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My top five spanish baroque artists

by  on 26 March, 2013 Be the first to comment!

The seventeenth century is in all respects the golden age of Spanish painting. Italian influence was largely rejected in favor of Mannerist formulas and a severe and noble style which used chiaroscuro not for the sake of a theatrical aestheticism, but to create a more urgent sense of drama. Here my remarks about the baroque period.

Introduction

The Baroque style of art immediately followed the “Renaissance” period. During the Renaissance, artists tried to show perfect people and classical themes. Renaissance artists liked the art of ancient Greece with its symmetry and grace. By the 1500s, Baroque artists painted real people in a real manner, with all of their warts, wrinkles, and often emotions on display.  

The diversity of baroque art is the result of several factors. The first is geographical. Renaissance culture originated in Italy about 1400. It gradually spread from Florence throughout much of Europe. Baroque art appeared almost at the same time in nearly every European capital. In the early 1600's, artists of several nationalities working in different countries created works of great originality. These included artists from Spain, France, and the Netherlands as well as Italy. 

Spain produced a number of remarkable Baroque artists and it is the art of a few of these better known Spanish artists that I will be focusing on today. 

Characteristics of Baroque Art

Baroque art placed a large importance on movement, drama, mysticism, realism, individual figures, light and shadow, and the sense of something greater than ones self. Spanish artists given the importance of the Roman Catholic Church often had religious themes. 

Artists were encouraged by the Catholic Church to exhibit stronger religious characteristics in their paintings. 

Baroque art is characterized by great drama, rich, deep color, and intense light and dark shadows. Usually the most dramatic point of an event where the action was occurring was shown.  

The works were meant to evoke emotion and passion instead of the calm rationality that had been prized during the Renaissance. 

There is usually one source of light, in what is referred to as “tenebrism”. This method goes quickly from highlighting to dark shadows. 

 The use of contrasting light and dark, such as in shadows, bring drama to the works. “Chiaroscuro” often is used to describe the emphasis placed on light where light components are made lighter and dark parts are made darker. Both have an effect on the emotions and the intensity of the piece.

Realism is an important aspect of Baroque art. Warts, moles, age lines etc are not removed but rather included to emphasize the “realism”.

Naturalism was also seen in Baroque art through the use of normal details unique to daily life. Local places such as taverns and peasants, and everyday objects might be depicted.

Great use of facial expressions highlights the subjects' moods or emotions.

Lines were used convey motion and were often foreshortened – this reduction in line length gave the illusion of an extension in space , This often contributed to a feeling of motion. 

Many artists using the Baroque style were aware of time and used it to convey the strength of nature as well as how time was a part of life's process. An older man symbolizing time was included in a great deal of pieces to illustrate that time comes for all. The positioning of people in each work gives the feeling of time moving forwards and backwards. 

History and Social Context

During 16th century, Spain had reached its greatest unity and territorial extension. Through inheritances, diplomatic conquests, agreements or royal marriages, Flanders, Germany, Hungary, Naples, Portugal and Sicily, as well as new and rich territories in the Americas, came under the sceptre of Charles V (1500-1558).  He was also ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.

His son “Philip II of Spain (1527–1598), inherited a realm on which the sun never set. As king of Spain, he was also the ruler of the Netherlands, the Free County of Burgundy, the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples, and the Duchy of Milan. Furthermore, the Spanish expansion overseas continued under his government. In the second half of the 16th century, Spanish rule not only extended over distant parts of the American continent but also reached out into the Pacific region, and in 1565 the Philippines were claimed for the Spanish crown.” 

Charles descendents, the "Philips" lost, one by one, all the European territories. This caused serious religious, political, internal and international problems. His last descendent on the throne Charles II (1665–1700) was the last Spanish king in the House of Austria. Charles II was weak and sickly and nicknamed the "Bewitched". He had no children by either of his wives and named Philip of Anjou, the future Philip V, grandson of Louis XIV of France his heir. 

The Spanish Baroque period evolved towards the end of what has been referred to as the Spanish Golden Age (Siglo de Oro).

Many cultures had been present in Spain up to this time and all contributed to the mosaic of Spanish culture which was by no means homogonous. Many states had their own cultures and languages as they still do. The Castillian language and culture did dominate at this time. 

Ferdinand and Isabella chose Catholicism to unite Spain and in 1478 asked permission of the pope to begin the Spanish Inquisition to purify the people of Spain. They began by driving out Jews, Protestants and other non-believers.  

The inquisition was very active during this period and operated with the intent of removing those of faiths that were not Roman Catholic. Both those of the Jewish faith and the Islamic faith had been forced to convert to Christianity or be expelled. Eventually those that had converted were expelled as well. Most of this took place in the mid 1500’s. A final expulsion took place when Spanish Muslims were exiled in 1609 by the Spanish Inquisition. 

Lastly “the popularity and success of the Baroque style was encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church, which had decided at the time of the Council of Trent, in response to the Protestant Reformation, that the arts should communicate religious themes in direct and emotional involvement. 

Spain was thus the greatest European nation at the time, howver with diminishing holdings in Europe but it had become a focal point for wealth as a result of it’s extracting wealth from it’s overseas conquests. The country was unified and through force had aestablished catholicism as the religion of the country.

Where did all this take place?

Spain of course would be the obvious answer but the Spain of the 1500 hundreds was a lot different than the Spain of today.

Following are images at a number of points in time that display both the extent of what was considered Spain and how dynamic the territories were. This came about as I had mentioned earlier as a result of inheritances, diplomatic conquests, agreements or royal marriages. Areas coloured in purple were held completely by the Spanish crown.

 

Figure 4:   SPAIN AS IT IS CURRENTLY CONFIGURED 

Francisco Ribalta (1565–1628)

He was born in Solsona, Lleida. Although his first apprenticeship was apparently with Navarrete, who worked for years in the Escorial, Ribalta's earliest work (a Cruxifixion of 1582) was signed in Madrid. After his years in Madrid, Ribalta was to settle as an artist in Valencia. He became among the first followers in Spain of the austere tenebrist style of Caravaggio

  

Figure 5: Deposed Christ hugging St. Bernard Clairvaux, 1625-1627, oil on canvas

Museo del Prado, Spain 

Christ leaves the cross for an instant in order to embrace Saint Bernard, founder of the Cistercian Order. The scene is based on one of the saint's mystical visions, drawn from one of the most popular religious books of the Baroque era: Pedro de Ribadeneyra's Flos Sanctorum or Book of the Lives of the Saints, published in 1599. 

Ribalta reduces the palette as much as possible and eliminates any detail that might distract the viewer. The light coming from the left highlights the white habit and Christ's anatomy, creating an infinite number of ivory tones that evoke an almost sculptural appearance. The chiaroscuro effect shows Caravaggio's influence on the work of Ribalta, whose powerful Christ figure also seems to be inspired by Sebastiano del Piombo's images.  

This work is one of the finest in the Spanish Baroque and offers a perfect idea of the profoundly religious mentality that reigned in that epoch. 

  

Figure 6: St Francis Comforted by an Angel, c. 1620, Oil on canvas, 204 x 158 cm

Museo del Prado, Madrid 

According to a legend told by Saint Bonaventura, when Saint Francis was on his sickbed, an musician angel appeared to mitigate the nostalgia he felt for the music of his youth. 

The use of light and shadows to create a sense of mystery, construct the space and bring out the dramatic elements, as well as the delicacy of the gestures and the action, compositional courage and masterful reproduction of textures are characteristics of Ribalta present in this work. 

A member of the first generation of Spanish naturalists, Ribalta is one of its finest, and most original. In part, he draws on external influences, such as Sebastano del Piombo, but the greater part of his work is the result of personal reflection. 

 José de Ribera, Lo Spagnoletto (1591–1652)

Ribera was born near Valencia, Spain at Xàtiva. He was baptized on February 17, 1591. His father was a shoemaker, perhaps on a large scale. He is said to have apprenticed with the Spanish painter Francisco Ribalta in Valencia, although no proof of this connection exists. 

Moved to Rome and then Naples where he remained. His career picked up in the late 1620s, and he was accepted as the leading painter in Naples thereafter.

  

Figure 7: St. Paul the Hermit, 1647, oil on canvas, 

Musée du Louvre, Paris, France. 

Paul the Hermit was a 3rd-century saint who escaped persecution by retreating to the Egyptian desert, where he lived in continual meditation until he was more than 100 years old. The raven that sustained Paul by bringing him bread each day appears at the upper left. The skull prompted his meditation on the brevity of human life. Ribera was born in Spain but worked in Italy. His use here of stark contrasts of light and dark, made popular by the Italian painter Caravaggio (1571-1610), highlights the modeling of the saint's emaciated torso. The thick paint and textured brushwork that evoke the wrinkled skin contribute to the realism of the image. This is critical to the emotional impact on the viewer of Paul as a model of personal penance that was central to Counter Reformation Catholic devotion. 

  

Figure 8:   Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew 1644, oil on canvas

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona. 

The painting illustrates martyrdom and physical torment. The almost naked apostle Bartholomew looks at us helplessly, while a sadistic drunken executioner delightedly flailshim. On the ground a classical sculture, which has been identified as the god Baldach, and in the background two priests, their heads covered are witness to the torture. 

Francisco Zurbarán (1598–1664)

Francisco de Zurbarán (baptized November 7, 1598; died August 27, 1664) was a Spanish painter. He is known primarily for his religious paintings depicting monks, nuns, and martyrs, and for his still-lifes. Zurbarán gained the nickname Spanish Caravaggio, owing to the forceful, realistic use of chiaroscuro in which he excelled.

  

Figure 9:   Still-life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose, c. 1630, oil on canvas

Norton Simon Museum. 

This extraordinary painting by Zurbarán, the only signed and dated still life by this great master of the school of Seville, has been widely admired as a masterpiece of the genre.

To devout Spanish Catholics in the 17th century, the apparently humble objects portrayed here contained significant religious meaning. The measured placement of the three motifs, for example, would have been instantly understood as an allusion to the Holy Trinity. The painting has also been interpreted as homage to the Virgin, with the oranges, their blossoms, and the cup of water symbolizing her purity, and the thornless rose referring to her Immaculate Conception.  

  

Figure 10:  Agnus Dei, c. 1635-1640, oil on canvas, 37,3 cm x 62 cm , Museo Nacional del Prado, Spain. 

This votive image was wide-spread in seventeenth-century Spain. It represents an Agnus Dei or “Lamb of God,” in allusion to Christ's sacrificial death to save humanity. The straightforward composition consists exclusively of an image of the young animal with its legs bound, lying on a windowsill and brightly light by a single light source. 

Diego Velázquez (1599–1660)

Velázquez had a colossal impact on European art. Much of his work focused on landscapes, mythology, and religious painting; however, he spent the majority of his life in portraiture. Being a painter in the Madrid court, many of his portraits are of court nobles. Velasquez was called the "noblest and most commanding man among the artists of his country. He was a master realist, and no painter has surpassed him in the ability to seize essential features and fix them on canvas with a few broad, sure strokes. "His men and women seem to breathe," it has been said; "his horses are full of action and his dogs of life.  

Velázquez made much use of Caravaggesque chiaroscuro in his early pictures. However, he turned the Italian artist's almost aggressive realism into a sharpness of perception that is softened by such picturesque devices as strangely new colours, always in earthy hues, and by his equating of objects and humans in a manner suggesting the experiences of dreams.  

A particularly fine example of this approach is Velázquez' first real masterpiece, the Water seller. An old man whose poor clothing and sharply lit profile are ennobled by the light falling on him is handing a boy a glass of water. The forceful way in which the two jugs, shining in the light, make their presence felt in the foreground, the brilliance of the sparkling drops of water on the curve of the larger pitcher, and the beautiful transparency of the glass match the physical and mental qualities suggested by the three human figures. 

  

Figure 12:  Las Meninas, or The Family of Felipe IV, c. 1656, oil on canvas, 318 cm x 276 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. 

A portrait of the Infanta Margarita, daughter of Felipe IV (1605-1665), surrounded by her servants or “family” in a hall of Madrid’s Alcázar Palace.  

This, the most famous of Velázquez’s works, offers a complex composition built with admirable skill in the use of perspective, the depiction of light, and the representation of atmosphere.  

There have been innumerable interpretations of this subject and later references to it. The most numerous emphasize a defense of the nobility of painting versus craft. Velázquez portrays himself, painting the painting itself, on the left of the canvas, thus affirming the supremacy of the art of painting. The Infanta Margarita (1651-1673), wears white and appears in the center of the composition, surrounded by her ladies in waiting, the “meninas” María Agustina de Sarmiento and Isabel de Velasco, along with two court buffoons, María Bárbola and Nicolasito Pertusato, and a mastiff. Behind her, the duenna Marcela de Ulloa converses with the quartermaster, José Nieto, who is in the doorway.

The King and Queen, Felipe IV and María de Austria (1634-1696) are reflected in the mirror at the back of the room, leading to series of extraordinarily complex spatial relations. 

Alonso Cano  (1601 - 1667)

Born in Grenada and died in Grenada. A painter, sculptor, and architect, often called the Spanish Michelangelo for his diversity of talents. Although he led a remarkably tempestuous life, he produced religious works of elegance and ease. 

Cano painted extensively in Sevilla, Madrid, and Granada. The Sevilla paintings, among them Stations of the Cross and St. Francis Borgia, influenced by Francisco de Zurbarán, are monumental and bold, with strong tenebrism (emphasis on darkness). The Madrid paintings, including St. Isidore’s Miracle of the Well (1645–46), are more impressionistic, foreshadowing the work of Velázquez. 

  

Figure 13:  Saint Benedict's Vision of the Globe and the the Three Angels, 

1658-1660. Oil on canvas, 166 cm x 123 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid.  

A native of the province of Nursia, the holy abbot that founded the Benedictine Order in the sixth century appears inside his cell, where he witnesses the apparition of a globe held by three angels in the presence of the Trinity.   

This work denotes the Venetian influences which Cano absorbed in court, allowing him to create a canvas characterized by a magnificent use of paint, resolving colors with warm tones in order to transmit the experience of his vision. He even goes so far as to alter anatomical orthodoxy for expressive purposes, as can be seen in the Saint's extremely long fingers, which he depicts with a great economy of means. At the same time, the fine and confident rendering of the face shows that he is one of the most powerful draftsmen of his time. 

  

Figure 14:  The Miracle of the Well, 1638-1640, Oil on canvas, 216cm x 149 cm,

Museo del Prado, Madrid. 

According to legend, the son of St Isidore fell into a well. Through the prayers of the saint and his wife, the water level rose miraculously so that the child was brought safely to the surface. Here, we see St Isidore standing in front of the well with his arms spread wide. The young woman is helping the child out of the well and looking towards her husband with an expression of astonishment on her face. Two servant girls in the background are commenting with eloquent gestures on the miracle. Two children and a dog, drawn towards the overflowing water, also discuss the event.   

Cano links two themes in this painting: the miracle itself and the recognition of Isidore's saintliness by the women. For the artist, this means presenting him in the manner of history painting and religious portraiture at the same time. He has solved this problem of duality by presenting the saint as an almost incidental figure barely involved in the event, a fact which has frequently been misinterpreted as a weakness of this painting. 

 Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682)

Active for almost all his life in his native Seville. His early career is not well documented, but he started working in a naturalistic tenebrist style, showing the influence of Zurbaran. After making his reputation with a series of eleven paintings on the lives of Franciscan saints for the Franciscan monastery in Seville (1645-46), the pictures are now dispersed in Spain and elsewhere), he displaced Zurbaran as the city's leading painter and was unrivalled in this position for the rest of his life.  

Most of his paintings are of religious subjects, appealing strongly to popular piety and illustrating the doctrines of the Counter-Reformation church, above all the Immaculate Conception, which was his favourite theme. His mature style was very different to that seen in his early works; it is characterized by idealized figures, soft, melting forms, delicate colouring, and sweetness of expression and mood. The term 'estilo vaporoso' (vaporous style) is often used of it. 

Museo del Prado, Madrid.  

Here the Holy Family is portrayed as a simple human family: the artist shows a carpenter and his wife as he might have seen them at home in seventeenth-century Spain, dressed in the costume of the day. There are no haloes in this picture, nor is there any hint of the schematic arrangement seen in Baroque religious pictures. There is an element of sentimentality in the scene: the parents watch fondly as the Child plays with the dog and the bird. There could hardly be a more unambiguous example of the infusion of naturalism into a religious theme which is so characteristic of Spanish art; there is also in this picture something reminiscent of the homely atmosphere found in Netherlandish painting. 

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

This may look like an innocent scene: a young woman peering from her window as her chaperone attempts to muffle a laugh with her shawl. And it may be just that, but it is also possible that something quite different is being depicted here. The earliest title given to this painting was Las Gallegas (The Galician Women). As contemporary viewers would have understood, Galicia, a poor province in northwestern Spain, was the homeland of most of Seville's courtesans and prostitutes. The younger woman's direct gaze, along with her low neckline and red flower, may beckon a customer -- or the viewer himself. 

The Baroque style of art immediately followed the “Renaissance” period. During the Renaissance, artists tried to show perfect people and classical themes. Renaissance artists liked the art of ancient Greece with its symmetry and grace. By the 1500s, Baroque artists painted real people in a real manner, with all of their warts, wrinkles, and often emotions on display.  

Conclusion

The diversity of baroque art is the result of several factors. The first is geographical. Renaissance culture originated in Italy about 1400. It gradually spread from Florence throughout much of Europe. Baroque art appeared almost at the same time in nearly every European capital. In the early 1600's, artists of several nationalities working in different countries created works of great originality. These included artists from Spain, France, and the Netherlands as well as Italy. 

Spain produced a number of remarkable Baroque artists and it is the art of a few of these better known Spanish artists that I will be focusing on today. 

Baroque art placed a large importance on movement, drama, mysticism, realism, individual figures, light and shadow, and the sense of something greater than ones self. Spanish artists given the importance of the Roman Catholic Church often had religious themes. 

Artists were encouraged by the Catholic Church to exhibit stronger religious characteristics in their paintings. 

Baroque art is characterized by great drama, rich, deep color, and intense light and dark shadows. Usually the most dramatic point of an event where the action was occurring was shown.  

The works were meant to evoke emotion and passion instead of the calm rationality that had been prized during the Renaissance. 

There is usually one source of light, in what is referred to as “tenebrism”. This method goes quickly from highlighting to dark shadows. 

The use of contrasting light and dark, such as in shadows, bring drama to the works. “Chiaroscuro” often is used to describe the emphasis placed on light where light components are made lighter and dark parts are made darker. Both have an effect on the emotions and the intensity of the piece.

Realism is an important aspect of Baroque art. Warts, moles, age lines etc are not removed but rather included to emphasize the “realism”.

Naturalism was also seen in Baroque art through the use of normal details unique to daily life. Local places such as taverns and peasants, and everyday objects might be depicted.

Great use of facial expressions highlights the subjects' moods or emotions.

Lines were used convey motion and were often foreshortened – this reduction in line length gave the illusion of an extension in space , This often contributed to a feeling of motion. 

Many artists using the Baroque style were aware of time and used it to convey the strength of nature as well as how time was a part of life's process. An older man symbolizing time was included in a great deal of pieces to illustrate that time comes for all. The positioning of people in each work gives the feeling of time moving forwards and backwards.

 

 

 

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