Dictionary of Art and Artists



 

 


History of

Architecture and Sculpture

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

CONTENTS:

 
 

PART ONE
THE ANCIENT WORLD
PREHISTORIC ART
EGYPTIAN ART

ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN ART
AEGEAN ART
GREEK ART
ETRUSCAN ART
ROMAN ART
EARLY CHRISTIAN AND BYZANTINE ART

PART TWO
THE MIDDLE AGES
EARLY MEDIEVAL ART
ROMANESQUE ART
GOTHIC ART

PART THREE
THE RENAISSANCE THROUGH THE ROCOCO
LATE GOTHIC
THE EARLY RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
THE HIGH RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
MANNERISM AND OTHER TRENDS
THE RENAISSANCE IN THE NORTH
THE BAROQUE IN ITALY AND SPAIN
THE BAROQUE IN FLANDERS AND HOLLAND
THE BAROQUE
THE ROCOCO

PART FOUR
THE MODERN WORLD
NEOCLASSICISM AND ROMANTICISM
REALISM AND IMPRESSIONISM
POST-IMPRESSIONISM, SYMBOLISM, AND ART NOUVEAU

PART FIVE
TWENTIETH-CENTURY
TWENTIETH-CENTURY SCULPTURE
TWENTIETH-CENTURY ARCHITECTURE


INDEX
FIGURES
 

 
 

 
 

CHAPTER SIX
 

THE BAROQUE IN ITALY AND SPAIN
 

  
 

What is Baroque? Like Mannerism, the term was originally coined to disparage the very style it designates. It meant "irregular, contorted, grotesque." Art historians otherwise remain divided over its definition. Should Baroque be used only for the dominant style of the seventeenth century, or should it include other tendencies, such as classicism, to which it bears a complex relationship? Should the time frame be extended to cover the period 1700-1750, known as the Rococo? More important, is the Baroque an era distinct from both Renaissance and modern, or the final phase of the Renaissance? On this last question, we have chosen the first alternative, while admitting that a good case can be made for the second. Which of the two we adopt is perhaps less important than an understanding of the factors that must enter into our decision.

The fact is that the Baroque eludes simple classification. Rather, it was a time full ot inner contradictions, not unlike the present, and thus peculiarly fascinating to us. Hence, we run into a series of paradoxes typical of the conflicting nature of the Baroque. It has been claimed that the Baroque style expresses the spirit of the Counter Reformation, which, however, had already done its work by 1600. Catholicism had recaptured much of its former territory, and Protestantism was on the defensive, so that neither side any longer had the power to upset the new balance. As if to signify the triumph of the old faith, in 1622 the heroes of the Counter ReformationIgnatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier (both Jesuits), Theresa of Avila, Filippo Neri, and Isidoro Agricolawere named saints (Carlo Borromeo had been made one in 1610), beginning a wave of canonizations that lasted through the mid-eighteenth century. In contrast to the piety and good deeds of these reformers, the new princes of the Church who supported the growth of Baroque art were known primarily for worldly splendor.

Another reason why we should guard against overemphasizing the Baroque's ties to the Counter Reformation is that, unlike Mannerism, the new style was not specifically Italian, although historians generally agree that it was born in Rome during the final years of the sixteenth century. Nor was it confined to religious art. Baroque elements quickly penetrated the Protestant North, where they were applied primarily to other subjects.

Equally problematic is the assertion that Baroque is "the style of absolutism," reflecting the centralized state ruled by an autocrat of unlimited powers. Although absolutism reached its climax during the reign of Louis XIV in the later seventeenth century, it had been in the making since the 1520s (under Francis I in France and the Medici dukes in Tuscany). Moreover, Baroque art flourished in bourgeois Holland no less than in the absolutist monarchies, and the style officially sponsored under Louis XIV was a notably subdued, classicistic kind of Baroque.

It is nevertheless tempting to see the turbulent history of the era reflected in Baroque art, where the tensions of the era often seem to erupt into open conflict. The seventeenth century was one of almost continuous warfare, which involved virtually every nation in a complex web of shifting alliances. The Thirty Years' War (1618-48) was fueled by the dynastic ambitions of the kings of France, who sought to exert their hegemony over Europe, and the Hapsburgs, who ruled Spain, the Netherlands, and Austria. Though fought largely in Germany, it eventually engulfed nearly all of Europe, even absorbing the Dutch struggle for independence from Spain, which had been waged since 1581. After the Treaty of Westphalia formally ended the war and granted their freedom, the United Provinces entered into a series of battles with England and France for commercial and maritime supremacy that lasted until 1679. Yet, other than in Germany, which was left in ruins, there is little correlation between these rivalries and the art of the period. It is a remarkable fact that the seventeenth century has been called the Golden Age of painting in France, Holand. Flanders, and Spain. We look in vain, moreover, for the impact of these wars on Baroque imagery. Its chief manifestation is the etchings of Jacques Callot (see fig. 807), though we occasionally catch an indirect glimpse of it in Dutch militia scenes, such as Rembrandt's Night Watch (fig. 792).

We encounter similar difficulties when we try to relate Baroque art to the science and philosophy of the period. A direct link did exist in the Early and High Renaissance, when an artist then could also be a humanist and a scientist. During the seventeenth century, however, scientific and philosophical thought became too complex, abstract, and systematic for the artist to share. Gravitation and calculus could not stir the artist's imagination any more than Descartes' famous motto Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am).

There is nevertheless a relationship between Baroque art and science which, though subtle, is essential to an understanding of the entire age. The complex metaphysics of the humanists, which endowed everything with religious import, was replaced by a new physics, beginning with Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, and culminating in Descartes and Newton. They instituted a cosmology that severed the ties between sensory perception and science. By placing the sun, not the earth (and humanity), at the center of the universe, it contradicted what our eyes (and common sense) tell us: that the sun revolves around the earth. Scientists now defined underlying relationships in mathematical and geometrical terms as part of the simple, orderly system of mechanics. Not only was the seventeenth century's world view fundamentally different from what had preceded it, but its understanding of visual reality was forever altered by the new science, thanks to advances in optical physics and physiology. Thus we may say that the Baroque literally saw with new eyes.

The attack on Renaissance science and philosophy, which could trace their origins and authority back to antiquity, also had the effect of supplanting natural magic, a precursor of modern science that included both astrology and alchemy. The difference was that natural magic sought to exercise practical control of the world through prediction and manipulation, by uncovering nature's "secrets" instead of her laws. To be sure, traditional magic, linked as it was to religion and morality, continued to live on in popular literature and folklore long afterward.

In the end, Baroque art was not simply the result of religious, political, or intellectual developments. Let us therefore think of the Baroque style as one among other basic features that distinguish the period from what had gone before: the refortified Catholic faith, the absolutist state, and the new role of science. These factors are combined in volatile mixtures that give Baroque its fascinating variety. Such diversity was perfectly suited to express the expanding view of life. What ultimately unites this refractory era is a reevaluation of humanity and its relation to the universe. Central to this image is the new psychology of the Baroque. A prominent role was now assigned by philosophers to human passion, which encompasses a wider range of emotions and social levels than ever

before. The scientific revolution culminating in Newton's unified mechanics responded to the same impulses, for it assumes a more active role in our ability to understand and in turn affect the world around us. Remarkably, the Baroque remained an age of great religious faith, however divided it may have been in its loyalties. The counterpoint between the passions, intellect, and spirituality may be seen, as forming a dialogue which has never been truly resolved.


 

PAINTING IN ITALY

Around 1600 Rome became the fountainhead of the Baroque, as it had of the High Renaissance a century before, by gathering artists from other regions to perform challenging new tasks! The papacy patronized art on a large scale with the aim of making Rome the most beautiful city of the Christian world "for the greater glory of God and the Church." This campaign had begun as early as 1585, but the artists then on hand were late Mannerists of feeble distinction. Soon, however, it attracted ambitious young masters, especially from northern Italy, who created the new style.


Caravaggio.

Foremost among them was a painter of genius, Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio after his birthplace near Milan
(1571-1610). His first important religious commission was for a series of three monumental canvases devoted to St. Matthew that he painted for the Contarelli Chapel in S. Luigi dei Francesi from 1599 to 1602 (fig. 740). As decorations they perform the same function that fresco cycles had in the Renaissance (compare fig. 600). Our view of the chapel includes St. Matthew and the Angel, in which the illiterate tax collector turns dramatically for inspiration to the angel who dictates the gospel. The painting is remote from both Mannerism and the High Renaissance. Its only antecedent is the "North Italian realism" of artists like Savoldo (see fig. 689), but Caravaggio's realism is so radical that a new term, "naturalism," is needed to distinguish it from the earlier kind.

The Calling of St. Matthew (fig. 741) is the most extraordinary picture of all. Never have we seen a sacred subject depicted so entirely in terms of contemporary lowlife. Matthew, the tax gatherer, sits with some armed men (evidently his agents) in what is a common Roman tavern as two figures approach from the right. The arrivals are poor people, their bare feet and simple garments contrasting strongly with the colorful costumes of Matthew and his companions. For Caravaggio, however, naturalism is not an end in itself but a means of conveying profoundly religious content. Why do we sense a religious quality in this scene and do not mistake it for an everyday event? It is because Caravaggio's North Italian realism is wedded to elements derived from his study of Renaissance art in Rome, which lend the scene its surprising dignity. His style, in other words, is classical, without being classicizing. The composition, for example, is disposed across the picture surface and its forms sharply highlighted, much as in a relief (see fig. 271). What identifies one of the figures as Christ? It is surely not the Saviour's halo, the only supernatural feature in the picture, which is an inconspicuous gold band that we might well overlook. Our eyes fasten instead upon His commanding gesture, borrowed from Michelangelo's Creation of Adam (fig. 650), which "bridges" the gap between the two groups and is echoed by Matthew, who points questioningly at himself.

Most decisive is the strong beam of sunlight above Christ that illuminates His face and hand in the gloomy interior, thus carrying His call across to Matthew. Without this light, so natural yet so charged with symbolic meaning, the picture would lose its magic, its power to make us aware of the divine presence. Caravaggio here gives moving, direct form to an attitude shared by certain great saints of the Counter Reformation: that the mysteries of faith are revealed not by intellectual speculation but spontaneously, through an inward experience open to all people. What separates the Baroque from the later Counter Reformation is the externalization of the mystic vision, which appears to us complete, without any signs of the spiritual struggle in El Greco's art.

Caravaggio's paintings have a "lay Christianity" that appealed to Protestants no less than Catholics. This quality made possible his strong, though indirect, influence on Rembrandt, the greatest religious artist of the Protestant North. In Italy, Caravaggio fared less well. His work was acclaimed by artists and connoisseurs, but the ordinary people for whom it was intended, as well as some conservative critics, regarded it as lacking propriety and reverence. They resented meeting their own kind in these paintings, preferring religious imagery of a more idealized and rhetorical sort. For that reason, Caravaggism largely ran its course by 1630, when it was assimilated into other Baroque tendencies.



740. Contarelli Chapel, S. Luigi dei Francesi, Rome
7
41. Caravaggio. The Calling of St. Matthew. . 1599-1602. Oil on canvas, 3.4 x 3.5m.
Contarelli Chapel, S. Luigi dei Francesi, Rome




Jusepe de Ribera.
 

Caravaggio's style lived on only in Naples, then under Spanish rule, where he fled from Rome after killing a man in a duel over a ball game. His main disciple in Naples was the Spaniard Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), who settled there after having first absorbed Caravaggio's style in Rome and who in turn spawned a school of his own. Especially popular were his paintings of saints, prophets, and ancient beggar philosophers. The asceticism for which they were known appealed strongly to the otherworldliness of Spanish Catholicism. At the same time, such pictures reflected the learned humanism of the Spanish nobility who ruled Naples and were the artist's main patrons.

Most of Ribera's figures are middle-aged or elderly men, who possess the unique blend of inner strength and intensity seen in St. Jerome and the Angel of Judgment (fig.
742), his masterpiece in this vein. The fervent characterization owes its expressive force to both the dramatic composition, inspired by Caravaggio (compare St. Matthew and the Angel in fig. 740), and the raking light, which lends the figure a powerful presence by heightening the realism and emphasizing the vigorous surface textures.






742. Jusepe de Ribera.
St. Jerome and the Angel of Judgment.
1626.
Oil on canvas.
262 x 164 cm.
Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples




Artemisia Gentileschi.

It was in the Baroque that women first began to play an important role in the arts. However, the obstacles they met in getting instruction in figure drawing and anatomy effectively barred them from painting narrative subjects. Hence, women artists were largely restricted to painting portraits, genre scenes, and still lifes until the middle of the nineteenth century. Many nevertheless carved out successful careers, often emerging as the equals or superiors of the men in whose styles they were trained. The exceptions to this general rule were certain Italian women born into artistic families, for whom painting came naturally. The most significant contribution of all was made by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593— 1653).

The daughter of Caravaggio's follower Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), she was born in Rome and became one of the leading painters and personalities of her day. Her characteristic subjects are Bathsheba, the tragic object of King David's passion, and Judith, who saved her people by beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes. Both subjects were popular during the Baroque era, which delighted in erotic and violent scenes. Artemisia's frequent depictions of these biblical heroines throughout her restless career suggest a fundamental ambivalence toward men that was rooted in her life, which was as turbulent as Caravaggio's. While Gentileschi's early paintings of Judith take her father's and Caravaggio's work as their points of departure, our example (fig. 743) is a fully mature, independent work. The inner drama is uniquely hers, and no less powerful for its restraint in immortalizing Judith's courage. Rather than the decapitation itself, the artist shows the instant after. Momentarily distracted, Judith gestures theatrically as her servant stuffs Holofernes' head into a sack. The object of their attention remains hidden from view, heightening the air of intrigue. The hushed, candlelit atmosphere in turn establishes a mood of exotic mystery that conveys Judith's complex emotions with unsurpassed understanding.


743. Artemisia Gentileschi.
 
Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes,
. 1625. Oil on canvas. The Detroit Institute of Arts





Annibale Carracci.

The conservative wishes of everyday people in Italy were met by artists less radical, and less talented, than Caravaggio. They took their lead instead from Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), another recent arrival in Rome. Annibale came from Bologna where, since the 1580s, he and two other members of his family had evolved an anti-Mannerist style based on North Italian realism and Venetian art. He was a reformer rather than a revolutionary. Like Caravaggio, who apparently admired him, it was his experience of Roman classicism that transformed his art. He, too, felt that art must return to nature, but his approach emphasized a revival of the classics, which to him meant the art of antiquity, and of Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, and Correggio. At his best, he succeeded in fusing these diverse elements, although their union always remained somewhat precarious.

Between 1597 and 1600 Annibale produced the ceiling fresco in the gallery of the Farnese Palace (fig. 744), his most ambitious work, which soon became so famous that it ranked behind only the murals of Michelangelo and Raphael. The historical significance of the Farnese Gallery is great indeed. Our detail (fig. 745) shows Annibale's rich and intricate design. The narrative scenes, like those of the Sistine Ceiling, are surrounded by painted architecture, simulated sculpture, and nude, garland-holding youths. The Farnese Gallery does not rely solely on Michelangelo's masterpiece. The style of the main subjects, the Loves of the Classical Gods, is reminiscent of Raphael's Galatea (see fig. 667), and the whole is held together by an illusionistic scheme that reflects Annibale's knowledge of Correggio and the great Venetians. Carefully foreshortened and illuminated from below (as we can judge from the shadows), the nude youths and the simulated sculpture and architecture appear real. (The figure in the lower left of fig. 745 was drawn from life.) Against this background the mythologies are presented as simulated easel pictures. Each of these levels of reality is handled with consummate skill, and the entire ceiling has an exuberance that sets it apart from both Mannerism and High Renaissance art.


744. Annibale Carracci. Ceiling fresco. 1597-1600. Gallery, Palazzo Farnese, Rome
745.
Annibale Carracci. Ceiling fresco (detail). Gallery, Palazzo Farnese, Rome

The sculptured precision of the Farnese Gallery does not do justice to the important Venetian element in Annibale Carracci's style. This is most striking in his landscapes, such as the monumental Landscape with the Flight into Egypt (fig. 746). Its pastoral mood and the soft light and atmosphere hark back to Giorgione and Titian (see figs. 669 and 670). The figures, however, play a far less conspicuous role here. They are, indeed, as small and incidental as in any Northern landscape (compare fig. 729). Nor does the character of the panorama at all suggest the Flight into Egypt. It would be equally suitable for almost any story, sacred or profane. Still, we feel that the figures could not be removed altogether (though we can imagine them replaced by others). This is not the untamed nature of Northern landscapes. The old castle, the roads and fields, the flock of sheep, the ferryman with his boat, all show that this "civilized," hospitable countryside has been inhabited tor a long time. Hence the figures, however tiny, do not appear lost or dwarfed into insignificance, because their presence is implicit in the orderly, domesticated quality of the setting. This firmly constructed "ideal landscape" evokes a vision of nature that is gentle yet austere, grand but not awesome. We shall meet its descendants again and again in the next two centuries.


746. Annibale Carracci. Landscape with the Flight into Egypt. . 1603.
Oil on canvas,
122.7 x 250,3 cm. Galleria Doria Pamphili, Rome

 

Giovanni Lanfranco; Domenichino.

The seeds of the reaction against Carracci's classicism were to be found within his own studio. The way was led by Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), a native of Parma, whose Annunciation (fig. 747) unites Correggio's colorism with Caravaggio's drama. The result is an emotive style that announces the arrival of the High Baroque. Lanfranco s expressive intensity was the very opposite of the measured economy of Domenichino (1581-1641), Carracci's favorite pupil, who thought out every gesture and expression with impressive logic. Today, however, Domenichino is remembered more for his paintings of sweetly lyrical female figures. St. Cecilia (fig. 748), the patron saint of music, inaugurates a long line of successors through the Rococo.
 


747. Giovanni Lanfranco. Annunciation.
. 1616. Oil on canvas.

S. Carlo ai Catinari, Rome


748. Domenichino. St. Cecilia.
.
1617-18. Oil on canvas.
Musee du Louvre, Paris




Guido Reni; Guercino.

Lanfranco eventually vanquished his adversary Domenichino in fresco decoration, where the main development of Baroque painting was to take place through the 1630s. Their rivalry was repeated in this arena By two other members of the Carracci school, Guido Reni and Guercino. To artists who were inspired by it, the Farnese Gallery seemed to offer two alternatives. Pursuing the Raphaelesque style of the mythological panels, they could arrive at a deliberate, "official" classicism; or they could take their cue from the sensuous illusionism present in the framework. Among the earliest responses to the first alternative is the ceiling fresco Aurora (fig. 749) by Guido Reni (1575—1642), showing Apollo in his chariot (the Sun) led by Aurora (Dawn), Despite its rhythmic grace, this relieflike design would seem like little more than a pallid reflection of High Renaissance art were it not for the glowing and dramatic light that gives it an emotional force that the figures alone could never achieve. The Aurora ceiling (fig. 750) painted less than ten years later by Guercino (1591-1666) is the very opposite of Reni's. Here architectural perspective, combined with the pictorial illusionism of Correggio and the intense light and color of Titian, converts the entire surface into one limitless space, in which the figures sweep past as if propelled by stratospheric winds. With this work, Guercino started what soon became a veritable flood of similar visions.


749. Guido Reni. Aurora. 1613. Ceiling fresco. Casino Rospigliosi, Rome



750. Guercino. Aurora. 1621-23. Ceiling fresco. Villa Ludovisi, Rome




Pietro da Cortona.

The most overpowering of these is the ceiling fresco by Pietro da Cortona  (1596-1669) in the great hall of the Barberini Palace in Rome, which presents a glorification of the reign of the Barberini pope, Urban VIII (fig. 751). As in the Farnese Gallery, the ceiling area is subdivided by a painted framework simulating architecture and sculpture, but beyond it we now see the unbounded sky, as in Guercino's Aurora. Clusters of figures, perched on clouds or soaring freely, swirl above as well as below this framework, creating a dual illusion: some figures appear to hover well inside the hall, perilously close to our heads, while others recede into a light-filled, infinite distance. Cortona's source of inspiration was surely Correggio's Assumption of the Virgin (fig. 692), which achieves a similar effect.

Cortona's frescoes provided the focal point for the rift between the High Baroque and Baroque classicism. The classicists asserted that art serves a moral purpose and must observe the principles of clarity, unity, and decorum. And supported by a long tradition reaching back to Horace's dictum ut pictura poesis, they further maintained that painting should follow the example of tragic poetry in conveying meaning through a minimum of figures whose movements, gestures, and expressions can be easily read. Cortona, though not anticlassical, presented the case for art as epic poetry, with many actors and episodes that elaborate on the central theme and create a magnificent effect. He was also the first to argue that art has a sensuous appeal which exists as an end in itself.

Although it took place on a largely theoretical level, the debate over illusionistic ceiling painting represented more than fundamentally divergent approaches to telling a story and expressing ideas in art. The issue lay at the very heart of the Baroque. Illusionism enabled artists to overcome the apparent contradictions of the era by fusing separate levels of reality into a pictorial unity of such overwhelming grandeur as to sweep aside any differences between them. Despite the intensity of the argument, in actual practice the two sides rarely came into conflict over easel paintings, where the differences between Cortona and the classicism of Carracci's followers were not always so clear-cut. Nevertheless, the leader of the reaction against what were regarded as the excesses of the High Baroque was neither a fresco painter, nor was he an Italian, but a French artist living in Rome: Nicolas Poussin.


751. Pietro da Cortona .
Glorification of the Reign of Urban VIII.

1633-39.
Portion of ceiling fresco.
Palazzo Barberini, Rome





IL GESU.



It is a peculiar fact that few ceiling frescoes were painted after Cortona finished his Glorification of the Reign of Urban VIII, ironically because the new style of architecture fostered by Francesco Borromini and Guarino Guarini provided so few opportunities for adornment. But after 1670 they enjoyed an astonishing revival in older buildings, which reached its climax in the interior decoration of Il Gesu (fig. 752). Although his role in this case was only advisory, it is clear that the plan must have been Bernini's. The commission for the ceiling frescoes went to Giovanni Battista Gaulli (1639—1709) and to his young protege known as Baciccia, while a talented assistant, Antonio Raggi (1624-1686), did the stucco sculpture. We sense the same spirit as in the Cornaro Chapel (fig. 769), and the program, which proved extraordinarily influential, is testimony to Bernini's imaginative daring. The entire ceiling is treated as a single unit: the nave fresco, with its sharp contrasts of light and dark suggesting a mystical vision, spills dramatically over its frame, then turns into sculptured figures. Here Baroque illusionism achieves its ultimate expression.
 


752. Giovanni Battista Gaulli. Triumph of the Name of Jesus. 1672-85.
Ceiling fresco. Il Gesu, Rome




Luca Giordano

The Late Baroque found its greatest representative in Luca Giordano (1634-1705), a Neapolitan who began as an imitator of his teacher Ribera but became the principal heir to Pietro da Cortona as the leading decorative painter in Italy. Legendary for his speed, Giordano was a virtuoso whose remarkable facility resulted in a prodigious and varied output. The Rape of Europa (fig. 753) shows his spontaneous approach at its best. The composition, based on one by Veronese, also was to inspire Francois Boucher. The painting shares its graceful style with Cortona's, but instead of the latter's blond palette, it favors a rich tonalism. Although he never fully acceded to colorism, Giordano set the stage for the great Venetian painters of the eighteenth century, even in his peripatetic life-style: he became the first in a line of great Italian artists, culminating in Tiepolo, to be called to the Spanish court.

Gaulli and Giordano mark the final flowering of Baroque exuberance. By this time, the pendulum had swung in the opposite direction. Italian painting during the third quarter of the seventeenth century was largely characterized by a conservative synthesis of the High Baroque and Baroque classicism. This yielded to an academic style that flourished in Rome and Naples, which were then closely linked. It was formulated chiefly by Carlo Maratta (1625-1713) of Rome, the most admired artist of his day, and Francesco Solimena (1657-1747), Giordano's successor in Naples. Maratta may be regarded as a less doctrinaire counterpart to Charles Lebrun in France. In contrast to his rival Gaulli (see fig. 752), he sought to revive the grand manner of the Carracci by emphasizing individual figures through a clear, even light without entirely abandoning Cortona's color and drama. As might be expected, however, the results of such a compromise were generally unimpressive.



753. Luca Giordano. The Rape of Europe. 1686.
Oil on canvas.
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut

 

 

PAINTING IN SPAIN

During the sixteenth century, at the height of its political and economic power, Spain had produced great saints and writers, but no artists of the first rank. Nor did El Greco's presence prove a stimulus to native talent. The reason is that the Catholic church, the main source of patronage, was extremely conservative, while the Spanish court and most of the aristocracy preferred to employ foreign painters, so that native artists were held in low esteem. Thus the main impetus came from Italy and the Netherlands.



SANCHEZ COTAN.

Stimulated by the example of Aertsen and his contemporaries in the Netherlands, Spanish artists began to develop their own versions of still life in the 1590s. We see the distinctive character of this tradition in the example (fig.
771) by Juan Sanchez Cotan (1561-1627), a minor religious artist remembered today as one of the first and most remarkable members of the Toledo school of still life painters. In contrast to the lavish display of food or luxury objects in Northern pictures, we here find an order and an austere simplicity that give a new context to these vegetables. They are so deliberately arranged that we cannot help wondering what symbolic significance the artist meant to convey. The juxtaposition of bright sunlight and impenetrable darkness, of painstaking realism and abstract form, creates a memorable image in which even these humble fruits and vegetables become sacred examples of God's work.

Although he probably used contemporary North Italian paintings as his point of departure, Sanchez Cotan's still lifes make one think of Caravaggio, whose effect on Spanish art, however, is not found until the following decade. We do not know exactly how Caravaggism was transmitted. The likeliest source was Naples, where Caravaggio had fled, which was then under Spanish rule. His principal follower there was Tusepe Ribera (see page 549), but too little is known of his activity before about 1625 for us to trace his influence. Be that as it may, the impact of Caravaggism was felt especially in Seville, the home of the most important Spanish Baroque painters before 1640.


771.
Juan Sanchez Cotan. Quince, Cabbage, Melon,
and Cucumber,
. 1602.
Oil on canvas, 68.8 x 84.4 cm. San Diego Museum of Art.



Velazquez.

Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) painted in a Caravaggesque vein during his early years in Seville. His interests at that time centered on scenes of people eating and drinking rather than religious themes. Known as bodegones, such paintings are the distinctive Spanish counterparts of Dutch breakfast pieces, for they evolved from the paintings of table-top displays brought to Spain by visiting Flemish artists in the early seventeenth century. The Water Carrier of Seville (fig. 772), which Velazquez did at the age of 20 under the apparent impress of Ribera, already shows his genius: his powerful grasp of individual character and dignity invests this everyday scene with the solemn spirit of a ritual.

A few years later, Velazquez was appointed court painter to Philip IV, whose reign from 1621 to 1665 represents the great age of painting in Spain. Much of the credit must go to the Duke of Olivares, who largely restored Spain's fortunes and supported an ambitious program of artistic patronage to proclaim the monarchy's greatness. Upon moving to Madrid, Velazquez quickly displaced the mediocre Florentines who had enjoyed the favor of Philip III and his minister, the Duke of Lerma. He spent the rest of his life there, doing mainly portraits of the royal family. The earlier of these still show the precise division of light and shade and the clear outlines of his Seville period, but after the late 1620s his work acquired a new fluency and richness.

During his visit to the Spanish court on a diplomatic mission in 1628, the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens helped Velazquez to discover the beauty of the many Titians in the king's collection, from which he developed a new fluency and richness. The magnificent portrait of Pope Innocent X (fig. 773), painted in 1650 while Velazquez was visiting Italy, is meant to evoke the great tradition of the papal portraits of Raphael, but its fluid brushwork and glowing color derive from Titian (compare figs. 668 and 673). The sitter's gaze, sharply focused on the beholder, conveys a passionate and powerful personality so characteristic of the Baroque.

The Maids of Honor (fig. 774) displays Velazquez' mature style at its fullest. At once a group portrait and a genre scene, it might be subtitled "the artist in his studio," for Velazquez shows himself at work on a huge canvas. In the center is the little Princess Margarita, who has just posed for him, among her playmates and maids of honor. The faces of her parents, the king and queen, appear in the mirror on the back wall. Have they just stepped into the room, to see the scene exactly as we do, or does the mirror reflect part of the canvas (presumably a full-length portrait of the royal family) on which the artist has been working? This ambiguity shows Velazquez' fascination with light. The varieties of direct and reflected light in The Maids of Honor are almost limitless. The artist challenges us to match the mirror image against the paintings on the same wall and against the "picture" of the man in the open doorway.

Although the side lighting and strong contrasts of light and dark still suggest the influence of Caravaggio, Velazquez' technique is far more varied and subtle, with delicate glazes setting off the impasto of the highlights. The glowing colors have a Venetian richness, but the brushwork is even freer and sketchier than Titian's. Velazquez was concerned with the optical qualities of light rather than its metaphysical mysteries. These he penetrated more completely than any painter of his time. His aim is to show the movement of light itself and the infinite range of its effects on form and color. For Velazquez, as for Jan Vermeer in Holland, light creates the visible world. Velazquez could not have known Vermeer's work, for the latter was then only 24, but he may have known scenes of domestic genre by older Dutch painters. Looking at the open, sketchy brushwork in The Maids of Honor, we wonder if he could also have seen works by Frans Hals (compare fig. 787). However, unlike Hals, Velazquez does not seem interested in capturing time on the wing.


772. Velazquez. The Water Carrier of Seville. . 1619. Museum, London
773. VelazquezPope Innocent X. 1650. Oil on canvas, 139.7 x 115 cm. Galleria Doria Pamphili, Rome
774. VelazquezThe Maids of Honor. 1656. Oil on canvas, 3.2 x 2.7 m. Museo del Prado, Madrid




Zurbaran.

Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664) stands out among the painters of Seville for his quiet intensity. This artist's most important works were done lor monastic orders and consequently are filled with an ascetic piety that is uniquely Spanish. St. Serapion (fig. 775) shows an early member of the Mercedarians (Order of Mercy) who was brutally murdered by pirates in 1240 but canonized only a hundred years after this picture was painted.

The painting will remind us of Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath. Each shows a single, three-quarter-length figure in lifesize. But Zurbaran's saint is both hero and martyr, and it is the viewer who now contemplates the slain monk with a mixture of compassion and awe. The sharp contrast between the white habit and the dark background lends the motionless figure a heightened visual and expressive presence. Here pictorial and spiritual purity become one. The hushed stillness creates a reverential mood that counteracts the stark realism, so that we identify with the strength of St. Serapion's faith rather than with his physical suffering. The very absence of rhetorical pathos makes this timeless image profoundly moving.


775. Zurbaran. St. Serapion. 1628. Hartford, Connecticut



Murillo.

The work of Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), Zurbaran s successor as the leading painter in Seville, is the most cosmopolitan, as well as the most accessible, of any Spanish artist. For that reason, he exerted a vast influence on innumerable followers, whose pale imitations have obscured his considerable achievement. He learned as much from Northern artists, including Rubens and Rembrandt, as he did from Italians like Reni and Guercino. The Virgin and Child in figure 776 unites these influences in an image that nevertheless retains an unmistakably Spanish character. The haunting expressiveness of the faces achieves a gentle pathos that lends a more overt appeal to Zurbaran's pietism. This must be seen as part of an attempt to inject new life into standard devotional images that had been reduced to formulaic repetition in the hands of lesser artists. The extraordinary sophistication of Murillo's brushwork and the subtlety of his color show his considerable debt to Velazquez as well as Anthony van Dyck (see fig. 782).


776. Bartolome Esteban Murillo. Virgin and Child.
. 1675-80. Oil on canvas, 165.7 x 109.2
cm.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York.

 
 

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