Friar Nicolás Borrás

The walls of the monastery of Sant Jeroni de Cotalba played host to a rich artistic heritage, which was lost following the ecclesiastical confiscations. At this time the pictorial works were transferred to the Valencia Museum of Fine Art. Other objects such as the monstrance went to the Collegiate in Gandia, the organ to the Pious Schools in the same town; the main bell was taken to Xeresa and the image of the Virgin of Health was taken to the church of Rótova.

The Monastery Paintings: Friar Nicolás Borrás (1530–1610)

An artist who created his pictorial work throughout the 16th Century, which now represents one of the finest examples of Valencian monastic painting. Born in Cocentaina, from an early age he showed an interest in painting and a clear ecclesiastical vocation; he was able to combine both aspects throughout his life. His time spent in Valencia allowed him to come into contact with new artistic trends and to form relationships with artists of renowned prestige; the most important of these artists was Juan de Juanes, who the Friar himself referred to as "my tutor and my beloved maestro".

Among the work commissioned to him can be found a large number of altarpieces for various churches and monasteries in Cocentaina, Orihuela, Alicante, Ibi, Onteniente and Aldaya, among other locations. From among these, an emphasis should be placed on the Retablo de las Ánimas at the church-cathedral of San Nicolás de Bari in Alicante and the San Nicolás de Bari in the parish church of Asunción de Santa María in Cocentaina.

Shortly after creating these works he was summoned by the Hieronymite monks of Cotalba to create the main altarpiece for their church. While creating the altarpiece he stayed at the monastery and became a member of the order in the year 1575. By the time he finished the altarpiece he had become a Hieronymite monk, after which he created a large number of works for the monastery while still taking external commissions, generating income for the monastery.

Main Altarpiece at Cotalba

The altarpiece was large scale and was made up of fourteen sections. Its central space housed a greater-than-life size sculpture of St. Jerome. On the front side of the doors of the tabernacle were painted St. Peter & St. Paul, and on the rear side St. Vicent Ferrer & San John the Baptist. In the side alley, to the left of the central figure, was the panel showing the Crown of Thorns which was based on the description of the scene given by the evangelist. In the alley on the other side was the panel entitled The Street of Bitterness.

The Crucifixion was shown in the centre of the upper section, and was flanked to the right by the Despoilment of Christ at Calvary and to the left by the Lowering from the Cross.
In the attic was the panel of the Resurrection of the Lord and the image of Christ and God our Father could be seen on the tympanum of the upper fronton; this was semi-circular in shape and must have been the crown of the altarpiece.

The centre of the predella bore a representation of the Last Supper; to its right would have been the Prayer at Gethsemane and to its left the Flagellation. There were other panels that also formed part of this altarpiece, which we assume must have been at the base in oblong format, and which represented the Evangelists. (Arrangement hypothesis according to F. Benito)

Work done for Cotalba

After completing the main altarpiece, he created other altarpieces for the chapels in the church. Of these, an emphasis should be placed on the St. Ann Altarpiece of which only the central panel, representing The Holy Family is conserved; it is considered as one of his highest quality works.

He also created paintings for the different areas of the monastery, of which an emphasis should be placed on four large canvasses for The Seasons in the lower cloister. The subjects represented were The Annunciation, The Adoration of the Shepherds, The Adoration of the Wise Men and the Crowning of the Virgin.

There used to be an altarpiece in the chapterhouse, of which only the central panel representing the Pentecost has been conserved.

The only work that today is conserved in its original position is The Last Supper, which is found in the area that we now know as the olive oil mill, but which originally was the area set aside for the refectory. The work was created in grisaille style.


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