Bartolomé Cairasco de Figueroa

Bartolomé Cairasco de Figueroa (1538-1610)


Bartolomé Cairasco de Figueroa (1538-1610)

The Canarian poet, playwright and musician Bartolomé Cairasco de Figueroa (also Cayrasco de Figueroa), considered the father of Canarian literature, was born in Las Palmas (Canary Islands) in 1538, a descendant of Italo-Niçois/Genoese emigrants and aboriginal Canarians. In 1553 he travelled to Seville to study Arts and Theology and subsequently was made a canon of the Cathedral of Santa Ana (Las Palmas Cathedral). In 1555 he furthered his studies in Portugal, returning to Gran Canaria in 1558 to be ordained a priest. After a long period of travel in Italy, he settled in his hometown in 1569.

Around 1565 Cairasco de Figueroa began to cultivate the verso esdrújulo*, of which he was to become the foremost exponent, receiving the admiration of the Spanish writers Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega, and exercising a major influence on the poet Luis de Góngora. In 1580 he founded the first humanist academy in the Canary Islands, the Academia del Jardín, dedicated to the Apollo of Delphi (patron god of Music & Poetry), attracting a great number of artists, literati and musicians; also called Academia del Apolo Délfico, the meetings took place in the gardens of the poet’s own residence, land which is currently occupied by the Gabinete Literario in the Plaza Cairasco in Las Palmas.

Cairasco took an active part in the succesful defence of Gran Canaria against the attacks of the armadas led by the corsairs Francis Drake & John Hawkins (1595) and by Pieter van der Does (1599), victories which he then celebrated in poetry. He translated Torquato Tasso’s epic poem ‘Jerusalem Delivered’ into Spanish, adding a large cycle of his own octavas reales (ottava rimas) describing the majesties of the Canary Islands archipelago. His magnum opus was the ‘Templo Militante’, published in four volumes from 1602 to 1614.

A noted musician, composer of chanzonetas and madrigals, he was also singer and organist in the cathedral. He rose in position and eventually became Master of Ceremonies there.

In the Iglesia de S. Francisco de Asís in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria there is to this day a chapel named ‘Capilla Cairasco’, which belonged to the Cairasco family and was founded by Mateo Cairasco, father of the poet; Bartolomé financed the reconstruction of this chapel after the church was damaged in the attacks led by the  Dutch pirate van der Does.

Bartolomé Cairasco de Figueroa died in 1610, and is buried in the Capilla de Santa Catalina in Las Palmas Cathedral.

* an ‘esdrújulo’ verse is a type of poetic meter where the stress occurs on the antepenultimate syllable of the last word of the line, e.g. on Spanish words such as ‘cántico’, ‘propósito’,  ‘rápido’ and ‘esdrújulo’ itself.

Selection of Poems by Cairasco

(in original Spanish)