Old Testament figure, is unusual within the context of the 14th century Gothic, at least as a freestanding sculpture.
Even though Daniel is often shown as a beardless, youthful figure (let us recall the figure found in the “Portico of Glory” in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the homonymous one in the “Portico of Paradise” in the cathedral of Ourense), here he has a beard and long hair, just like the other Old Testament Prophets. The sculpture still retains much of the original polychrome. On the outside, the tunic and cloak are white and edged with red, although we cannot discard the possibility that this border was originally gilded.
Even though its size seems to associate the sculpture with the context of devotional imagery, this origin must be discarded because Daniel is never found as an isolated image.
The stylistic features used in the execution of the face of the Prophet Daniel speak especially eloquently about the sculpture’s formal affiliation. His head is elongated, a feature which is accentuated by the beard, and large eyes stand out of his face, with the line of the eyelids well defined. Furthermore, it shows the unique feature that on the eyeball, the sculptor used the technique of drilling to mark the pupils, a technique which is extraordinarily unusual within 14th century sculpture in Spain.
Another significant new element which also appears when we observe other details of the image is the profile of the nose. There is no doubt that the master has endowed Daniel a Jewish nose. Christianity emerged from Judaism, and therefore this specific facial feature was common to the members of the Chosen People.
We should situate the sculpture of Daniel within this context. It seems clear that there was a desire to highlight the Old Testament nature of his figure. The Prophet Daniel was a Jew by birth, religion and culture, and he was given a physiognomy that fits this profile. It is a detail of iconographic erudition which is clearly infrequent among the artists from the Gothic era.