Origin of the altarpieces
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Despite the fact that Spain already had its own tradition regarding this type of work, Flemish altarpieces were particularly appreciated. In actual fact, towards the end of the Middle Ages, Spanish production was renowned for its quantity and outstanding quality all over Europe.

In spite of uncountable losses, disappearances and alterations suffered by altarpieces, today they represent a chapter worthy of consideration within the general panorama of Late Gothic sculpture. It is the Autonomous Community that conserves most examples: 16 without counting the one in Fuentes de Duero (that today stands in the Springfield Museum) many of them in an albeit fragmented fashion.  

Neither is their distribution in time and space constant. Most of the altarpieces date from periods between the years 1430 to 1470 and 1500 to 1520. Several still stand in their original locations (Segovia, San Lesmes) while others now form part of museum collections (the National Sculpture Museum, Valladolid, the Diocesan Museum, Palencia).

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Regarding manufacturing centres, those altarpieces conserved in Spain follow the normal guidelines. Though the Tordesillas altarpiece, the oldest of the series, used to be associated with a Brussels manufacturing source, it now appears to have been manufactured in Castile in a place with a particularly strong Flemish influence. From the second third of the XV century, Brussels assumed control of production and, judging by the examples associated with this particular city, almost always by the uncorroborated identification of stamps on the wood, it would seem that the city quickly became the most productive altarpiece manufacturing centre by far (Santibañez-Zarzaguda, Sotopalacios, Covarrubias).

The clay altarpieces of Utrecht dating from the second half of the XV century are far from numerous, but are extremely important (Segovia). Since we have included them in this catalogue, we have replaced the somewhat inexact term of "Brabazon altarpieces" for that of "Flemish altarpieces" which, though it too is inaccurate, is perhaps more accepted and consolidated in our particular field. Lastly, Antwerp workshops acquired more protagonism from the year 1500, something that is reflected in the origins of later works (San Lesmes). However, some of the works that were thought to have been imported might well be the work of Flemish craftsmen who had established themselves in Castile (Medina del Campo).

Independently of their manufacturing sources, some works display certain peculiarities that could be interpreted as being concessions to local tradition. The co-existence in the same altarpiece of  compartments reserved for reliefs with others for free-standing figures, some of which were occasionally of quite considerable dimensions, such as those seen on the altarpieces of San Salvador in Valladolid and San Lesmes in Burgos, the peculiar way the latter is inserted into the wall, all represent quite unexpected and even surprising variations when compared to more standardised altarpiece typologies.

Nevertheless, to be perfectly truthful, it should be noted that, generally speaking, these works are not easy to systematize and indeed frequently induce people to think that the exception tends to become the norm. The fact that a great many works have disappeared completely undoubtedly has not only had a great deal to do with this, but has also severely limited our overall appreciation of what the origins of the manufacture of Flemish altarpieces might have really been. 

More than half of all the altarpieces studied conserve their original configuration intact. Some, however, have lost their wings (Covarrubias), part of their traceries (Santibañez-Zarzaguda), individual figures and even complete groups of sculptures (San Juan in Valladolid).

Sometimes the original frame of the altarpiece has disappeared (Sotopalacios), or has been given a predella and/or other additional elements in situ (Tordesillas, San Juan Bautista in Valladolid). In the very worst cases, altarpiece architecture is missing from reliefs (Galinduste) or has been inserted into later, normally Baroque structures (Segovia).

Neither has polychrome decoration stood the test of time. Though some are original and of great quality and beauty (Crucifixion fragment in the National Sculpture Museum), others have been re polychrome decorated (Galinduste), whilst other altarpieces have been almost totally stripped of all their polychrome decoration (National Sculpture Museum). Later repainting and interventions showing little respect for the original,obfuscate and detract from certain works, completely altering our perception of them (León).

This catalogue not only gathers widely-scattered information in order to place it at the disposal of anyone interested in this particular field, and indeed specialists themselves, but also contributes several original contributions based on direct, personal observation, particularly concerning our providing a deeper understanding of elaboration processes and the different techniques used in polychrome decoration.

Along the same lines as other studies dealing with restored works, our aim is to offer a multiple approach in which historical, stylistic and iconographic considerations are accompanied by the results of technical and scientific analyses. In this way, we aim to provide a global and more accurate appreciation of the works in the hope that this will stimulate exchanges of information that will, in turn, provide the necessary momentum and stimulate fresh progress in the recognition and appreciation of Flemish altarpieces.