Art of The Berlin Galleries – Spanish Paintings

THE origin of the Spanish school of painting can be definitely traced to Italy. The statement made in most art histories that Spain being in close relations with the Netherlands the Spanish artists were first taught by the Flemish is an error. This relation was purely a monarchical one. But a close and intimate relation did exist with Italy, where Spain even gained a foothold in Naples ; and all through the history of the Spanish school we find it allied, by inspiration or imitation, with Italian art. The visits of Flemish painters, of Peter de Kempeneer, called in Spain Pedro Campaña, of Antonis Mor, who received high royal favour, and even of Rubens, had little influence on the Spanish school. On the contrary we can trace quite definitely the origin of Spanish painting to the Italian artists who had come to Avignon, to the court of the exiled Pope, and who established a connection with Barcelona. Also the influence of the Genoese Luca Cambiaso, by whom we saw a painting in Gallery 47, an imitator of Correggio, who settled in Spain, of El Greco, and especially of Ribera through his pupil Giordano, counted for much. Most of the Spanish artists visited Italy –there is no record of anyone having studied in Flanders — where they were especially attracted by the men who worked with sharp contrasts of colours and of light and shade, notably by Caravaggio.

As everywhere else the racial character of the people stamped itself on its art, and the Spanish school of painting may be stigmatized as religious — as were the people — and more particularly Church-religious. It has nothing to do with personal spiritual life, little with biblical thought, almost exclusively with the ascetic teaching of a Church which was the bulwark of the Inquisition. Worldly or mythological compositions do not appear; even landscape painting, wherein the Inquisition, perhaps, saw a liberal, pantheistic tendency, is little used. Of course such a feudal state, with Grandees and Church Princes, brought forward portraiture of the highest order, but not until the time of Velasquez is the secular subject chosen to any extent. Only one man, Becerra, in the fifteenth century, chose mythological themes and painted the nude — but he died in the torture chamber.

The Spanish paintings are found in Gallery 49. They give us examples of some of the leading men of the school.

The earliest example is by Luis de Morales (died 1586), whose “Madonna and Child ” (412) at once gives us a different type of face from any we have thus far seen — lean, haggard, and in the eyes a weird, somnambulistic look, which even the Child shares.

The most prominent man of the middle of the century was Alonso Sanchez Coello (1515-1590), called the Portuguese Titian, who at the court of Philip II painted portraits and altarpieces. In his pale, light, delicate brushing he reminds of the early French portrait painter François Clouet. His portrait here of Philip II (406B), in rich armour, in his right holding the marshal’s baton, is in every way typical of the style of work that was done at the time.

It is surprising that while Philip II of Spain was the great peace-destroyer of Europe, the tyrannical despot, the inspired tool of the most horrible Inquisition, he was also one of the sincerest friends of art ever known. Owing to his patronage it must be surmised that a number of men bearing to the full the stigmata of the school, still excelled in artistic workmanship.

Although Juseppe Ribera (1588-1656), named Lo Spagnoletto, left Valencia at an early age and lived and died in Italy, his influence on Spanish art can scarcely be sufficiently estimated. The characteristic deep colour and low tones of the Spanish school became more luminous and brilliant, and its figure painting, if anything, more realistic. Ribera himself was fascinated with the style of Caravaggio and his violent illumination, and while following the Italian’s intense realism he betrays a sort of instinctive ferocity. He had an astonishing knowledge of anatomy, a rough, adventurous fantasy, shown as well in his many bust pieces of anchorites, prophets and philosophers, as in his large compositions. In his martyrdoms he displays all the weird, abnormal torturer’s passion of a Spanish Inquisitor. At the same time he knew how to give the nude an unusual lifelike construction and appearance.

In the ” St. Sebastian ” (405B), where the saint hangs from his wrists, bound high to two trees, and has sunk on his knees pierced by an arrow, Ribera has kept within the bounds of beauty. The sharply lit, nude body, of fine modelling, has a very plastic appearance against a night background where the moon but faintly shines through the clouds.

The ” St. Jerome ” (403), although attributed to Ribera, is possibly an early work of his pupil Giordano, in imitation of his master’s manner. The hermit, pale and emaciated, the upper part of the body bare, is looking in ecstasy upward as he holds a large folio in his hands. The withered face, furrowed by years of self-torture, the straggling grey hair and long beard, the prominent veins and muscles furnish a type of what might be called the most popular picture in Spanish art. An old copy of Ribera’s ” Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew ” (416), the original of which is in the Prado, is a gruesome portrayal of agonizing torture, the repulsiveness of which is heightened by the low types of the faces shown, even the saint’s features resembling those of a galley-slave.

The greatest name in Spanish art is that of Velasquez (1599-1660). Although he was in Italy for quite a long time he is the only Spaniard who may with justice be called to have been thoroughly original and individual. He was a pupil of Herrera and Pacheco, and learned much from Ribera and Tristan, but always was and remained himself. He was a portrait painter, pure and simple. Only four religious compositions and a half score of secular subjects are known to exist from his brush. But his portraits are the most marvellous creations of their kind — only rivalled by those of Frans Hals and Titian, surpassed by none. When we gaze upon one of his portraits we see a human being, alive; breathing, real, with striking relief and perfect solidity; the wonderful envelopment of air with which he surrounds it gives a peculiar intensity of illusion.

Velasquez can only be appreciated to his fullest value in the Prado, in Madrid. Still the Kaiser Friedrich Museum possesses two masterpieces which give us a true conception of his power. The best is a ” Female Portrait” (413E. Plate X), a knee-piece, where a grand dame — Juana de Miranda, according to an inscription on the back of the canvas — in rich brocade stomacher and very wide sleeves, stands behind a chair, on the back of which she rests her right hand. Her high coiffure tops her somewhat square face, with its piercing eyes and finely chiselled mouth. That Spain is the land of beautiful women, as Prosper Merimée in his romance Carmen would have us believe, is little to be noticed in the paintings of the early Spanish artists. The women which they picture have too much manliness and hardness, often a proud and arrogant expression, while the utterly tasteless costumes of the time preclude the possibility of indicating any line or form that is pleasing.

Another portrait of a homely woman presents ” Maria Anna, Sister of Philip IV ” (413C), the wife of the King of Hungary, and later of the Emperor Ferdinand III. It is of the master’s best period, and an exquisite example of his technical supremacy.

A pompous looking general, Alessandro del Borro, looks at us with a haughty superciliousness from a life-size, full-length portrait (413A). This used to be ascribed to Velasquez, and it has truly the appearance of some of the artist’s portraits of warriors which are found in Madrid, but the origin of the painting must with greater credibility be sought in Italy of the seventeenth century. An old copy of the Prado painting of the Court-fool, Don Antonio the Englishman, with his large hound, is also found here (413D).

Velasquez was too great to have followers, nor were the Spanish painters after him intrinsically able to comprehend the cool refinement and supreme dignity with which he endows his models. His dignity, with them, becomes arrogance, and his refinement and delicacy is smothered as it were by the hot glowing of gipsy blood.

Juan Carreño de Miranda (1614-1685) was influenced by Velasquez, and for a time his assistant. But his is a weak reflection of his master’s manner. His ” Portrait of King Charles II ” (407), the last of the Habsburgs, makes this anemic boy of twelve look like an old man. The sickly features of the face, the general lassitude of the body, are an irony on the magnificent garniture of the royal chamber where he is posed.

Miranda’s pupil, Mateo Cerezo (1635-1675), was an imitator of van Dyck’s Italian manner, but his ” Crucifixion ” (408B), besides the weak, al-most sentimental look of the crucified one, cannot omit the Spanish characteristic of heavy, black clouds through which breaks a ,lurid even-glow.

Zurbaran (1598-1662), of Seville, painted monks and Madonnas with clearness and dramatic force. One of his earliest masterpieces is one of a series of four paintings, illustrating scenes from the life of St. Bonaventura, whereof two are at present in the Louvre and one in Dresden. In the scene before us (404A), St. Bonaventura points to the crucifix as the source of all knowledge, when St. Thomas Aquinas, accompanied by several monks, visits him in his study. The mystic Bonaventura was professor of theology at the University of Paris, and the great scholastic St. Thomas Aquinas, having heard of the astounding learning and the power of logic of the Franciscan professor, expressed a desire to see his library so that he too might procure the works that Bonaventura studied. But when he entered the cell, the modest priest drew aside a curtain which hung over his study-table and revealed an ivory crucifix suspended on the wall. The drawing and subdued colour of the painting is very attractive, and the details of a seventeenth century interior — which is anachronistic to the time when the incident occurred — are very precise and enlightening.

Murillo (1618-1682) was the principal artist of the South. He was of course a church-painter, not of the bloody catastrophes of the legends of the saints and martyrs, but of the bright, mystical vision of the heavenly communion. His most famous painting is the high-altar in the Dom of Seville, where the Christ-child appears before the eyes of St. Anthony of Padua, a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi. In Berlin we find another painting of this incident (414). The young monk, interrupted in the study of the book of saints, has raised himself from his prone position, and still on his knees embraces the Child, covering its face with kisses. A putto is curiously leaving through St. Anthony’s book, another holds up triumphantly the saint’s lily, his symbol of purity, and others are floating around in the air. There is a peculiar look upon St. Anthony’s face, one which is frequently found in Spanish religious paintings, a look combining devout ecstasy with a very earthly, sensuous, even erotic passion. The painting-quality of the work is exceedingly delicate, the head of Anthony has a fine, cool colour, and the Child, light and soft, with a bright, rosy hue in the car-nation ‘tints comes out beautifully against the dark golden, background. Murillo has really transposed to St. Anthony a legend which belongs to St. Francis of Greggio, and which Giotto had already painted, in fresco on the wall of the Franciscan Church of Assisi.

Alonso Cano (1601-1667) was a sculptor, painter and architect, a man of fine talent, and less dismal than most of his compeers. His life-size painting of ” Si. Agnes ” (414B. Plate XI) is a beautiful and attractive work, which well represents the gentler emotions which sometimes inspired Spanish art. St. Agnes, the patron-saint of purity, stands at a table on which a lamb is lying, over which she holds the martyr’s palm. The legend tells that she was martyred and beheaded under Diocletian because she refused all suitors, claiming to be the bride of the Lamb. Cano’s painting gives us one of the few beautiful female types, a young Andalusian, whose large brown eyes have a penetrating look, staring as if seeing in one glance the miracle of suffering martyrdom and crowning glory.

Henrique de las Marinas (1620-1680) was born in Cadiz, and the surroundings in that lively sea-port led him to paint the scenes of animation along its docks. A ” Freighter in the Harbour ” (418) is characteristic of his brush which never omitted to add in his seapieces the lurid glow of the native palette.

At the end of the seventeenth century Spain, with the overthrow of the Habsburgs and the ascension of the Bourbons, lost its political significance. Even its racial life seemed dormant, for in literature there were no successors to Cervantes, Lopez de Vega, Calderon; and its art likewise was sterile. Only towards the end of the eighteenth century one man stands out who kept alive the traditions of the past, notably of Ribera, and added thereto a modernity which has made him called the forerunner of Manet.

This man was Francisco Goya (1746-1828), who painted the Spain of Charles III and Ferdinand VII as truthfully as Velasquez the epoch of Philip IV. In his painting he was a thorough Spaniard, fond of the brutal and the bloody, often caricaturing with refined sarcasm the manners and morals of his time. But always a strong, powerful artist, with the forced contrasts that harked back to Ribera.

In the two bust-portraits in the Museum these characteristics do not assert themselves. They are rather in that atmospheric way of painting which makes Goya the connecting link between Velasquez and Manet. The ” Portrait of an Elderly Lady ” (1619A), supposed to be the artist’s mother, shows a fine presentment of old age, but the ” Portrait of a Monk ” (1619B) is notably excellent. The broad spaces, the peculiar colour combination of red, greyish blue and brown-grey, and the envelope of air around this seated figure, seen to the knees, make it remarkably lifelike.

After Goya the art in Spain failed again, and became but a reflection this time of French painting.

( Originally Published 1912 )

The Art of The Berlin Galleries:Rooms 41, 44, 43. Venetian Paintings Of The 15th CenturyRoom 42 – Venetian And Lombard Sculpture, And Venetian PaintingsRoom 39—collection James SimonRoom 45 – Florentine Paintings Of The 16th CenturyThe Spanish PaintingsThe French PaintingsThe English PaintingsThe German PaintingsThe Dutch And Flemish PaintingsThe Royal National GalleryRead More Articles About: The Art of The Berlin Galleries