Overview of Spanish Painting (15th-17th centuries)

15th century 16th century 17th century

15th century

In Spain the use of the gold background, which had gradually been abandoned in all the other western European schools (except in Germany), persisted until about 1500. In Aragon and Catalonia the high relief of the plaster decoration gave the enormous altarpieces an almost Oriental richness. The many works of the Spanish painters of this period reflect various influences.

In the east, under Alphonso V of Aragon and his successors, Italian and Flemish influences were blended. While the Master of Arguis and Bernat Martorell (panels of St George, Louvre and Art Institute of Chicago) prolonged the International Gothic style to about 1450, Luis Dalmau (Valencia and Barcelona) imitated the work of van Eyck (Virgin of the Counsellors, 1445, Barcelona). Jacomart (Jaime Baço) from Valencia (d. 1461) and his pupil Joan Reixach were influenced by Italian art and Flemish painting (St Martin Altar, Segorbe), as was Rodrigo de Osona (active 1476-1484), whose style was more evolved. In its final stage the Catalan tradition was represented by Jaume Huguet (d. after 1489) and the Vergós family. Still working in Barcelona at the turn of the century were Bartolommé Bermejo of Cordova (active 1474-1498; St Dominic of Silos, Prado) and the Master of the Martyrdom of St Medin, who perhaps trained in Naples.

In Castile, where the style of the Italian painter Nicolas Florentino (fresco in Salamanca cathedral, c. 1445) was not echoed in local painting, the Flemish influence was predominant. Pictures imported from the Low Countries by the court and by other patrons of art, and Flemish works sold in the fairs of Medina del Campo, helped, as did German prints, to spread the taste for northern art, to which the local workshops now adapted themselves. Jorge Inglés (active 1450) and later Fernando Gallego (Salamanca) and his numerous followers (Master of St Ildefonso, Valladolid) were the most representative of these Hispano-Flemish artists, among whom were the Master of Avila and the Master of La Sisla, influenced, like Gallego, by Schongauer. Pedro Berruguete, who was originally influenced by Flemish artists but later followed the Italian style, was the dominant personality in Castile at the end of the Middle Ages (Burning of the Heretics, scenes from the life of St Peter Martyr, Prado). In Andalusia the Hispano-Flemish tendency had as its principal representatives Juan Sanchez de Castro and Juan Nuñez in Seville and, in Cordova, Pedro de Cordoba.

16th century

In Valencia the aesthetic of the Renaissance, spread from about 1472-1481 onwards by the Italians (Francesco Pagano, Pablo de San Leocadio), was adopted about 1505 by Fernando Yanez (Saint Catherine) and Fernando de los Llanos, who visited Florence and perhaps Venice (triptych in Valencia cathedral, 1507). Vicente Masip (d. before 1550) and his son Juan de Juanes (d. 1579) imitated Leonardo and Raphael in their numerous devotional images (e.g. The Visitation, The Last Supper).

In Castile Flemish art maintained its position in the first quarter of the century, thanks to the masters who came from the Low Countries: Juan de Flandes, former painter to Queen Isabella (d. 1519 at Palencia), Juan de Holanda, Francisco de Amberes and Ambrosius Benson, pupil of Gerard David. About the middle of the century the Netherlands portrait painter Anthonis Mor, known as Antonio Moro, worked for the court of Spain and prepared the way for Alonso Sanchez Coello (about 1531-1588), painter to Philip II and founder of the school of Madrid (after 1555). However, Italianism was shortly to establish itself at Toledo with the Spanish-naturalised Frenchman Juan de Borgoña (d. 1554) who continued the style of Pedro Berruguete in Avila, and was a follower of Ghirlandaio, in the frescoes painted for Cardinal Ximenes (the Moorish-Arab chapel of Toledo cathedral).

In Andalusia two Italians painted frescoes in the Raphaelesque style in the Alhambra at Granada. Alejo Fernandez (d. about 1545) remained faithful to the medieval spirit while choosing Italianate forms. In addition to the Romanists from the Netherlands F. Sturm and F. Frutet, Pedro de Campaña (Peter de Kempeneer) of Brussels helped to introduce the Mannerist style in Seville (Descent from the Cross, 1547-1548, in the cathedral); Luis de Vargas (1502-1568) adopted it after a visit to Italy, where he studied Raphael, Correggio and Sebastiano del Piombo (Nativity altar, Seville cathedral). Luis de Morales, influenced by artists from Lombardy and Antwerp from the beginning of the century, gave to Mannerism a truly Spanish flavour (e.g. Madonna and Child and Ecce Homo).

17th century

The 17th century is the great period of Spanish painting. During this 'golden age' Seville and Madrid were particularly active centres where there emerged a truly national style, popular, religious and of an admirable quality, stimulated by Italian influence.

The work of El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos, 1541-1614) closed the 16th century and through its emphasis on form belongs to Mannerism. Born in Crete, no doubt trained by Byzantine monks, then in Italy influenced by Tintoretto, Bassano and Michelangelo, he is documented in 1577 at Toledo, where he painted the altar for the Sto Domingo el Antiguo church, and the Espolio (Disrobing of Christ) in Toledo cathedral. In 1580 Philip II commissioned him to paint the Martyrdom of St Maurice and the Theban Legion (Escorial); 1586, Burial of Count Orgaz (Sto Tomé, Toledo). About 1591, Coronation of the Virgin (Toledo); 1595, St Andrew and St Francis (Prado); c. 1599, View of Toledo (Metropolitan, New York). In his last years: The Adoration of the Shepherds (Prado), Opening of the Fifth Seal, (Metropolitan, New York). El Greco was also a sculptor and architect.

Luis Tristán (end of the 16th century-1624) was the only one to continue El Greco's style in the 17th century. Pedro Orrente (c. 1570-1645) imitated the Bassani. Francisco Ribalta (c. 1565-1628) who worked in Valencia was strongly marked by Italian influence, but he was already able to adapt this influence to a truly national style (Christ Embracing St Bernard, Prado). He may have been the master of José de Ribera (1591-1652), nicknamed in Italy 'il Spagnoletto'. Established in Naples, he admired Caravaggio (Jacob's Dream; the Martyrdom of St Bartholomew, Prado) and himself had a notable influence on Italian painting. An exception among the Spaniards, he was an engraver and painter of mythological scenes (Apollo and Marsyas, Brussels). Another pupil of Ribalta in Valencia was Jerónimo Jacinto de Espinosa (1604-1667).

The Seville school, particularly brilliant, was freed from lingering Romanism by the pictorial experiments of Juan de Roelas (1558/60-1625), who taught Pablo Legote (c. 1598-1671), and of Francisco Herrera the Elder (c. 1590-1656) with his expressive violence (St Catherine Appearing to the Prisoners, Greenville).

Piety found an interpreter in Francisco Zurbarán (1598-after 1664), who painted monks, and whose large compositions for monasteries have been dispersed. 1614, apprenticed to Pedro Diaz de Villanueva in Seville; also perhaps a pupil of Juan de Roelas. 1629, with Francisco Herrera, series of paintings for S. Bonaventura college; 1661, Immaculate Conception (Budapest). Admirable portraitist (St Margaret, London). His stark still lifes (e.g. Still Life with Oranges and Lemons, 1633, Pasadena) evoke the mystic feeling of the works of the Carthusian Fray Juan Sanchez Cotán (1561-1627) in Granada.

Another great painter of piety, but in a more popular vein, was Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), perfect mouthpiece of the Jesuits, who in the 'Purísima' (Immaculate Conception) created the national religious theme of Spain. His varied technique evolved from Caravaggesque after a visit to Madrid towards a more fluid style with colouring inspired by Flanders and Venice. Pupil of Juan del Castillo, he painted between 1645 and 1655 The Young Beggar (Louvre); 1650-1655, Adoration of the Shepherds (Prado, Madrid). About 1650, Boys Eating Fruit (Munich). In 1660, he founded in Seville the academy of painting of which he was the first president. 1665-1670: series of twenty-two paintings for the Church of the Capuchins. 1670: the Holy Family known as the Virgin of Seville (Louvre). 1671-1674: series for the Caridad hospital, Seville. 1682: series for the Capuchin monastery, Cadiz. His realism was continued by Nuñez de Villavicencio.

The most Baroque, with his sometimes morbid style and spirit, was no doubt Juan Valdés Leal (1622-1690): Allegory of Death (Caridad hospital, Seville).

In Granada worked Alonso Cano (1601-1667), remarkable less as a painter than as sculptor and architect, and Juan de Sevilla (1643-1695), so sensitive to Van Dyck. At Cordova: Antonio del Castillo (1619-1668).

In Madrid, while Vincento Carducho (1576-1638) ranks mainly as a critic (Diálogos de la Pintura, 1633), Juan Bautista Maino (1578-1649) followed the Caravaggesque manner (Epiphany, Prado).

Diego Velázquez (1599-1660), pupil of Francisco Herrera the Elder, and of the Romanist Francisco Pacheco, whose daughter he married, but above all formed by his two trips to Italy, dominated the whole period. He started his career by painting bodegones (still-lifes). In 1619, Adoration of the Magi (Prado). 1619-1621, Jesus in the House of Martha and Mary; Water-carrier of Seville (Wellington Museum, London). In 1623, he settled in Madrid in the service of Philip IV: Don Carlos (Prado). 1626-1628, The Topers. In 1628, Rubens advised him to visit Italy (1629, Venice, Ferrara, Rome). About 1630, Forge of Vulcan. Magnificent and relentless court portraits: Philip IV (London and Prado), Don Baltasar Carlos (Prado). 1630s, decorations for the Torre de la Parada: hunting portraits of Philip, Ferdinand, Baltasar Carlos; and for Buen Retiro: Surrender of Breda (1634-1635), equestrian portrait of Baltasar Carlos (Prado). Series of dwarfs, buffoons, idiots, for Alcazar: El Primo, Sebastián de Morra, Calabacillas, Bobo de Coria. 1640s, Catalan revolt; 'Fraga' Philip (Frick Collection, New York, 1644); Woman with Fan (Wallace Collection, London). 1649-1651, second trip to Italy (Genoa, Rome); portrait of Pope Innocent X; the Juan de Pareja. 1652, appointed palace marshal. Queen María Anna (Louvre and Prado). 1653-1654, Infanta Margarita (Vienna). About 1656-1660, Las Meninas. His religious and mythological paintings (Coronation of the Virgin, Prado; the Rokeby Venus, National Gallery, London) were rarer.

Juan Bautista del Mazo (d. 1667), Juan Carreño de Miranda (1614-1685) reflected Velázquez's manner, as did Juan Pareja (c. 1606-1670) and Antonio Puga.

Among Velázquez's contemporaries: Antonio de Pereda (1608-1678; St Jerome, Prado, Madrid), and the Rizi brothers (Fray Juan Andrés, 1600-1681, and Francisco, 1608-1685).

In the second half of the century the two most important artists were Matteo Cerezo (c. 1626-1666) and Claudio Coello (1642-1693) whose masterpiece was the Sagrada Forma (sacristy of the Escorial). Francisco Collantes (1599-1656), pupil of Francisco Rizi, as was Juan Antonio Escalante (1630-1670), was one of the few to paint landscapes.