Juan and Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón: From Master Mason to Architect
Miami University, Oxford, Ohio 45056, USA
In December 1520 the cathedral chapter of Salamanca altered its contract with master mason Juan Gil de Hontañón (ca. 1475-1526). He remained master, drawing a salary for supervision, but subcontracted separately, a destajo, construction of four chapels, west facade, and north portal. Master masons became administrators, legally no longer builders, more like modern architects. Destajeros, i.e. contractors, did the work. By separating responsibilities for design, supervision, and execution of work, the destajo arrangement allowed Juan Gil to accumulate important concurrent commissions, a procedure his son Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón would exploit to the fullest. Juan Gil's extant works include San Antolín at Medina del Campo, a collegiate hall church begun 1502; the Palencia cathedral cloister documented after October 1505; Salamanca begun 1512; the Seville cathedral crossing begun 1513; four distinguished funerary monuments, Santa María in Coca begun ca. 1505, San Francisco in Cuéllar begun 1518, San Eutropio in El Espinar, and Santa Clara in Briviesca begun ca. 1523; and Segovia cathedral begun 1524.
Although wealthy, Juan Gil was neither sophisticated nor worldly. He apparently apprenticed under two famous Isabelline Late Gothic masters, Simón de Colonia, master at Burgos, and Juan Guas, master at Toledo. His vision remained bound to Simón's, reinterpreted more consistently, trimmed of wild excesses, clarifying its dense superimpositions of textures and plastic forms, and relying on a purified and crystalline geometric discipline using systematic design procedures, untouched by renaissance novelties. He did not understand classical forms, which he used rarely and without success. Had he lived longer he would have reached an impasse before a new generation of high ecclesiastic and lay patrons insisting on up-to-date awareness of Italian forms. Juan Gil could not have transformed his artistic repertoire, as did his much more adventuresome, spectacularly prolific son, who embraced gothic, classicism, and destajo.