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“She was not afraid. She wasn’t daunted. I think that’s one of the key differentiators about her and her career.”

Sculptor Luisa Roldán (1652–1706) followed a rare path for women in 17th-century Spain. Like other female artists, she trained and worked in the studio of a male family member, in this case her father. After marrying at 19, she established herself as an independent artist. This set her apart from most other women of her day, who stopped making art when they started families of their own. Roldán, working alongside her husband and brother-in-law, specialized in large painted wooden sculptures, terracotta groups, and reliefs. Overcoming societal limitations, Roldán took risks, worked for the Spanish kings, and was widely recognized as an accomplished artist during her lifetime.

In this episode, author Catherine Hall-van den Elsen discusses her new book Luisa Roldán, the first in the new Getty Publications series Illuminating Women Artists. Hall-van den Elsen explores Roldán’s personal challenges, career trajectory, and her most penetrating Baroque works, placing them in their historical context.

More to explore:

Luisa Roldán buy the book
Luisa Roldán’s Saint Ginés de la Jara learn about the Getty Museum’s Roldán
Reflections: Maite Alvarez on Luisa Roldán hear more about the Getty Museum’s Roldán


JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
CATHY HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: She was not afraid. She wasn’t daunted. I think that’s one of the key differentiators about her and her career.
CUNO: In this episode, I speak with Catherine Hall-van den Elsen about her new book on the 17th-century Spanish sculptor Luisa Roldán.
Luisa Roldán was born in Seville in 1652 and died in Madrid in 1706. She was the daughter of the sculptor Pedro Roldán, in whose workshop she worked alongside her siblings, and where she met and married her artist husband at age 19.
Roldán went on to create her own workshop with her husband, specializing in polychromed wooden sculptures. And in 1688 the two artists moved to Madrid, where Luisa ultimately rose to the position of “Sculptor to the Royal Chamber,” working for King Carlos II. There, she also began working on terracotta sculpture.
The new book Luisa Roldán is the first in a new series called Illuminating Women Artists, published in North America by Getty Publications. I recently spoke with the book’s author, Catherine Hall-van den Elsen.
Thank you, Cathy, for joining me on this podcast. Describe the early life of Luisa Roldán and how she was trained as an artist.
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Okay. So Luisa was the daughter of Pedro Roldán, who was a renowned sculptor in Seville. And like many artists of the time, she became simply absorbed into his studio, and trained alongside her brothers and sisters and Pedro’s apprentices.
CUNO: What was his career like?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: There’s one description of him that suggests that he held grudges and he didn’t suffer fools gladly. At the same time, he was connected with the sculptors and the painters of the time. So she had really good connections that way; but I suspect it can’t have been easy being this man’s daughter.
He didn’t have sons. His first surviving son was born ten years after Luisa, which meant that he would’ve been pretty panicky about who he was gonna leave his workshop to, his business to. So I suspect that that’s why Luisa got a lot of very good training from a young age, because there wasn’t a male heir.
CUNO: Did I understand you to say that there were other daughters who were sculptors, too?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Oh, yes. She had, ooh, about five sisters. And a few of them were sculptors or polychromers, ’cause Pedro also painted some of his own sculptures. But what often happened with women artists is that they were trained in their family’s studio, but the minute they hit adolescence and had a husband chosen for them, their productivity diminished and eventually stopped or disappeared, or was absorbed into dad’s output. So Luisa was the only daughter who actually established herself as an independent sculptor, away from her father’s studio.
CUNO: What was Luisa’s career like? And was she ever in charge of a studio?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: When she got to the age of nineteen and married, she left the family studio, effectively. So she went and lived with her husband’s family, which in itself was fairly unusual, because they usually moved to the house of the daughter and the daughter’s family. And from that time, she ran an independent operation.
Now, what that actually means and how big that was is a complete mystery to everyone. You have to understand that research into Luisa has been picking up in the last couple of decades, but before that, very, very, very little was known about her. So we may, in due course, find that she had a sizable studio.
At the moment, we know that her husband was a sculptor, and she mentions him a couple of times as having helped her with her work. His brother was the polychromer, the painter, so we know that that’s a second person who worked with them. And there’s a reference in a newspaper, of all things, to them having had an enslaved person in Cádiz, in Southern Spain, who also helped them with their work. Now, I don’t know any more details than that. So all we know, it was a very family-oriented concern.
CUNO: Is there any way that we might know how the studio worked and who got the commissions, for example, for sculptures?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Well, that’s another thing. Finding the legal documents that define the commissions is also quite tricky. We don’t have many. She could never sign documents because being female, the law didn’t allow that. So we’d have to go through documents that her husband signed. And occasionally, Dona Luisa is mentioned in the document, but sometimes it’s not mentioned at all.
We can go through church records, which might have a reference like, “1690, payment of 200 reales to the sculptor.” And we know that at that time, the only sculpture that was being done was being done by Luisa and Luis Antonio. But it really is a massive jigsaw. And we actually need about ten more PhDs to be written [laughs] that can explore those things.
CUNO: How do we know so much about her life anyway?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Archival documents are very, very hard to find. When I started looking into Luisa’s life, there was a fabulous document that had been discovered relating to her marriage, in which she claimed the right to marry a man of her choosing, which was pretty exciting in those days, pretty unusual.
But other than that, many, many, many years in church archives that have got baptisms and burial records and annual census documents. We’ve got local legal archives that have got rental documents, apprenticeships, loans, debts, payments, wills. National archives have got information about noble families. So if you have a spare month or two, you can go and just start looking at all of the families who were in Madrid around the time that Luisa was in Madrid. And that is where, in fact, I found a reference to the only private patron that we know of so far. So it’s just a matter of persistence and being able to sit in dusty archives [laughs] for months on end, basically.
CUNO: Now I wanna get a sense of what it was like to be a woman and a woman artist at this time in Spain. You say that someone named Juan Luis Vives wrote a humanist treatise on the education of a Christian woman. Tell us the circumstances and the content of that treatise.
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Okay. So I’m doing another book that relates to women artists in early modern Spain and Portugal. And what I’ve found since starting this is that since the ancient Greeks, men have had a fascination with judging the behavior of women and they’d often define appropriate behaviors in texts.
And Juan Luis Vives wrote for Catherine of Aragon, who was Henry VIII’s wife. And Luis de Léon, who’s another person I quote, wrote for a niece. And they wrote kind of behavioral manuals about how to bring up young girls and how to manage adolescents, and then how to manage wives.
Now, very often the view—and it was certainly the view of these two men—that girls and women should be submissive, they should be protected from the malign influences of the world. And some writers even advocated enclosure. So just don’t let them out. Don’t let them look out the window, don’t let them leave the house.
They were also interested in literacy; just how much literacy is enough for girls? Now, they probably needed a little bit of literacy, so that they could read their prayer books; but they couldn’t have so much that they could read letters that wicked men might write to them. And they certainly shouldn’t learn to write, because then they’d be able to reply to the wicked men. So it’s quite bizarre. [laughs]
But at the same time, you’ve got noblewomen who were saying, “Hang on. No, this is just ridiculous. You shouldn’t be taking our rights away from us. We should be able to express our views; we should be able to read; we should be able to write.”
So there’s two choruses going at the same time. One is the men saying that women should be best staying at home. And then the other chorus is much quieter, but it is still there, saying, “No, no, no, no. We have our rights, too.”
So she would’ve grown up aware of this, aware of the requirement for demure, modest, shy women who don’t have a view. But she would also have been aware, because she was probably the most talented person in Pedro’s studio, that she could have an artistic voice. And later, she had her own voice, which she expressed by heading off, leaving Dad and the family and starting a new life with her husband.
CUNO: Now, you describe her as marrying a man of her choosing, moving cities, writing letters to Spanish kings and a pope, winning commissions, and giving powers of attorney to her legal representatives. How rare were these kinds of events in the life of a woman in Spain in the seventeenth century? And why did she write to kings and a pope?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: She’s the only woman that I know who did this. So we have some well-known women who were under the protection of, say, the king, for example. But here we’ve got a woman from probably the middling classes—so not the lower working class, but she was a working woman—and she got about. She was able to, with Luis Antonio, use her skills to get ahead, to move cities, to not stay working for Dad in his studio in Seville, making him look good.
So her letters to the king were fairly confidently written. As you know by having read the end of the book, it didn’t end particularly well, from a financial perspective. But she wrote confidently to the king, saying, “Hey, I haven’t been paid for a couple of years. I need money. Can you please ensure that I get some money?” And that was always forthcoming, as a response to her letters.
When they wanted to extend their influence to Rome, Luis Antonio and Luisa wrote to the pope, through his representatives, but quite confidently, saying, “Hey, look, Luisa’s a fantastic artist, fantastic sculptor. We’d love you to have one of her sculptures.” So she was not afraid. She wasn’t daunted. I think that’s one of the key differentiators about her and her career.
CUNO: What was the market like for sculpture like hers in seventeenth century Spain? And how did the whole commission program work, and how did it compare to that of painting? Was sculpture the equal of painting or was painting the greater of the two?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Oh, painting was always seen as the preferred art form. At this time, wooden sculpture was big, it was heavy, it was hard to move. It was almost always of a religious nature, which meant it was almost always designed for churches, for altarpieces and niches and chapels in churches. Often when a church was being built or when a church was being renovated or when a church or a brotherhood came into some money and they might want to upgrade their altarpiece or their sculpture— So it wasn’t anything like the market for painting, in that you could acquire a lot of paintings and store them quite easily and move them relatively easily, compared to these big, chunky wooden religious icons, if you like.
CUNO: Give us a sense of the materials with which these sculptural icons were made. And how were they made?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: It depended very much on the purpose. Some started as very large pieces of wood that were hollowed out from the back or the bottom, to reduce the likelihood of splitting and to reduce the weight. The heads of sculptures were often hollowed out so that you could insert glass eyes and a tongue and teeth. Yes, it sounds a bit yucky [laughs], but that’s how it was done.
But others, other sculptures that were designed to be much lighter so that they could be, say, carried in processions, for example— And you’d get them built over a fairly crude frame. And over that frame, which would be constructed of relatively cheap material, then smaller pieces of more expensive wood were attached over the top, and then joined with glue and nails and pieces of dowel. So cedar, for example, was very expensive. That would often be specified in a contract. So “the head should be of cedar, but the feet can be of pine,” for example.
Some sculptures were actually designed to be dressed in fabric robes. So in those cases, you’ve just got a head, hands, and feet that are attached to a wooden frame. And then the brotherhood or the church will pay for very expensive brocade or velvet robes to be made and regularly changed, you know, depending on the particular festival that might be happening.
So there’s a variety of ways of making a wooden sculpture. And I believe the Saint Ginés in the Getty is pieces of wood that have been attached to a frame. That suggests that it might have once been used in processions.
CUNO: We’ll come back to that ’cause that’s a fascinating aspect of this book that you’ve written. But did she ever receive commissions for secular sculpture?
CUNO: Was sculpture ever really, at the time, secular, or was it always only for the church?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: No. Nope [laughs]. Sometimes the royal palace would get gifts from Italian diplomats. And they would be marble. You know, massive marble sculpture on secular topics or, say, portraits of a king or a pope in marble. But that was a very small market. And most people associated sculpture with wooden polychromed works.
And this relates back to the Council of Trent in 1563, making it very, very clear that images should be made for the glory of God. And images of saints should lead people closer to God. They’re not about aggrandizing secular figures. And because Seville was enormously faithful to the Catholic Church, that was their tendency. That’s what they did.
CUNO: Now, you mentioned earlier that she and her husband and family moved to Madrid sometime, I think, after about 1688. What took them there, and how large was their family when they moved?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: I think it must have been a combination of great ambition and perhaps wanting to establish herself away from her father’s influence. She was actually doing really well in Southern Spain. She was doing a lot of work down there. She was well recognized. She was called to the cathedral to do their Easter monument. Now I mean, that’s kind of a big deal for a youngish woman. She was in her early thirties then. So there would’ve been no reason for her to leave, in terms of having a viable business.
There’s a story that there was a wealthy patron who enticed them to Madrid and said, “Come to Madrid and I’ll look after you.” But actually, that patron was no longer wealthy when they got to Madrid. He kind of went broke and got into all sorts of trouble. So they might’ve been enticed by his enthusiasm. But from an economic perspective, he wasn’t a big help to them.
So by then, Luisa had given birth to at least seven children that we know of, but only two were left when they moved to Madrid. She signed a document in Cádiz in July of 1688, and then in February of 1689, she had another child. But we don’t know of any more children that she had when she was in Madrid. The records are patchy, to say the least.
CUNO: Now, when she get to Madrid, she makes terracotta sculpture instead of or in addition to wood sculpture. How different and how difficult was it to make it in wood as opposed to terracotta?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: So I think she got to Madrid and looked around and thought, oh, the market’s already been cornered for wooden sculptures. There’s weren’t many new churches being built so there wasn’t a lot of scope; there wasn’t a lot of call for new wooden works.
And I think that she saw that the growing noble class had an interest in decorating their sitting rooms and their oratories. And so she, I think for that reason, started doing finished work in terracotta, that she referred to as alhajas, which is a Spanish word for jewels. In a letter to the king, she’ll say something like, “And I have done many alhajas.” So I think that’s where she realized that her main market would be; but at the same time, she continued to work in wood.
And it’s kinda interesting because wood, wooden sculpture is made by using chisels to remove shards from a large block of wood; but terracotta’s the reverse. So terracotta is actually building up and making a shape, rather than making a shape by removing pieces of wood. So she’s doing both.
The wooden work tended to be between about 75 to 150 centimeters in height, whereas terracotta groups mostly were around 50 centimeters in width and 40 in height, so they’re very, very different conceptions, very different ways of working.
Terracotta was a much cheaper material. You didn’t need a big studio to make the terracotta works, ’cause of their small size. I found a wonderful letter to the king saying, “I’ve done eighty terracotta groups. See attached list. Turn the page.” And the attached list wasn’t here [laughs]. It’s disappeared sometime in the past 350 years.
So we know that she—I don’t want to sound too flippant, but she churned these things out, the small terracotta groups. She was able to do a lot of them, and presumably find a really receptive market for them.
And as always, she was supported by her brother-in-law, the polychromer, Tomás de los Arcos, who basically brought her wood and terracotta to life with his incredible skill with painting and the use of gold and— He was a very big part of her success, I think.
CUNO: Now, you mentioned that the Getty has a work by Luisa in its collection, our collection. It’s a rather remarkable work. It’s over life size, or seems to be over life size, portrayal, if not a portrait of Saint Ginés. Describe the sculpture for us and tell us how it came to be in the Getty’s collection.
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Well, the Saint Ginézs you’re right; it’s about 175 centimeters tall or 69 inches. What’s striking about it is it appears as though it’s a portrait. It’s a very, very individual image of a mature man standing, one foot extended, one hand outstretched in a gesture, and the other hand was once holding a staff. So he’s obviously preaching. And his extended leg creates a sense of movement in his robes. And the extended hand, as well, creates a— It’s a real gesture. A preacher’s gesture, if you like.
So the mouth is open as though speaking. Very, very clear that this man is a communicator. He wants to communicate. And that’s something that you see in a lot of Luisa’s work. They’re not just plain images of individuals standing there with an attribute in their hand so you can say, “Oh, that must be, you know, Saint Paul” or whoever. They really do wanna communicate with the viewer.
And what’s particularly striking about this image is the use of decorative gold on the saint’s tunic, which really emphasizes his height. And I often think of the churches as they would have been then, with candlelight bouncing off those golden images of a kind of a brocaded robe, and how impressive that must’ve been, in terms of communication with the audience.
Now, the other interesting thing about this is it’s one of a couple of images by Luisa of older men with long beards. And she does aging flesh very, very beautifully, by having a slightly concave form in his cheeks and furrows on his forehead. She’s left one similar work in Cádiz and two in Seville that have this venerable approach to age and wisdom. And that is very much reinforced by the painting of the work.
So the color of the skin is not a ruddy pink; it’s a very, very pallid color. And certainly, the veined hands and feet on this Saint Ginés are incredibly well done, and also very impressively painted, as well. So the two worked in harmony very carefully.
CUNO: Now, does this represent a change in her work? I’m thinking, also, of other examples, like Saint Michael smiting the devil or the Ecce Homo, these things which are so compellingly realistic, dramatically realistic.
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Yeah, I think she was particularly astute at conveying a message through the disposition of her figures. So the Saint Michael was done when she arrived in Madrid. She needed to come in with a bang. She need to make a splash. And at the time, Spain was pretty concerned about the threat of Protestantism to the Catholic Church. Essays were written about how important Saint Michael was as a defender of the faith and as a defender of Spain.
And this being the first large work that she presented to the king after her arrival, I think she thought, yes, I’m gonna go in all guns blazing. This is a powerful, powerful image. And people often look at the Saint Michael. But if you look at the devil that Saint Michael is standing on, oh my goodness, it’s a tour de force. It’s an amazing sculpture. And when you get close to it, if you’re lucky enough to get close to it, the image of the devil is almost as strong as the image of Saint Michael.
Then the flagellated Christ images speak to the Council of Trent idea of images bringing people closer to God. And that was something that she would have learned primarily in Seville, where she had amazing models to work from. So Martínez Montañés, for example, who was self-proclaimed God of wood, someone wrote of him, “You don’t really need to praise Martínez Montañés because he does a good enough job of that himself.” So she had him to use as inspiration.
And then we’ve got the images of Saint Joseph with the Christ Child. There were lots of essays written at the time that have transferred the image of Saint Joseph from an elderly man who’s very much at the back of the Virgin Mary and Christ to a young, virile carpenter who loves his little boy. And there are essays written that say, “Oh, he loved tickling him and playing with him and giving him lollies and—”
So Luisa sort of translates the contemporary thinking about these figures into her work. Rather than doing very sober images, each type of image that she does reflects the mood of the time. So the Virgin Mary was seen to be a behavioral model for working class women: devoted, humble, modest. And you see in the image of the Virgin Mary on the front of the book, it’s a very approachable portrait. She doesn’t look like this holy person who’s up on a pedestal. She’s actually quite relatable.
So I think when Luisa does Saint Ginés, as she also did some other similar work in Andalucía, there’s a sense of gentle piety. He’s very, very keen to speak. She’s unafraid to acknowledge his age and his wisdom. And I think that, along with the other works of aging men, are just another example of her responsiveness to contemporary thought, if you like.
CUNO: What about her Lactating Virgin? Which is a very powerful sculpture, small sculpture, but it’s very powerful.
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Yeah, the relief. She did so many innovative things. She did nativity scenes with 150 figures in them. And you just think, how on earth would you— How on earth could you conceive of that? So she’s doing massive wooden images, she’s doing tiny terracotta groups, she’s doing relief work.
But this Lactating Virgin is a really, really striking image. The delicacy with which she’s done the Virgin Mary’s sleeves and cuffs, because it’s a tiny work—it’s probably about the same size as an A4 page, so— But it’s got so much detail in it. The relationship between the Virgin Mary and her son is very clear. The intimacy of that is very, very special indeed. And the rich color of her robe and its contrast against her skin and the skin of the Christ Child is very striking.
CUNO: What did it mean that she made the Lactating Virgin for a pilgrimage church, Santiago de Campostela?
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Absolutely no idea. That’s the trouble with researching Luisa. There’s a lot that’s still unknown. So we genuinely don’t know what some of these pieces were made for.
We don’t know when it arrived in the church of Santiago. Could’ve been donated by a noble person who owned it. It could’ve been a gift from one of the kings or queens to an archbishop. When the civil war happened in 1936 in Spain, things got moved. And houses were damaged and churches were damaged. And some things were kind of rescued before the damage happened, and taken away, and then they never actually made it back to the original house or church because of the damage. So we have works that are very, very clearly by Luisa that we’re not quite sure where they’ve come from.
CUNO: I wonder if you could tell us about the modern reception of Luisa’s works. When I was in graduate school, we never heard of her and we never, obviously, didn’t, therefore, had not read her. But that was probably because—you can name it—maybe because she was a woman, because she specialized in religious sculpture, and a particular kind of sculpture, sculpture that was out of fashion at the time, this intensely realistic sculpture.
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Well, it’s actually been rather difficult because you do get contemporary writers making assumptions about her. And unless you actually understand the context—which is why I did a chapter on the context—you don’t actually understand what an incredible set of achievements she had. You know, you just think, oh yeah, woman artist; did some good stuff. But actually, no, it was really, really, really difficult. And she really did challenge her dad. And he was very unimpressed. And to do that at that time was an amazing thing, amazingly strong and determined, feisty thing.
I think now, people are actually starting to take her work seriously. When I was an undergraduate, I read a book by a very well-known art historian who basically said, “When Pedro Roldán died, that was the end of Golden Age sculpture.” So basically, you don’t need to go further afield than Pedro Roldán, ’cause that’s where it ended. Whereas now, I think Because there are more resources available to scholars now, it’s becoming easier for people to appreciate the talent that she had.
So my point in answering that way is that when I started 100 years ago, to even get a book or an article, I’d have to submit an interlibrary loan from Australia. And it might take me three or four months to actually receive the hard copy of the article back; and sometimes it would be the wrong pages, so I’d have to send again and get it back again. Now a young scholar— And people email me, young postgrads email me from the US and the UK, say, “Hey, I’m having trouble finding this. Can you help me with this?” And I email them straight back, and within two hours, they have the answer that it took me four months to get a number of decades ago.
So I think that from the perspective of scholars of Luisa, it’s easier now to access her work. It’s easier to find out about her. And because of the “why have there been no great women artists?” of the 1980s, that push, now certainly, feminist art historians are using her as an example of creative fabulous women.
That being said, they themselves are not necessarily across all of the details that we’re discussing today, because they’re coming at it from a different angle. But the material is there. It’s accessible now.
CUNO: Now, you end your book by reflecting on the life and career of Luisa, seen through the lenses of history. Tell us about her career at the end of her life.
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Well, it’s actually been rather difficult because you do get contemporary writers making assumptions about her. And unless you actually understand the context—which is why I did a chapter on the context—you don’t actually understand what an incredible set of achievements she had. You know, and just think, oh yeah, woman artist; did some good stuff. But actually, no, it was really, really, really difficult. And she really did challenge her dad.
CUNO: It is interesting that almost contemporary was Artemisia Gentileschi, and that the two very different painters, very different personalities, but emerging at about the same time, or relatively close time.
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Very different context. See, Italy, Spain, very, very, very different. And people assume that Luisa lived a kind of life that was a little bit like Artemisia’s. Well, no. No, Spain was intensely religious. Everything was about religion. They weren’t surrounded by the classical world, like the Romans and the Florentines were.
So one day, I hope you’ll be able to read the new book that’s coming on women artists in early modern Iberia, because that talks about a lot of others, as well, besides Luisa. She and one Portuguese woman, who remained single, are the standouts. But there were an awful lot of women who did quite well, until about ten minutes after they got married. And then—boop—they— it just stopped. So for her to survive as she did shows amazing tenacity. And an amazing husband, as well.
CUNO: Now you end your book by reflecting on the life and career of Luisa, as seen through the lenses of history. Tell us about her career at the end of her life.
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: Well, things were looking up. Things were pretty good. After Charles II died, the new king arrived, Philip V, who was French. And he could very easily have decided, no, I don’t like polychromed wood or I don’t like her terracotta work; but she retained her title and a salary. She found a new patron, the Duque del Infantado, and was doing quite a bit of work for him and was getting paid regularly by him. Her son was in Rome studying drawing under Carlo Maratta. So you’d think, okay, she’s moving into her mature years and things are gonna be great.
But then, like the ending of a very sad movie, she dictated her will on January the 5th, 1706. And when she dictated it, it was actually a declaration of poverty. So she left no worldly goods at all. And then five days later she died, on January the 10th. Which was the same day that she was honored with the title of Accademica di Merito, in the Academy of Saint Luke in Rome.
So she was talented, she was recognized, she was praised; she was buried as a pauper. Go figure. What an ending. So I think that the last days give us an indication of how tough it was to survive as a sculptor in the Spanish court.
Now, she might not have had worldly goods because her husband was screamingly wealthy. So I spent a lot of time looking for his will, to see, you know, how many millions he would leave. But unfortunately, he was incredibly poor, as well. He died incredibly poor. There was one terracotta work in his will. He leaves a decorated drinking glass to his brother; he leaves his clothes to another brother; he leaves his love to his children.
So she had a really successful career, if you judge success by creative output. But if you judge success by economic criteria, you would say that something went wrong. But then that was life in those days.
CUNO: Well, you’ve told a story of her career and life, and you’ve told it beautifully, Cathy so thank you very much for sharing it with us.
HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: It’s been a pleasure.
CUNO: This episode was produced by Zoe Goldman, with audio production by Gideon Brower and mixing by Mike Dodge Weiskopf. Our theme music comes from the “The Dharma at Big Sur” composed by John Adams, for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003, and is licensed with permission from Hendon Music. Look for new episodes of Art and Ideas every other Wednesday, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast platforms. For photos, transcripts, and more resources, visit or if you have a question, or an idea for an upcoming episode, write to us at Thanks for listening.

JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
CATHY HALL-VAN DEN ELSEN: She was not afraid. She wasn’t daunted. I think that’s one of the ...

Music Credits
“The Dharma at Big Sur – Sri Moonshine and A New Day.” Music written by John Adams and licensed with permission from Hendon Music. (P) 2006 Nonesuch Records, Inc., Produced Under License From Nonesuch Records, Inc. ISRC: USNO10600825 & USNO10600824

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