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
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,
Goya, a new era in art
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
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
A Selection of Museums and Galleries in Spain
Museum of Fine Arts – Fortuny,
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
Museum of Abstract Art – Saura, Tapies,
Palace of Charles V
Prado Museum –Velazquez, Goya, Morales,
San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine
Arts – Murillo, Goya, El Greco,
Reina Sofia Art Centre – 20th century
Contemporary Arts Fair
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
Museum of Fine Arts
Religious Imagery Montanes
Museum of Visigothic Culture
The National Museum of Sculpture –
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