Home  >>  Write  >>  Arts  >>  Visual Art  >>  Spain


Spanish art

Spain is one of the most influential countries in the world, when it comes to art.  Spanish art has been formed by both European and Islamic traditions, with notable regional adjustments. Whatever the source of its influences, Spanish art has always altered styles and given them a uniquely Spanish character.

Historical background of Spanish art:

Spain was under Roman dominance 218 BC–AD 414, and there are lots of Roman architectural remains and some mosaics and fragments of mural painting that have survived. 

The beginnings

The country area was overrun by the Visigoths 414 and by the Arabs 711. The Visigoths contributed little to artistic development, plainly carrying on Roman civilization’s influence. The Arab culture was brilliant and played an important part in the expansion of Spanish art and architecture as well.

9th–10th centuries

The origins of painting in Spain are traced in illuminated manuscripts and in the remains of mural decoration. Lots of these manuscripts survive from the 9th and 10th centuries, and they present very strong Islamic and Byzantine influence in the style known as Mozarabic.  Mozarabic is known as the first genuinely Spanish national art.

11th–13th centuries

In the North of Spain, particularly in Cataluña region, the Romanesque style took root and brought Spain more into the conventional of European artistic development. Bold and colourful church frescoes were its finest art works.  Frescoes are paintings of religious themes that are mostly found on the walls of church.

Interestingly Spain has more surviving examples of fresco painting from that time than any other country in the world. In the South of Spain, occupied by the Moors 711–1492, Islamic influence predominated and Spanish art reflects that as well.

13th–14th centuries

During this Gothic phase in Spanish art, the influence of Italian art, especially the painting style of Siena, became significant. It can be seen clearly in the work of Ferrer Bassa, who was the first great identifiable Spanish painter and the founder of the Catalan school.

An important school of manuscript illuminators grew up at the court of Alfonso X of Castile (reigned 1252–82), reflecting the French influence that later became important in the early Gothic period.

15th century

The unification of Spain 1472 brought about a speedy progress in the arts, largely due to the royal support of Ferdinand and Isabella. A Hispano-Flemish style grew strong, based largely on Flemish painting but also on Moorish traditions.

Fernando Gallego (c. 1440–after 1507) and Luis Dalmau (active 1428–60) were among its finest exponents of this particular style. The influence of the Italian Renaissance can be seen in the works of the court painter Pedro Berruguete.

Interestingly, El Greco (1540-1614).who was Spain’s most significant Renaissance artist was actually from Crete (Greece). Domenikos Thetocopoulos (his real name) traveled first to Italy, where he picked up Tintoretto’s color palette in Venice and the dark figures of late Renaissance mannerism in Rome.

Next he moved to Toledo -- then Spain’s capital -- to try his luck with a combination of weirdly lit scenes, broodingly dark colors, crowded compositions, eerily elongated figures, and a his unique style.

El Greco never became court painter, though lots of religious commissions and lesser nobility were ordered from him.  Toledo’s churches and Casa y Museo de El Greco retain many of his works, as does Madrid’s Museo del Prado.  El Greco’s other works are scattered across Spain in collections at Sitges, Bilbao, Valencia, Seville, Cuenca, El Escorial, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Fine Arts museums.

16th century

The full impact of the Italian Renaissance is clear in the paintings of Luis de Morales (died 1586), who was strongly influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, and the paintings and sculptures of Alonso Berruguete  who was considered the first important Spanish sculptor.

Other important painters of the 16th century were Juan de Juanes (c. 1523–1579), Juan de las Roelas (c. 1558–1625), and Luis de Vargas.

17th century

This period, which manifested the transition from Mannerist to baroque, was dominated by somber and powerful religious art in a realist style. Painters include Ribera, Morillo, Zurbarán, Juan de Valdés Leal (1622–1690), Ribalta, as well as the very famous  Velázquez.  He was considered Spain’s greatest painter, a prodigy who became Philip IV’s court painter at 24.

 Velázquez studied in Italy where he cultured his audaciously naturalistic method. Though his position meant the bulk of his work was portraiture although he was a master of all painting genres. The collection of Madrid’s Museo del Prado spans his career, from the early Adoration of the Magi (1619) to the Surrender of Breda (1634) to his masterpiece Las Meninas (1656).

Alonso Cano and Montañés (1568–1649) were the leading sculptors during the 17th century, the period when painted wooden statues, expressive of intense religious fervors, were a popular art form.

18th–19th centuries

With the beginning of the Bourbons in the 18th century, alien influence again made it into the Spanish art world.   A succession of foreign painters were customary at the court, and regional uniqueness tended to decrease as Madrid grew in importance.

Spanish distinctiveness asserted itself in Goya, who completely conquered 18th-century Spanish art. Francisco Goya (1746-1828). Goya started as a painter of frothy, pastel-colored rococo works often of silly, joyful scenes (Parasol, 1777).

He then became a courtly portraitist in the position of principal painter to Charles IV (Family of Charles IV, 1800), but his republican tendencies and physical handicap (he was deaf) left him angry and prone to paint and score satirical attacks on the social system.

He turned ever more to more harshly, realistically painted works with the French Invasion but after the Restoration period was turned downby the new court. He retreated to his house, a deaf resentful old man, where he painted the deeply disturbing mythological/psychological Black Paintings (1821-22). He spent his final 4 years in Bordeaux, apparently happier, and returned to the brighter color and simpler, happier themes of his youth.

All of Goya’s works, along with 108 more, are in Madrid’s Museo del Prado.

His work exerted a great authority on European art in the 19th century, a period during which Spanish art declined, though Esquivel (1806–1857), López y Portaña, and Mariano Fortuny (1838–1874) also produced outstanding work during that period.

20th century

Spanish art became an essential force in European art. Major figures, many of whom worked abroad, include Juan Gris, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, and Picasso, widely regarded as the most innovative artist of the century. Antoni Tàpies and Modesto Cuizart (born 1925) are among the top Spanish artists of the second half of the 20th century.

Among 19th-century painters, José de Madrazo y Agudo belonged with the school of Jacques-Louis David and Mariano Fortuny with French romantic and historical painters.

The foremost architect working in the neoclassical style was Juan de Villanueva. At the turn of the century the architect Antonio Gaudí designed a number of startling and enormously original structures in Barcelona, including the Expiatory Church of the Holy Family.

The foremost of modern painters, Pablo Picasso, though born a Spaniard, is everlastingly associated with the school of Paris, as are the cubist Juan Gris, the surrealists Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí, and the sculptor Julio González.

Nonetheless, each has in his style something that is distinctively Spanish in origin. In the 1950s there was an outburst of abstract expressionism in Spain represented in the works of Antonio Tapies and Luis Sáez, among many others. Eduardo Chillida is a major modern Spanish sculptor, as are Francisco Barón, José Luis Sánchez y Gabino, and Martin Chirino. Notable contemporary painters include Luis Ficto José Francés, and Rafael Canogar.