The eccentric tycoon William Randolph Hearst a colossal mansion composed of architectural, sculptural and pictorial elements acquired in half the world was built in California in the middle of the last century. The billionaire’s buying voracity, to which the filmmaker Orson Welles immortalized in Citizen KaneIt was such that the architect Julia Morgan only used part of these huge works of art. Among them is a splendid Mudejar coffered ceiling that once adorned a convent of Cuenca de Campos (Valladolid), as the Tierra de Campos Re-inhabit Foundation has now discovered.
The foundation chaired by the mayor of Cuenca de Campos, Faustino González Miguel, emerged in 2017 with the purpose of insufflating economic, social and cultural life in the region. In April 2018 he acquired the convent of San Bernardino de Siena, which was occupied five centuries by nuns from Poor Clares, to which María Fernández de Velasco, a member of one of the most powerful Castilian lineages, had assigned it, as recorded in the will granted on February 3, 1455. One of the first initiatives of this citizen association has been the recovery of that group, an emblem for which they have been fighting for years to stop its deterioration, since it is the only monastery of that time that is preserved in Castile and Leon built on land.
When carrying out the works, their chief, Marcos Pérez Maldonado, advised to remove the vaults that remained in the high choir, taking into account the deterioration suffered by the brick and the extra cost that would entail its consolidation. Thanks to this decision were found remains of squares of the old coffered ceiling, disappeared, and the colors of the aliceres. These elements were still there because removing those pieces would have involved disassembling the roofs and weakening the walls, according to Izaskun Villena, technical director of the foundation. It is about two meters from the old polychrome wood roof, relatively well preserved, in which the polychrome squares and aliceres stand out. The Poor Clares, who were in a precarious situation, decided to sell the coffered ceiling in 1930 to a Palencian antique dealer.
Thanks to the money thus obtained, the nuns managed to survive in the town until March 1967, the year they left Cuenca Basin, taking with them the altarpiece, the images that the convent and the marble tomb of the aristocrat promoter of the monastery. But where had the rich coffered ceiling go? The members of the foundation initiated a quasi-detective inquiry to find a clue.
The tThey served through a collaborator: pediatrician Alfredo Blanco del Val, who directed them to the history teacher María José Martínez Ruiz, author of the book Patrimony of Valladolid emigrated. And she subsequently to another scholar’s work, The destruction of Spanish artistic heritage. W. R. Hearst: the great hoarder, written with the architect José Miguel Merino de Cáceres and edited by the Chair in 2012.
After arduous investigations carried out by Merino in libraries and archives related to Hearst in the United States, they have allowed him to inventory the purchase of 83 coffered ceilings by this extravagant millionaire, as he explained to EL PAÍS. One of them, number 22, was acquired on June 20, 1930 by dealer Arthur Byne, who paid $ 12,000 for 372 meters of “ceiling and frieze from Campos.” Bingo! There was the track that the rehabilitators of the San Bernardino convent were looking for.
That “Campos” that Byne was cryptically referring to, who died in a traffic accident in Spain in 1935, was more than likely to be Campos Basin. In the winter of 1930, Byne told Hearst to send the coffering of “Campos” indicating that “it can serve as a material for several ceilings”, according to Merino and Martínez in the mentioned book. Julia Morgan, the architect who built the huge Hearst Castle in San Simeón (California), used part of the valdisoletano coffered ceiling to make a pastiche with which to decorate the ceiling of the library.
The architect Izaskun Villena, director of the foundation Re-inhabit Tierra de Campos, “He has no doubt” that part of the coffered ceiling is in the library of Hearst’s palace. “I have searched for images of that stay on the Internet and I have found elements identical to those we have in the church of Cuenca de Campos. Something definitive and fully identifying is, for example, the Fernández de Velasco shield, which can be clearly seen, ”he explains.
Of course, we rule out being able to recover the coffered ceiling. But one possibility is to make a replica taking advantage of the workshops we organize from Re-inhabit Tierra de Campos, ”he adds, while appealing to those who can join this foundation, in need of financial support.
Part of the coffered ceiling of the San Bernardino convent in Cuenca de Campos is allegedly in the exotic Californian mansion of W. R. Hearst. But where is the rest? It could be stored in warehouses that the maniac tycoon of the press possessed in the New York Bronx, where innumerable works of art and antiques were piled up. Among other things, there was a good part of the Cistercian monastery of Sacramenia (Segovia), bought by art dealer Arthur Byne for $ 40,000, which was dismantled and taken to New York, according to Professor José Miguel Merino. Therefore, members of the Tierra de Campos Re-inhabit Foundation are planning to travel to the United States soon.
Izaskun Villena has already contacted Mary Levkoff, director of Hearst Castle, and hopes to deepen the investigations. His desire is to verify that the Mudejar jewel of Cuenca de Campos is part of that mammoth palace owned by the State of California. In 1972, the architectural ensemble, which is visitable, was included in the National Register of Historic Places.