Spanish Painting – To the End Of The Sixteenth Century

TO the student who is in pursuit of aesthetic enjoyment rather than critical research the art of Spain resolves itself into the works of a comparatively small number of painters. It is these who are represented in the galleries of Europe and America and form the chief attraction in the Prado and smaller museums of Spain, as well as in the cathedrals and churches; at least in those cases, not too frequent, where there is sufficient light to see them. The spell exercised by these artists each in his different way, is so arresting that one may easily be indifferent to those of minor quality. On the other hand, our interest is increased if we glance over the whole field, the level of which is interrupted by conspicuous individuals, and thus view the latter in their respective times and places in the general story.

It must not be forgotten that the racial characteristics of Spain and her art, while they preserve a general national uniformity, were modified by the circumstances of different environments. Even before their union by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon presented a noted difference. The former included besides the province of Castile, the other divisions of territory in the north-west of the Peninsula; while Aragon embraced Catalonia and Valencia, the provinces bordering on the Mediterranean, and had extended her authority to the Balearic Isles, Sardinia and Sicily. The geographical distribution tells its own tale: Castile, with her bleak Sierras and wind-swept, sun-parched plains, a region of strenuousness; Aragon, dipping her hot feet in the Mediterranean, her asperities assuaged by influences from oversea. For, while Castile was early disposed to derive her foreign influences from the Netherlands and Germany, Aragon and especially Valencia drew theirs from Italy. Later, when the union of the entire country was achieved by the conquest of Andalusia and Granada, the climatic conditions of these two provinces and their proximity to the Mediterranean naturally drew them into close relations both with Valencia and Italy. It remains only to mention in the way of anticipation, that the seat of Government, being always in Castile and finally established in Madrid, became a nucleus to which the various influences from other parts of the country were attracted. Thus, while the Schools of Valencia and Andalusia preserved their local characteristics, the School of Castile, which later is more specifically known as the School of Madrid, became under the patronage of the Court more cosmopolitan.

The sources of painting in Spain, as in other countries, are to be looked for, first in illuminated manuscripts and secondly in the remains of mural decorations.

The earliest examples of the latter are to be found in the figures of saints which adorn the little church of El Cristo de la Luz in Toledo and in some scenes from the Passion on the vaulting of the chapel of St. Catherine in San Isidoro in Leon. These are attributed to the twelfth century. Later examples of the fourteenth century, exist in Seville, in San Lorenzo, San Ildefonso and the Capella de la Antigua in the Cathedral. The subject of each is the Virgin. In the cathedral, for example, she is represented against a gold diapered background, her robe also being adorned with arabesques of gold. In her right hand she holds a rose and with her left supports the Child, while two angels suspend a crown over her head. The figure of the Father Almighty, rather small in scale, appears above. The flesh is scarcely modeled, and in the case of the Virgin is very tenderly expressed; the draperies, on the other hand, suggesting in their flatness and breadth of treatment a sense of bigness. The influence is clearly Italian and seems to present a union of the feeling of Cimabue and Fra Angelico.

It is with the beginning of the fifteenth century that one reaches sure ground. In 1428, during the reign of Juan II of Castile, the great Flemish painter, Jan Van Eyck, while on a mission to Portugal visited Madrid. His coming aroused in the Spaniards an interest in Flemish art, which resulted in the importation of paintings by Memlinc, Roger van der Weyden, Dierick Bouts, Mabuse and Patinir. The effect of their influence can be studied in the basement galleries of the Prado, where hang anonymous works by painters of the School of Castile during the fifteenth century. A very interesting series of scenes from the life of the Virgin (numbered 2178-2183) exhibits in the angular folds of the draperies and in the architecture a notable Gothic feeling, and have much of the freedom of composition and intensity of sentiment of Van der Weyden. On the other hand in No. 2184, The Catholic Kings with their Families at Prayer Before the Virgin reproduced on page 18, the influence of Memlinc and his period of Flemish art appears. One notes the charming glimpses of landscape, seen through the windows; the almost childlike sweetness of the faces and the truly Flemish love of beautiful detail. This is exhibited in the Virgin’s crimson robe and the rosy-purple gown of the King, both of which are brocaded with de-signs in raised gold, and in the various accessories, particularly the church in the hand of S. Thomas Aquinas, the lily in that of S. Domingo de Guzman, and the richly decorated throne. On the back of this are curious little impish figures, that recall the weirdly whimsical inventions of Hieronymus Bosch, whose pictures, as later those of his imitator, Peeter Brueghel, were very popular in northern Spain. The figure, kneeling behind the King, is the Inquisitor-General, Tomas de Torquemada; the one behind the Queen rep-resents S. Peter Martyr of Verona.

Ascribed to the end of the fifteenth century is the curiously interesting S. Ursula, reproduced on page 31. The picture forms one of a series of three, of which the first is The Coronation of the Virgin and the third The Temptation of S. Anthony. Escorted by the Pope and by bishops and cardinals, S. Ursula is seen at the head of the procession of eleven thousand virgins who are following her to Rome; but, if the legend is to be believed, will be slaughtered by the Huns near Cologne. With another example, reproduced on page 37, we reach at least the suggestion of a Spanish painter’s name. The Apparition of the Virgin to a Community of Bernardine Monks During a Ceremony of Exorcism is ascribed, though with a query, to Pedro Berruguete. Carl Justi considers that this picture and its companions, illustrating Dominican legends, were by the Burgundian painter, Juan de Borgona, assisted by Berruguete and another painter named Santos Cruz. To the last is attributed the traces of Peruginesque influence that occur in all the series; in the present example, in the angels surrounding the Madonna. But the chief interest lies in the varied and individual characterization which the artist has given to the heads of the monks and laity. The latter seem of Flemish type, and, if Carl Justi’s attribution is correct, may, together with the architectural perspective have been executed by Juan de Borgona. On the other hand, Berruguete was probably responsible for the monks, since they approximate to the Spanish type, as may be verified by comparing them with the character studies of this order of brotherhood by Zurbaran (see page 166) .

The gradual emergence of the national type in the works of this period is again illustrated in the collection of splendid panels in the Hispanic Museum, New York. Examples 1 to 7 show the Netherlandish influence, while numbers 8 and 9 represent the commencement of native feeling. Compare, for instance, the face of the woman who kneels on the left of the foreground in S. Gregory Saying Mass with those of the women in the high upright panel of the earlier series. The latter have a Flemish roundness of features and rather dull expression, whereas the face in the Gregory picture; narrows toward the chin and has something of the spiritual intensity which in the next century will be brought to its highest pitch of expression by El Greco, In fact, although Spain borrowed motives and methods from abroad, the inspiration remained her own and ‘ imprinted a native character on the product.

This is still apparent in the art of the sixteenth century when there poured into Spain a steady flow of Italian influence. Its general tendency was to produce a number of so-called “mannerists,” Spanish painters who experimented with and imitated the style of the Italian masters, particularly of the Florentines, Da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo. It was a necessary stage through which Spanish art had to graduate in order to acquire facility in drawing, chiaroscuro and the principles of composition. But it is not a period on which the student who is interested in art as a living expression will care to dwell. He will look upon it as probationary and merely preparatory for the later liberty of national and individual expression. Yet he may glance over it and see how even here the yeast of the national genius is fermenting the mass of borrowed and affected manners.

An example of this is afforded by the work of Juan de Juanes, one of the early names of prominence in the School of Valencia. The S. Stephen Conducted to Martyrdom, reproduced on page 44, is an illustration of his style. It forms one of a series, connected with the life of S. Stephen, which is now in the basement galleries of the Prado. It is not difficult to detect in these paintings the influence of Raphael. So noticeable is it, that Cean Bermudez, the chronicler of early Spanish art, assumes that Juanes must have been a pupil of the Florentine master. Subsequent research, however, has discovered that the Valencian painter was not born until 1523, three years after Raphael’s death. How-ever he may have acquired a knowledge of the latter’s style, it is evident what it did for him and, through him, for the other painters of the Valencian school and the closely affiliated school of Andalusia. Comparing this picture with the earlier ones, reproduced in these pages, one observes in it a far more varied, facile and accurate skill in drawing, and that the composition, while it has lost the charm of naturalness, has gained in science. It is organise, as the French say, a carefully assembled structure of inter-related parts, locked together into an ensemble. On the other hand, to anticipate the sequence of our story, this artificial unity will have to be digested before its principles can be adjusted to the naturalistic presentation which is to be the peculiar quality of Spanish art. Meanwhile we can see the naturalistic tendency already forming. The fine head, immediately behind the Saint’s, is that of a Spanish gentleman of the period. All the heads, in fact, are of local types, and the exaggeration of action in the figures and of emotion in the faces, is characteristic of a nation so dramatically disposed as the Spanish, while the excess of humility in the demeanour of the Saint is characteristic of the devotional attitude of this painter toward his art. For he, like many others among the Spanish artists, is said to have painted only sacred subjects and to have prepared his spirit for the task by partaking of the Sacrament.

Another picture which helps to throw a light upon this period of Italian imitation is the Descent from the Cross by Pedro Campana (page 51). This painter was born in Brussels in 1503. But, though of Flemish origin, he gained his knowledge of art in Rome, whence he passed to Spain, living in Seville for twenty-four years, until his death in 1580. Thus he was an important factor in the transitionary development of the School of Andalusia. Murillo particularly ad-mired this picture, and at his own request was buried beneath it in the Church of Santa Cruz. When the latter was pulled down, the picture was removed to the Cathedral, where it now hangs in the Sacristy. Its indebtedness to Raphael is apparent in the group of figures at the foot of the Cross, while a Peruginesque influence is suggested in the draperies of the men upon the ladders and in the placing of their figures against the sky. But also evident is the artificiality of the whole. The gestures and expression of the women are affected; quite inadequate is the support which is being given to the Sacred Body, while the attitude of the latter is too obviously regulated with the double intention of securing certain lines in the composition and of introducing the suggestion of forgiveness of the Magdalen. In fact, the chief virtue of the picture seems to be its extremely handsome composition, which must be admitted to have great nobility as well as a fine organic simplicity. The picture, indeed, is an achievement of science; valuable for its enforcement of academic principles ; yet, even so, the work, not of a master, but a manneristic imitator.

It is with more interest than one turns to the work of another artist of this transition period, Luis de Morales. For although he experimented with various motives, his adoption of them seems to have been prompted by his search for the expression of a personally sincere religious fervor. Almost nothing is recorded of his life, beyond the few facts that he was a native of Badajoz, on the frontier of Portugal, and died there in 1586; that, except for a visit to Madrid at the invitation of Philip II he seems to have spent his life in the quiet retirement of his native city, and notwithstanding the estimation in which his pictures were held, reached an old age of poverty. For it is related that the king passing through Badajoz, sent for the artist. The latter, when as a young man he had been summoned to Court, appeared in so sumptuous an attire, that the King remonstrated with him, but was appeased by Morales’ ex-planation that he donned it in honor of his Majesty. Now, however, he appeared in a condition of extreme destitution. To Philip’s remark: “Morales, you are very old,” the artist replied, “Yes, your Majesty, and very poor.” The king on the spot awarded him a pension of two hundred ducats. “For your dinner,” he said, to which Morales replied, “And for supper, Sire?” The King, so the story goes, accepted the jest and added another hundred ducats a year to the pension. This episode took place in 1581 and it is sup-posed that Morales at the time of his death, five years later, had reached the age of seventy-seven years.

Nothing is known as to the way in which Morales learned his art, but a comparative study of his various styles suggests that he may have had access to some work or copy of a work of Michelangelo, to some examples of the Milanese School of Leonardo da Vinci and to pictures of the contemporary Flemish and German Schools. The Michelangelesque influence, according to the official notice of this artist in the catalogue of the Prado Gallery, is discernible chiefly in works that are to be found in Badajoz and Lisbon. It would appear that they are distinguished by an exaggeration of manner. A similar trait appears in a Pieta which hangs in the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. The Virgin is seated at the foot of the Cross, supporting the dead body of Christ. The latter is in an attitude of being seated, the arms suspended and the head laid back on the shoulder, immediately below the- head of the Virgin. The nude form is as hard as if it were carved in wood, and in contrast to its pallid whiteness are long streams of crimson blood, as glossy and stiff as ribands. In fact, combined with the naturalistic correctness of the drawing the figure has an exaggerated Gothic feeling, while another excess, this time of refinement, appears in the microscopic precision with which the hair of the beard and head is represented. This delicacy, suggestive of the Milanese influence, reappears in the Virgin Caressing the Infant Jesus of the Prado Gallery and the variations of the same theme which may be seen in the Hispanic Museum, New York. Here, however, the meticulous rendering of the little golden chestnut curls which cluster on the heads of the Mother and Child is in accord with the loving, tender regard for refined sweetness of expression that characterises the whole treatment. The Prado also possesses an Ecce Homo; the figure, seen nearly to the waist, nude but for a crimson mantle which covers the shoulders and is fastened on the chest. One of the bound hands holds a reed and a crown of thorns surmounts the head, drops of blood showing on the fore-head. The face, with its straight brows and deep-set eyes, long finely chiseled nose, and sensitive mouth, surrounded by a softly growing beard, the whole modeled sensitively with a Milanese subtlety of chiaroscuro, expresses an interesting blend of intellectuality and ecstasy. In this union one may easily discover an essentially Spanish feeling. However the methods may have been borrowed from elsewhere, the sentiment is Castilian of the sixteenth century, a mingling of high-bred nature and spiritual introspection.

Another picture of the Prado, selected for reproduction on page 62, is The Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple. It is an important example, revealing a fuller capacity for ordered composition, in which there is a grandiose dignity, strangely interrupted by a littleness of feeling. The latter is particularly noticeable in the highly finished rendering of the child’s body, disposed so affectedly amid the prim folds of the greyish white drapery. One may be conscious also of a certain exaggerated gesture of humility in the Virgin’s figure ; but, on the other hand, how firm in its assertion of liberty of action is the supple figure of the maiden who holds the basket of doves ! How excellently imagined, moreover, are the spotting of the several heads, the upright lines of the candles and the broad bold spaces of the white tablecloth !

The reputation of Morales has been injured by the number of Ecce Homo$ and Magdalens, sentimentally mawkish, which, according to latest judgment, have been ascribed to him falsely. For, in an age of artistic copying, working for patrons who demanded an excessive display of pietistic ecstasy, he was distinguished by a considerable measure of individual temperament as well as of sincere religious feeling.

The signal example of an individual personality, is that of Domenico Theotocopuli, popularly called El Greco from the fact that he was born in Crete. Since he will form the subject of another chapter, it is sufficient here to recall the fact that he reached Spain by way of Venice and Rome and settled in Toledo. His art bridges the last quarter of the sixteenth century and the first of the seventeenth, and, notwithstanding his foreign training, was deeply imbued with the Spanish spirit of his day.

Meanwhile, during the latter part of the sixteenth century a more direct infusion of Italian influence reached Spain through the artists whom Philip imported from Italy to decorate the Escorial. During the first twenty-five years of his reign he had continued the patronage of Titian, commenced by his father, Charles V. The latter, after he had sat to the great Venetian, loaded him with marks of favor, including an order of nobility, and vowed that no other artist was worthy to paint Caesar. Philip’s pride equally demanded the services of the artist who was accounted the greatest of his day, and Titian was willing to give them. “Is not my aim in life,” he wrote, “to refuse the services of other princes and to cling to that of your majesty?” The king’s commissions were for religious subjects, but Titian, knowing the other side of his patron’s nature, supplemented them with nudes and the so-called “poesies,” or subjects of more or less erotic significance. Hence the collection of over forty Titian’s which is one of the glories of the Prado Gallery.

Among the painters summoned from Italy by Philip II the best known are Frederico Zucchero, Pelegrino Tibaldi, Bartolomeo Carducho and Patricio Caxes. They were men of facile but inferior ability, whose work is of little interest in itself and has no part, except that of an interlude, in the development of native art. On the other hand a definite and distinguished role was played by the Flemish painter, Antony Mor or Moro. He had been portrait painter to Charles V in Flanders, and in 1552 came to Spain in the train of Cardinal Granvilla. During a prolonged stay at the Spanish Court he enriched his Flemish method by study of the portraits by Titian which the emperor had accumulated. Moro’s teaching and influence started the Castile School of portrait painting. His best pupil was Alonso Sanchez Coello, (? 1590) whose portraits are vital records of personality, although somewhat trivialized by the elaboration of meticulous detail.