Monday, 18 November 2013

Spanish Baroque Painters

Spanish Baroque art existed during a period of time referred to as El Siglo de Oro or otherwise 'the Golden Century'. The exact dates that apply to this period of time are not conclusive, but certainly cover longer than a century which was simply rhetoric. Generally it is considered to have begun  in 1492 when Isabel of Castilla and Fernando of Aragon made an alliance to take (back) control from the Moors that had occupied much of the Iberian Peninsular since the 7th century. The symbolic end date is in 1681 when Pedro Calderon de la Barca died (the last 'great' writer of the time) but politically speaking it came to and end slightly earlier in 1659 when the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed.

The Treaty of the Pyranees was a peace treaty signed after a ten year long war between England/France and Spain. Spain suffered significant territorial losses and thus is considered the end of Spain's hay-day (before then they founded South America in the early 16th century, made territorial gains in the Netherlands, North Africa etc...). The treaty name refers to the re-aligning of Spanish/French borders that came to be in the Pyranees.

Spanish politics undoubtedly influenced the Baroque painters and although significant, it's important to understand that the Golden Age affected the arts too. Beginning also in 1492, Antonio de Nebrija published 'Gramatica de la Lengua Castellana' (Grammar of Castillian Language) which was the first ever written rule-book of Spanish to exist. Castillian (official language of Spain) was widely spoken for centuries before the publication of this book but the official language was traditionally Romance; as a consequence many could not express themselves in written terms as well as they could speak. Therefore, when the common spoken language became official, literature and poetry became far more accesible and thus was born the Golden Age enthusiasm for literature, poetry and of course, visual arts too.

Historical events that affected the arts are several but the most important are, and not limited to: the economy, religion and monarnichal patronage. Economically, their slow demise as an Empire 'where the sun never set' began to take its toll (their losses that began with parts of the Netherlands in '48 at the Peace of Westphalia and parts of France in '59 marked the beginning of the end of the empire). Their colonial loot that had proved profitable for centuries was no longer appealing, continual bad harvests caused widespread famines and a persistent plague throughout the first and last quarters of the century contributed to the horrific poverty that struck most of Spain and the consequential mass- emigration to the Americas. The counter-reformation was also significant in the development of art and required its austerity. Furthermore, the kings of Spain during the 17th century (Philip III (reign 1598-21), Philip IV (reign 1621-65) and Charles II (reign 1665-1700)) also had their share of influence - Philip IV was perhaps the best patron of the three and famously patronised Velazquez (excuse my lazyness in not applying the Spanish accents).

Here are some examples of Baroque art in Spain. The order is alphabetical by artist...

Francisco de Herrera the Younger, Allegory of the Eucharist, 1656.
This one, half way through the century shows a stylistic change. The palette is far more colourful and Venetian than it had been. Italian influence in movement is also visible.

Juan Valdes Leal, In Ictu Oculi, 1670-72.
'In Ictu Oculi' is a latin expression meaning 'in the blink of an eye'. I can only imagine that the skelenton creep surrounded by clutter is lecturing us on materialism and that considering our life is over before we know it material gains are useless. This is later on than Herrera's painting and definitely shows that any optimism from the above was well and truly dead with the onset of another plague and an inbred king (Charles II).

Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Return of the Prodigal Son, 1667-70.
Around a similar time to the above. I haven't got much to say other than it's difficult to gather an idea of whether Murillo expressed politically charged messages in his work or whether he simply was an artist making money. Other than that, Baroque influence is obvious in the movement of the dog and figures. Links with the Netherlands affected art throughout the century as is clear here. I imagine his choice to portray this scene was influenced by the Dutch master Rembrandt and his etchings on the subject in the 60's. The dutch loved silly details like animals too.

St Thomas of Villanueva Giving Alms, 1678.
This is a clear reference to the poverty in Sevilla - and is perhaps one of the reasons art returned to its dark state.

Francisco Ribalta, St. James at the Battle of Clavijo, 1603.
This takes us waaay back to the beginning of the 17th century. The first king in this timeline, King Philip III, was known as 'matamoros' which means 'killer of the moors' from the Spanish verb 'matar' (to kill) and 'moros' (moors). Six years after this he issued a decree whereby all Moors had to leave Spain. The style is more identifiable with the later paintings from above than it is with the first one from the middle of the century. The sun behind him makes him look like Jesus, and I imagine that is deliberately done to flatter the king.

Jusepe de Ribera, St. Jerome (Hieronimo), 1616-20.
The palette here is very Caravageseque.

Drunken Silenus, 1626.
Again here his Italian influence is clear for us to see. Although it was rare for Ribera to paint mythological subjects, this is a perfect example that some aspects of Renaissance humanism had remained in Spanish society. Ribera is making a comment on how alcohol causes a man to become as stupid as a goat - emphasised by the goat-bloke behind him...

Martyrdom of St. Philip Apostle, 1639.
St. Philip was the king's patron saint.

Diego Velazquez, Old Woman Cooking Eggs, 1618.
Diego Velazquez's early career began in Sevilla before he was scouted and taken to Madrid as a court painter. This was still while he was in Seville. The quality of the figures being suspended in a spot light was typically found in Spanish Baroque.

The Waterseller of Sevilla, 1623.
Here you can see the skill that Velazquez has employed, particularly in the tiny drops of water on the surface of the jug. Really awful image of the painting but I like his facial expressions.

The Drinkers, 1628-9.
This painting is actually pictured in Manet's portrait of Emile Zola, which I've spoken about here. This was the first time that Velazquez experimented in anatomy. He went to Italy twice and I can only imagine his enthusiasm in anatomy was after he'd seen Michelangelo's ceiling at the Sistine Chapel because Bacchus here looks very Michelangelesque (how big does the name have to be before you can't add the very pretentious 'esque' to the end of it? lol) He was in Madrid at this time.

Philip IV, 1631-2.
As the court painter, he was only ever going to paint the king looking powerful.

Surrender of Breda, 1634-5.
During the time where Spain was angering the whole world and his mum she rarely ever came out victorious. This was a rare occasion that Spain did win.

The Toilet of Venus, 1647-51.
This I would say is probably one of his most influential paintings. Although the composition is fairly conservative, the name is effectively beginning the long-winded tradition of taking the piss out of the naked Venus. It would have influenced most notably the French avant-garde.

Juan de Pareja, 1650.
Because he was in such high standing he had a slave. Or I think that's why he had one anyway. In any case, he freed his slave. I expect he respected him a fair bit to paint a portrait of him and portray him with a powerful aura about him with an aristocratic pose. 

Pope Innocemt X Pamphili, 1650.
Portraying the pope as a poweful man. Although in my opinion he appears quite taken aback by something.

Queen Mariana of Austria, 1653.
Philip used Velazquez to improve his international relations and flatter foreigners. This is quite hideous and If I were Queen Mariana I'd have caused a war, and Austria would not have been neutral...

Las Meninas, 1656.
I think I may have written about this one before but I'm not sure. This is probably Velazquez's most famous work. At first, you see a precocious little girl, assumedly a princess, being tended to by maids. If you spend a few more minutes looking though I imagine you may come accross the mirror. Look closely, there's a couple in the reflection. This is the King and Queen. From that you might guess that the funny looking man to the left is therefore the artist himself, infront of the easel (we can see part of the canvas to the left), and painting a portrait of the royal couple. There's also some dwarfs for their entertainment. Some information that might alert your Robert Langdon ears is that the cross on his chest was a later addition.

Hilanderas/Spinners (Fable of Arachne), 1657.
Not too detailed and shows how his brushwork started to loosen a la Venetians. Look at it. What's the first thing you notice? The scene on the stage at the back. Am I right? yeah obviously. Look you didn't even notice the woman infront. She's blurred so not to distract us from the background. The tapestry on the stage refers to Rape of Europa (by the Venetian master Titian). The painting may be comparing tapestry making (high art) with Spinning (low art).

Francisco de Zurbaran, Crucifixion, 1627.
Isolated and spot-lit. An emotional, latent movement where we half expect Jesus to look up. Very dramatic and typically Baroque. Lots of influence from Caravaggio's palette.

Christ and the Virgin in the Holy House of Nazareth, 1630.
Scenes of Christ as a child encouraged because people identified with it. Jesus just pricked himself making a wreath of thorns and is a reference to his future stigmata.

St. Francis in Meditation, 1635-9.
Austere, intense, dramatic, with some Caravagguesque tenebrismo for good measure. Holding a skull as a memento mori. Pained and agonised expression .

Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose, 1633.
Sometimes in art I think that art historians are guilty of making stupid connections between art and potential meaning. I do not believe that the 3 visible lemons alludes to the trinity or that the water represents the purity of the virgin. I think he's jumping on the Dutch still-life bandwagon.

Agnus Dei, 1635-40.
This in person is so small and very realistic, it has that spot lit quality again and is so cute.

The Battle Between the Moors and Christians at El Sotillo, 1638-40.
A story of a battle in the middle ages whereby the Christians sought to re-christianise occupied land.

 St. Luke as a Painter Before Christ on the Cross, 1660.
Some people believe this is a self portrait. Seeing as St. Luke is the patron saint of painting, Zurbaran isn't being too modest. It is engaging and was sure to have been influenced by the counter-reformation.

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