Spanish Painting – Seventeenth Century To The Present Day

THE seventeenth century was the golden age of Spanish art, as it was of the art of Holland ; product in the one case of national decline, in the other of national growth. While Spain was neglecting her national resources, losing her morale and wasting money and men on a vain effort to enslave the Dutch, the latter, in their fight for liberty, built up their national character and developed the resources of their country. Yet, under conditions so different, the genius of each people was liberated, threw off the shackles of foreign influence and discovered its own racial expression in painting. Each of the great schools had its protagonist: Valencia, Jose Ribera (1588—1656) ; Andalusia, Murillo (1618—1682) ; Castile, Velasquez, (1599-1660). Meanwhile, as we have noted, the early part of the century was occupied by the great artist, El Greco.

As these will be discussed in separate chapters, it re-mains to note the most important of the lesser painters of the period under their respective schools.

In the School of Castile the vogue of portraiture at Court was perpetuated by Coello’s pupil, Juan Pantoja de la Cruz (1551–1610) and by Bartolome Gonzales (1564–1627). The former’s portraits are hard and dry in treatment and shallow in expression, while the latter’s, despite a tightness and triviality of detail, have a certain grandiose dignity, of design. Witness the equestrian portraits of Philip III and his wife, Dona Margarita of Austria and that of Philip IV’s first wife, Dona Isabel de Borbon. In the Prado catalogue these are still assigned to Velasquez, but latest criticism con-fines the latter’s share in them to retouching of certain parts, particularly the horses, while giving the originals to Gonzales. It is further believed that the landscapes in the Philip III and Queen Margarita were worked over by Velasquez’s pupil and son-in-law, Mazo. The handling of the figures is so different from that of the rest of the compositions, so evidently the reverse of Velasquez’s broad and pregnant style, that it is strange the canvases should ever have been assigned in their entirety to him; except for the reason that until recently it has been the custom, both in Madrid and elsewhere, to attribute to this master anything, however mediocre, which approached the appearance of his method.

We recall among the Italian painters invited to the Court of Philip II, Bartolomeo Carducho and Patricio Caxes. Each had a son who became a painter; Vicente Carducho (1585–1638) born in Italy, but educated and naturalised in Spain, and Eugenio Caxes (1577–1642) , whose birthplace was Madrid. They were employed in decorating the palaces of the Prado and the Escorial. Their work is mannered, with much technical proficiency and little inspiration. It is, however, handsome in design; wherein lies its chief interest to the student of Spanish painting, since it helped to foster that skill in the filling of a space which was brought to such perfection by Velasquez. In this connection we may mention Fray Juan Bautista Mayno (1594-1690), a Dominican monk, who had been drawing master to Philip IV before his accession and was retained by him afterwards as an adviser in matters of art. There is an “allegory” by him in the entrance hall of the Prado, representing The Pacification of the States of Flanders which in qualities of painting is quite uninteresting, yet, regarded as a decoration, has considerable merit, reminding one of Puvis de Chavannes’ flat patterns of full and empty spaces. Indeed, one may be disposed to feel that from the point of view of mural decoration it is even superior to Velasquez’s Surrender of Breda, which by comparison is a historical picture. It is interesting to note that Mayno was a native of Toledo and in consequence familiar with the work of El Greco, who, we shall find, was a master of decorative space-filling.

In 1603, during the reign of Philip III, Rubens, on a mission from the Duke of Mantua, visited the Spanish Court. One of the Duke’s intentions was that his emissary should copy some of the masterpieces of the Royal collection. Rubens’ copy of Titian’s Temptation of Adam and Eve now hangs in the Prado, not far from the original, and it is interesting to note how the young Flemish artist has corrected and improved the composition of the old Venetian. The orders given to Rubens included a provision that he should forward his work by employing the assistance of some of the Spanish painters. He writes, saying that he will adhere to these instructions, but, he adds, “I do not approve of it, considering the short time we have at our disposal, and the incredible inadequacy and idleness of these painters and their manners, (from which may God preserve me from any resemblance!) so absolutely different to mine.”

Such was Rubens impression of art in Madrid, preceding the appearance of Velasquez. In 1628 at the zenith of his fame, he paid another diplomatic visit. Philip IV was now king and appointed his favorite, Velasquez, escort to the Flemish artist. Of the latter’s impression of the younger man unfortunately no records exist.

Velasquez maintained no regular studio for pupils, yet he naturally exercised an influence on many of the younger painters of the day, and actually gave instruction to some. Among the latter the best known are Juan Bautista Martinez del Mazo and Juan Carrell, who will be considered later, and Juan de Pareja. The last mentioned was a mulatto, born in Seville about 1608, who came to Madrid with Velasquez in the capacity of a servant and remained with him all his life. Being constantly employed in the studio, he was him-self inspired to become an artist; but as no slave might practise the free art of painting he worked in secret, copying his master’s works. At last by a stratagem he revealed his talent. Having painted a picture with special care, he placed it in his master’s studio with its face to the wall. The king, on his next visit, ordered the picture to be turned and enquired who had painted it. Whereupon Pareja went down on his knees, and implored the royal protection. The king, turning to Velasquez, said—”you will have no say in this matter and I warn you that he who possesses so much talent cannot remain a slave.” At least such is the story, though it is considered more probable that Velasquez, whose generosity was marked, actually connived at the slave’s education and procured his enfranchisement. But, although a free man, he continued to serve his be-loved master, and after the Tatter’s death in 1660 continued in the service of his son-in-law, Mazo, until his own death in 1670. He is represented in the Prado by the Vocation of S. Matthew. Christ, arrayed in the conventional draperies, is standing beside a table at which is seated Matthew, in Oriental clothes, surrounded by others in Spanish costume of the period. It is an ambitious and rather tedious picture.

Three painters of this period which call for brief notice are Antonio Pereda, Francisco Collantes, and Jose Leonardo. Pereda (1599–1669) was born in Valladolid, but moved to Madrid to study art and remained there. In the Academy of San Fernando is an “allegory” by him, entitled The Dream of Life. It represents a young man of heavy, rather Dutch aspect, handsomely dressed, seated asleep before a table. The latter is strewn with a variety of objects—jewels, flowers, coins, weapons, music, a mask, a book—which contribute to the joy and fulness of life. Meanwhile, on the book rests a skull, while an angel in the background, gazing at the youth, holds a scroll inscribed—” AEterne pungit, cito volat et occidet.” The picture is blackened and murky, but the still-life is rendered with remarkable naturalness. Indeed, naturalistic veracity and a taste for ascetic or moral suggestion characterises Pereda’s art. Note, for example, the S. Jerome of the Prado where the aged saint, stripped to the waist, sits in a spiritual daze, grasping a cross of rudely joined sticks, which lies upon a book. The latter contains an engraved illustration, represented with extraordinary vraisemblance, and the same quality is carried to a disgusting pitch in the rendering of the withered, flabby flesh. Even more revolting and commonplace in its excessive naturalism is an adjoining Ecce Homo—blood that looks like blood, a rope unmistakably a rope, and a cross made out of a tree, the bark of which is realised with ridiculously ineffectual exactness. The two. pictures have neither the vigor of handling nor the dignity of conception to be found in Ribera’s corresponding subjects. They represent naturalism for the sake of naturalism; and anticipate the general decadence which settled down on the School of Castile to-ward the end of the seventeenth century.

Collantes (1599–1656) , a pupil of Vincente Carducho, is represented in the Prado by a Vision of Ezekiel. In the foreground is confusion of opened tombs and risen bodies and skeletons ; in the back-ground the ruins of a stately classic city, and in the center, raised on an eminence, the prophet preaching to the awakened dead. The scene both in composition and chiaroscuro is quite impressive. Collantes is also represented in the Louvre by The Burning Bush.

Jose Leonardo (1616–1656) is of chief interest to the student because of his large canvas in the Prado, in which he has represented the same subject that was immortalised by Velasquez—The Surrender of Breda. Leonardo’s composition is divided diagonally, the left foreground being occupied by the principal group, while the upper right triangle includes the background: a plain in which troops are deploying, and a distant view of the city. It is noticeable that the younger man, whose short life, clouded by mental trouble, scarcely permitted him to reach his own maturity, has, like Velasquez, made a decorative use of the lances. His conception, also, of the scene is one that probably commended itself to Spanish feeling, for he has represented the conquered Justin of Nassau submissively kneeling, as he presents the keys to his conqueror, who is on horseback. Another example by Leonardo in the Prado is the Taking of Acqui. It is, with the group reversed, similarly composed to the previous picture, of which it is a companion piece, both having been painted for the “Hall of the Kings” in the Palace of Buen Retiro. Notable, again, is the device of lances, while the mounted figure of the Duke de Feria, as he leads the attack, bears an unmistakable general resemblance to the equestrian portrait of the Count Olivarez by Velasquez.

Among the Italian painters summoned to Madrid by Philip II, had been a native of Bologna, Antonio Rizi.

He had two sons, Juan and Francisco. Fray Juan Rizi, for he entered the Benedictine order and spent the latter part of his life in a monastery at Rome, was the pupil of Fray Juan Bautista Mayno. His portraits, bearing some resemblance to those of Velasquez, have been at times attributed to Mazo. Such was the case with the Portrait of Don Tiburcio de Redin in the Prado, which represents a man with curls falling to his shoulders, dressed in a handsome cavalier costume, standing beside a table. He rests one hand on it and with the other holds a large felt hat. It is a straight-forward presentation of a virile personality, but painted with little verve. Far more interesting is a Saint Benedict Celebrating Mass, in the Academy of San Fernando. With the sacred wafer in his hand, the saint bends his strong head, with its black hair and beard, over the white altar-cloth. Over his alb is a gold embroidered white chasuble, supported by a monk in black. These figures are seen against a grey-drab wall, mean-while a third figure, an acolyte, is in white. It is thus a very handsome tonality of grey, white and black, which gives an air of grandiose distinction to the very naturalistic way in which the whole is painted. The brother, Francisco Rizi, was a pupil of Carducho, and enjoyed reputation as a painter in fresco, decorating among other sacred edifices the Cathedral of Toledo. He was also employed as a director of scenery and stage effects in the dramatic performances given in the Palace of Buen Retiro. Apropos of these experiences, he executed a curious picture, now in the Prado, in which he has represented in an ensemble the successive stages of an auto-de-i.e. It commemorates one that actually took place in the Plaza Mayor of Madrid on June 30, 1680, lasting from eight in the morning until half-past nine at night. The function had afforded a spasm of zest to the wretched religious maniac, Charles II, who commanded the painting. It contains some three thousand figures, and, considering that Rizi was seventy-five years old when he executed it, is an achievement as surprising as unnecessary.

One of Francisco Rizi’s pupils was Jose Antolinez (1639–1676) , a native of Seville. Something of southern sweetness of sentiment pervades his pictures as may be seen in The Assumption of the Munich Pinakothek, The Glorification of the Virgin in the Ryks Museum, Amsterdam and the Ecstasy of the Magdalen, of the Prado. The last named represents the penitent floating in a seated posture, upborne by angels. Two others hold above her the jar of ointment, while an older angel plays the lute. The drapery is of ashy purple silk brocaded with mauve arabesques, a fine passage of color suggestive of the influence of Van Dyke, which at this period began to find its way into Spain. One may discover it again in the elegantly sentimental style of Mateo Cerezo, who was originally a pupil of Carreno. Examples that may be quoted are the Penitent Magdalen in the Gallery of the Hague, and the S. John the Baptist of the Cassel Gallery, both of them characterised by affectation. A more important example, because of its decorative composition, is the Assumption of the Virgin in the Prado. Down below, the faithful are peering into a sarcophagus, filled with flowers, while overhead the Virgin and her supporting angels make an elegant mass of white and blue silk and fluttering wings. But the picture is fatally pretty, characteristic of the decline of devotional feeling and artistic taste.

This allusion to the decadence of the School of Castile which marks the end of the seventeenth century may be closed by a reference to Claudio Coello (d. 1693). The work which brought him greatest fame in his own day is the altar-piece of La Santa Forma at the south end of the sacristry of the Escorial. It represents a perspective view of the room in which you are standing as you look at the picture. Thus the great school of Spanish naturalism passes out in the meretricious glamour of a looking-glass picture.


In the School of Valencia the connecting link between the period of mannerism, represented by Juan de Juanes, and the highest development of the naturalistic motive in the person of Ribera is supplied by Francisco Ribalta. He was born in Castellon de la Plana, between the years 1550 and 1560 and died in 1628. After studying with an unknown painter in Valencia, he spent three years in Italy, where he was particularly attracted by the works of Raphael, Sebastian del Piombo and the Caracci. Returning to Valencia, he executed a Last Supper for the high altar of the Church of Corpus Christi. The picture, which is still in the place for which it was painted, aroused so much enthusiasm that he was kept employed in providing works for the churches, monasteries and hospitals in and around Valencia. Some of these are distinguished by grandiose compositions and figures of noble character. But in other works Ribalta’s coloring is attenuated and his handling thin; while on other occasions he exhibits a mingling of Italian “idealism” with Spanish naturalism. Examples of his poor color and technique are Nos. 946 and 949 in the Prado, which, moreover, are disfigured by their sentimentality. His particular talent, however, appears at its best in an adjacent canvas, S. Francis d’Assisi. The monk, clad in a brown habit, is lying on a pallet covered with a blanket. His parched yellow face and strong, nervous hands are raised in ecstacy toward an angel, playing a lute, who floats above him in well-disposed draperies of dull green and rose. Contrasted with the grace of this figure is the severely naturalistic way in which the monk and the accessories, such as an iron lamp and missal, are represented. It is a picture both of charm and force and is characteristic of the kind of influence that Ribalta exerted over his pupil, Ribera.


The transition period in the School of Andalusia is filled by two men. These were Juan de las Roelas, who painted in a broad and yet seductive manner with soft, warm chiaroscuro, and the eccentric Francisco Herrera, who adapted these qualities to a “furioso” style. For this reason he has been credited with the chief influence in developing the naturalistic methods of the Andalusian School. But the credit is now as-signed to Ribera, whose pictures, introduced into Seville, helped materially to shape the studies of a group of young artists which included Alonso Cano, Zurbaran, Murillo and Velasquez.

In the eighteenth century native painting declined to a condition that renders it negligible to the student. The names which occur are those of foreigners such as Luca Giordano, Tiepolo, and Raphael Mengs. Suddenly, however, toward the last quarter it sprang again to life in the genius of Goya. The latter died in 1826, and of the few names which break the monotony of Spanish painting during the nineteenth century it may be sufficient to mention those of Mariano Fortuny, Francisco Pradilla, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida and Ignacio Zuloaga. These are to be considered later.