TOMÉ, Narciso
(b. 1694, Toro, d. 1742, Toledo)


Stucco, bronze, marble
Cathedral, Toledo

The Transparente is a trasaltar, that is, a sacramental chapel in the ambulatory behind the chancel and high altar, and intended to display the sacrament in both directions, hence 'transparent'. A work of great technical ability, it is one of the most daring and theatrical statements, as well as one of the masterpieces, of Baroque architecture; the formal language was based on Bernini's Cathedra Petri in St Peter's, Rome, which Tomé probably knew through prints. The Transparente combines architecture, sculpture and painting in an ecstatic affirmation of Catholic mysticism. The extreme nature of its decoration has always been contentious, although at the time it was widely praised.

In order to provide a convincing chapel within the constrained dimensions imposed by the convex wall of the altar, Tomé designed a shallow niche that is made to appear deeper by the use of false perspective: the column bases rise and the entablature declines towards the centre of the chapel. One rib of the Gothic ambulatory was removed to accommodate an enormous clerestory rising over the vault, facing east and filled with golden glass. Streamers and banners of stone seem to peel away from the marble columns, revealing their fluting, and mingle with the sculpture. The paintings and sculpture were all intended to reinforce the importance of the Eucharist: a gilded bronze relief of the Virgin and Child occupies the central place over the altar; on the sides are scenes from the Life of David; immediately over it lies a 'glory' of gilded bronze rays lighting the camarín (chapel) where the Eucharist is displayed; on top is a relief sculpture in alabaster depicting the Last Supper. The whole is enlivened by angels and cherubs, and paintings are used to integrate it with the surrounding fabric.