T H E  L U X U R Y  T R A V E L E R

(Encore Edition c. 2001)


















A recent exhibition of works by Diego Velazquez was a prime example of the important contribution Spain has made to the world of art.  It was also indicative of the superb quality that is found in art museums throughout Spain.  This great heritage began when an unknown man gave Spanish art its beginning on the ceiling of a cave at Altamira in northern Spain.   Other prehistoric men left artistic evidence of their existence, and by the Iron Age, Iberian Art had developed a unique identity of its own.

Given its location, Spain was both vulnerable to invaders, and attractive to traders.  Long before Roman occupation, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians had settled on the Iberian Peninsula with each civilization leaving an imprint on its artistic heritage.




The western Roman empire was already crumbling when northern European tribes arrived on the peninsula.  These “barbarians” as they were called, left their imprint on the classic art forms of the day, and eventually formed a new culture with the Hispano-Romans on the Iberian Peninsula.   With existence between two great civilizations – the Romans and the Moors of Al-Andalus – the Visigoths, and their art, are largely ignored by art historians.   However, a visit to the Museum of Visigothic Culture in Toledo, once their capital, dispels the myth that their culture offers little of importance.

In 711, armies arrived from North Africa and the Arabs and Berbers defeated the Visigoths.  With the exception of small pockets of resistance in the mountains of northern Spain, they occupied nearly the entire Iberian Peninsula within a few years.  The few mountain regions that were never under Muslim rule became the birthplace of an art form known as Asturian or Ramirense art – after King Ramiro who ruled the Kingdom of Asturias in the 9th century.  This art form existed at the time of Carolingian renaissance in the Frankish empire, the harbinger of Romanesque art.

By the middle of the 14th century, with most of Andalusia in Christian hands, the Moors presence in Spain was limited to the small kingdom of Granada.  They remained there until their defeat by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel in 1492.  The nearly eight centuries of Moorish occupation have had a profound effect on the art and architecture of Spain.  Their crowning achievement is the Alhambra in Granada with the adjoining Generalife Gardens.

Events at the end of the 15th  century were critical to the future of Spain.  The marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile created union between the two kingdoms.  And, the discovery of the New World would change Spain for all time.   This was a time when the most important influence on art and culture in Europe came from Italy.

In Spain, classic Renaissance architecture evolved from the "Plateresque" style with its profusion of detail.  The palace of Charles V, built within the Alhambra in Granada, is an excellent example of the more restrained Italian-style Renaissance architecture.  Spain's leading artists in the 16th century were the  “Devine” Morales and Domenico Theotocopulis, who was also known as El Greco.

In the 17th century, Spain’s painters and image makers would bring forth a golden age of art.   Religious imagery was a uniquely Spanish folk art form.  The masters of this medium in wood were, Gregorio Hernandez, Juan Gomez and Pedro Roldan of Castile, and Juan Martinez Montanes of Seville.  But above all, Spain’s golden century is identified with the painters of the day.  The most important of these was the prodigy from Seville, Diego Velazquez.  Extremadura-born Francisco de Zurbaran, moved first to Seville, and then to the court.  He was a painter of religious themes, monks, and saints.

Seville is also the base for another truly great artist, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, who achieved enormous popularity in his time. Less recognized but not less talented, was Alonso Cano of Granada.  Juan Valdes Leal is perhaps the most “Baroque” of them all with his paintings on the vanity of the world.  Francisco Ribalta introduced the Italian chiaroscuro “tenebrist” tradition in Spain, which Jose de Ribera took to its zenith after time in Italy, where he gained the nickname, Lo Spagnoletto (the Little Spaniard).

In 1752, The Spanish Academy of Fine Arts was established to determine what was proper artistic form.   There was an undercurrent of rebellion against the barriers of Neoclassicism and it burst forth with a vengeance in the form of one of the greatest artists of all time , Francisco de Goya.  Ultimately, Goya was to become a an artist removed from his time, a modern painter in the broadest sense of the word, with loose, expressive brush strokes, and above all, his free,
nonconformist outlook.

With Goya, a new era in art was born.

During the last half of the 19th century historical painting, a genre with clear literary connections,  became all the rage.  Artists like Casado del Alisal and Eduardo Fortuny were devoted to this fashion.   Others like Mariano Fortuny, were able to break away from the historical obsession to dedicate themselves to more experimenting properly pictorial techniques, the effect of light and textures.

This exploratory trend would find root in painters such as Santiago Rusinol, Beruete, Dario Regoyos, Casas, Joaquin Mir, or Iturrino, who constitute the forefront of Spanish impressionists.  The best of these and other artists of the time are displayed in Madrid’s Cason del Buen Retiro near the Prado Museum.

At the turn of the 20th century, a succession of avant-garde burst onto the European art scene.  In some respects, Spain was more resistant than most countries to these movements, but also, undeniably contributed some of the greatest talent to them.  The first and most decisive “-isms” that would shape art in the 20th century  was Cubism.  Pablo Picasso, was its principal exponent.  Later, in the 1920's, Spain would contribute decisively to the next movement of the early 20th century with two key figures: Salvidore Dali and Joan Miro.  For an appreciation of Spain’s contribution to art in the early 20th century, one must only view the permanent collection in the Reina Sofia National Art Center in Madrid.

Post war innovation in art originated not in Europe, but in New York in the 1960's.  Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Pop Art …The most prominent artist collective of the time was El Paso which grouped such painters as Tapies, Antonio Saura, Millares, Canogar or Feito.  See the works of these artists at the Tapies Foundation in Barcelona or the Museum of Abstract Art in Cuenca

A Selection of Museums and Galleries in Spain

Mares Museum
Museum of Fine Arts – Fortuny,
Picasso Museum
The Miro Foundation(s) also in Mallorca

Museum of Fine Arts – Ribera, Zurbaran, Andres Cortes, Federico de Madrazo, Solana, Zuloaga

Museum of Fine Arts – Valeriano Dominguez Becquer

Museum of Abstract Art – Saura, Tapies,

FIGURES (Girona)
Dali Museum

Palace of Charles V

Prado Museum –Velazquez, Goya, Morales,
Archeological Museum
San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts – Murillo, Goya, El Greco,
Municipal Museum
Reina Sofia Art Centre – 20th century art
Contemporary Arts Fair
Sorolla Museum
Cason del Buen Retiro – Impressionists – Rusinol, Beruete, Regoyos, Casas, Joaquin Mir, Iturrino and Sorolla
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection – European Cubists and Surrealists-20th century art

Museum of Roman Art

Salzillo Museum - Religious Imagery of Francisco Salzillo and others

Archeological Museum
Museum of Fine Arts
Religious Imagery Montanes

Museum of Visigothic Culture

The National Museum of Sculpture – Religious Imagery

This article is a digest of materials produced by the Tourism Office of Spain, it has been produced with their permission.  We are grateful to the Tourist Office of Spain for allowing us the opportunity to present this information to our viewers.