Tell me that I have been

Walk with Miguel around his beloved Salamanca, taking in the large portrait that hangs authoritatively in the Chancellor's Room at the Unamuno House-Museum

Portrait of Don Miguel de Unamuno (1935) by José AguiarUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

The work

Discover one of the most interesting portraits of Unamuno, in which the writer appears in the foreground, thoughtfully contemplating the typical urban landscape of Salamanca. They are silhouetted against a stormy sky of purples and reds, adding an expressiveness to the work.

The portrait hangs in the Chancellor's Room, the most institutional setting in the Unamuno House-Museum. This emblematic space was used by the chancellor for holding faculty meetings with professors. Unamuno also used it as his personal office when he lived there.

Portrait of Don Miguel de Unamuno (1935) by José AguiarUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

The artist

José Aguiar, one of the most significant representatives of Canarian expressionism, was born in Cuba in 1895. As a child, he moved with his family to live in La Gomera (second-smallest island of Spain’s Canary Island chain). In 1935, he completed this portrait, which is considered one of the best images of the writer preserved by the University of Salamanca.

The expression

The figure of the author, contemplating Salamanca, stands out against a background of impasto brushwork. The emotion in his expression demonstrates the love he felt for the city. He lived there from 1891, when he was named professor of the illustrious university.

The hands

As if searching for the safety in its touch, his right hand keeps a firm hold on his book of poems The Christ of Velázquez. His left hand, however, rests serenely with the thumb in his jacket pocket, in a very characteristic pose of the writer.

The outfit

The artist painted Unamuno's suit with more compact brush-strokes. His daily uniform was made up of a dark sweater, jacket, and pants. The white collar of his shirt always stood out; a detail which adds clarity and light to the face within the artwork.

The skyline

Salamanca's skyline, with its impressive cathedrals, makes up the background. The Roman bridge, the River Tormes, and the houses along the riverbank are arranged in an expressionist puzzle. The palette mixes ocher and brown tones, resulting in a powerful blast of color with a profusion of different shades.

The game of contrasts

Sitting atop a gray-tone rock, Unamuno's posture transmits a sense of strength. The painter has placed him in front of a large cliff, opting for a contrast of colors between his suit and the spectrum of intense reds and oranges making up the rock.

The historic moment

The style and pigments within the work would seem to foretell the tumultuous times ahead. In 1936, the city would fall into hardship due to the outbreak of the Civil War. Heartbroken, Unamuno died on December 31, but his immortal character would remain forever tied to the beautiful city of Salamanca.

In the depths of my heart, I keep your
strong soul; when I die my
golden Salamanca,
keep my memory.
And when the sun sets and lights up the ancient gold that gilds you,
with your language,
of the eternal herald, tell me what I have been.

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