Seville’s culture has been shaped by the mixing of influences. The Tower of Gold, a riverside stronghold, is an Almohad building extended in the Mudéjar style, and completed with Baroque touches. The Casa de Pilatos, the finest of Seville’s palaces, combines Mudéjar Gothic with the Italian Renaissance and romanticism, in a pageant of opulence and refinement. The same attention to detail can be found today in some of Seville’s artisanal traditions, whose patrons are kings, nobles, collectors and museums. In Lebrija, the workshop of Francisco Dorantes, official supplier to the Spanish Royal Household and holder of a National Craft Award, is one of four that make up the international elite of harness makers. The quality of the Cartuja de Sevilla’s ceramics has long been the choice of monarchs and aristocrats. This is the Seville we want to share with you.
One of their forthcoming commissions will be a carriage for the Duke of Montpensier, heir to the last King of France, and their past work includes the state coach from which Elizabeth II greets the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in official ceremonies, and the carriages used by the Spanish royal family when foreign ambassadors to Spain present their letters of credence. Solemn, sumptuous horse-drawn coaches, restored to all their former glory by the skilled hands of this family of Andalusian artisans. They work together in the workshop that Francisco Dorantes founded in 1994, in Lebrija, a town in the south of the province of Seville, where one of the oldest traditional equestrian crafts still survives: harness making, the art of working the leather fastenings required so that a horse can draw a carriage.
We arrive at the workshop, at number 63, Calle Corredera, a large house occupying some 500 square meters, once a sherry winery that belonged to Francisco’s grandparents, today transformed into a welcoming workplace with high ceilings, large windows, tiled floors and papered walls. On the oak front door, a bronze doorknocker in the shape of a woman’s hand holding an apple, and the monogram DHD – Dorantes Harness Design – in the shape of a horse’s bridle in embossed brass.
We are greeted by Marcos, Francisco’s nephew, one of the team of fourteen, most of them family members, employed in the harness workshop. As he shows us around, he describes the hides, patent leathers, pom-poms, tassels and metalwork of the finished harnesses that are on display. We admire the perfection of the hand stitching, the beauty of the lines and proportions of the straps, traces and bands, the filigree on the buckles and the immaculate quality of the leather. These are the characteristics that, in 2005, won Dorantes their first National Heritage commission, and earned them the status of official supplier to the Royal Household.
“Little by little, we made our way into the world of luxury goods and private collections, through our most select customers,” explains Francisco. And so their name joined the ranks of Moirano in Italy, Van der Wiel in Belgium and Freedman in Canada, to become part of the international elite of specialists in the restoration and conservation of antique harnesses and traditional equestrian accessories. A craft that, as well as a mastery of needlework, requires thorough historical research and knowledge of the chemical processes to which an article has been subjected. In recognition of their work, Dorantes Harness Design was honored with Spain’s National Craft Award in 2015.
It is the largest – and probably the most excessive – of the twenty-five residential palaces in Seville. Its interior is an extravagant and harmonious mish-mash that combines the Mudéjar Gothic tradition of the late medieval period with the innovations of the Italian Renaissance and the romantic tastes of the mid-19th century. Nevertheless, the Palace of the Adelantados Mayores de Andalucía – the highest representatives of royal authority in the region – better known as the Casa de Pilatos, is a National Monument, considered the most magnificent aristocratic residence in Andalusia. Its history, stretching back more than 500 years, parallels that of Seville itself.
The palace’s present-day appearance is owed in large part to the first Marquis of Tarifa, who began its renovation in the renaissance style during the 16th century, enthralled by the new Italy; and to his nephew, first Duke of Alcalá and Viceroy of Naples, a passionate collector of classical sculpture whose statues adorn the house. The Marquis extended the principal courtyard, building Genoese columns and a marble fountain, and decorated the main rooms, galleries and staircases using the finest techniques of Mudéjar art. He had arches and walls decorated with yesería – carved
plasterwork in calligraphic and geometric designs - forming arabesques and Mocárabe honeycombs; he tiled the walls with multicolored glazed azulejos, employing 150 distinct motifs and creating thousands of shimmering highlights, and covered the roof bosses and coffered ceilings in gold leaf.
Entering the courtyard, the visitor has an immediate sense of stepping inside a work of art. The statues of Roman deities that stand guard over the four corners, installed during the 16th century, are juxtaposed with the fine Mudéjar decoration of the carved plasterwork arches and the brightly colored geometric tiles. The effect is completed by a marble floor and Nasrid windows in the romantic style. A diversity of styles, coexisting in harmony. The result is exhilarating, and the effect continues in another of the palace’s most striking features: the main staircase. Monumental, profusely decorated and richly polychromatic, meticulously planned down to the last detail. The most spectacular display of opulence is its eight different gilt ceilings, especially the last, crowning the flight of stairs with a superb dome of carved wood, whose complex design radiates from its highest point. Thrilling.
The dinner services of la cartuja de sevilla have graced the tables of kings and dignitaries, as well as the holiday celebrations of most spanish families, for over two hundred years. After it was re-launched in 2014, this refined brand has preserved its historic heritage and traditions not only by producing and reissuing its classic back catalogue, but also by reviving the revolutionary spirit of its founder, charles pickman, with new designs. The man who would become the marquis of pickman set up his ceramics factory in the former carthusian monastery of santa maría de las cuevas in 1841, introducing technical innovations that brought the industrial revolution to seville. The novel shapes of his pieces and their decorations, in colors such as french green, pale chestnut brown, sky blue, jet black and pink, won him the position of official supplier to the spanish royal household. Pictured, a rounded octagonal serving dish with the negro vistas pattern, an iconic design that has been produced, almost unchanged, since 1841. The print was inspired by the blue chinoiserie landscape willow ware pattern, which was developed in england, and always depicts a branching willow tree and a pair of swallows. According to the story, also english in origin, they are two lovers, magically transformed by the gods to save their lives.