THE ART OF SPAIN
Art is everywhere in Spain, this being one of the major touristic offerings of the country. Not only has the art great depth, given by two of the world's great religions, but also a tremendous width produced through the participation of so many of the common people engaged in crafts and folk art.
The most quickly appreciated of the visual arts to the tourist in any country is the national architecture, since this is seen from the car or train, and seen everywhere, without the need to go to museums. In Spain, the architecture is indeed impressive, including the boldness and strength of the northern, Christian tradition and the light, eternal playfulness of the unending Arabic invenltions.
Spanish Painting did not follow a course parallel to the architecture, since it was very strongly influenced by the pictorial art of its northern colony, the works of the Flemish Painters. It fact, the Prado possesses two northern paintings which rank among the best ever produced, namely Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" and Peter Bruegal the Elder's masterpiece, "The Triumph of Death".
Prior to the Flemish influence there had been the so-called "primitive" painters of Spain, most prolific along the Mediterranean Coast. These took Christian subjects but their paintings are usually quite murky and not very satisfying. They can be seen in the Fine Arts Museum in Valencia.
Dingo Velazquez, who painted throughout the early seventeenth century, was tremendously prolific and a great favorite of the Royal Court. His famous painting, "Maids of Honor", in room no. 15 of the Prado, is one of the most viewed paintings in the world. He was the court painter of Felipe IV and thanks to his meticulous realism we have a valuable pictorial history of that period.
Murillo and Zurbaran, two other painters of the Golden Age, are notable for brilliant management of deep colors, using solid blocks of blues and blacks to create an impression of strength.
After the great age of painters there is not much outstanding until the eighteenth century, when Francisco Goya [1746-1828] painted his ultra-modern works.
Always with a cynical and scandalous wit, Goya stands alone in his time. His rapier-like brush, which satirized the uncomprehending decadence of Carlos IV's court, was so far ahead of its time that he was able to get away with it for a while, though eventually having to go into exile in France.
After demolishing the Spanish Court with such paintings as "The Family of Carlos IV", seen in room 32 of the Prado, and scandalizing Spain with the "Naked Maja", his electrifying nude portrait said by some lo be the Duchess of Alba, Goya underwent a change of style brought about by the French Invasion of 1808.
Responding to the brutalities of this war Goya seems to have decided, instead of using the medium of satire, to depict the grosser side of human nature with a chilling honesty. Thus we have horrifying "Executions of Spaniards on the Third of May", and the gory representations in his series, "The Horrors of War". His late work, known as the "Black Paintings" after their dominant color and mood, depict in grotesque fashion the brutality of peasants beating one another to death, the merciless ravages of old age, the decadence of religious festivals, and so on.
Other notable figures of 19th century Spanish Art, are Fortuny, Sorolla, Romero and Zuloaga. Today Spanish Painting is represented by several who have left Spain, such as Picasso and Miro, and within Spain most notably by Salvadore Dali, whose imaginative paintings show a particularly Spanish originality and individuality linked with the flamboyance that characterizes so much of Spain.
Other great names of contemporary Spanish Art are Utrillo and Juan Gris, the latter playing an important role in the evolution of Cubism.
The Sculptural Arts
Sculptural art in Spain is the least well-known of the representational arts, without many famous representatives, though Spain certainly developed a style very much its own in this realm.
There is much pre-historic sculpture in Spain, including the lberian Bulls found all over Avila and the painted sculptural reliefs on the ceiling of Altamira Cave, perhaps the most accomplished prehistoric art in the world.
We spoke earlier of the width of Spanish Art, the great distribution of artistic talent among the common people of Spain. There are many examples of this, but the best is in the home architecture.
From the heavy, sunburnt stone homes of Estremadura, with their heraldic knightly emblems of the sun or carved busts and massive iron grillwork to the cool, flat homes of Cuenca with their beautifully shaped and carved wooden balconies; from the simplicity of the small, light, gleamingly whitewashed villages of Andalucia with their delicate ironwork to the ornately patterned homes of La Ghana, studded with stucco flowers and stars, Spanish homes reveal the creative spark that made such a tremendous impression on the homes of the new world.
Minor arts in Spain are another example of the distribution of talent. Some of this art has achieved international fame, notably the Damascined gold inlay of Toledo, a technique learned from the Moors and perfected over the centuries until some masters today can produce designs of great complexity based on Arab and Jewish motifs .
Another minor art brought to perfection in Spain is the leather work of Cordoba. This work is not only worthy of, but is in many museums. Book covers or framed pieces of leather with designs and color shades one would think attainable only through painting can be found in Cordoba.
Ceramics too is highly developed, especially that of the Levantine Coast, though there are more excellent examples in the small town of La Bisbal inland from Costa Brava. Examples of ceramic tilework can be seen in the Municipal Museum of Barcelona and in the Cera mics Museum of Valencia.
Without a doubt Spain is one of those countries of the world where the natural beauty of the surroundings has penetrated into the people, and they have produced a fitting response in their visual art. All now to the benefit of the tourist.
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