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

15th century 16th century 17th century

15th century

In Spain the majority of sculptors were of foreign origin, except in Catalonia and Aragon where local masters such as Padre Joan revealed original qualities in the decoration of civic buildings (St George, Casa de la Diputación in Barcelona) and in the monumental altars in marble or alabaster (Sta Tecla altar, 1426, Tarragona cathedral). French, German and Flemish stonemasons and carvers introduced into Castile and León the dynamic style of the Sluter school with the decorative repertory of Flamboyant Gothic, which was enriched by elements borrowed from Mudejar art. The originality of the sculptors showed itself in Castile in the choir terminations and in the monumental altars and stalls in both churches and cathedrals (stalls and altar in Seville cathedral, by Master Dancart of Lille, 1482-1492; lower stalls in Toledo cathedral, before 1495; stalls in Plasencia cathedral, 1497, and in the cathedral at Ciudad Rodrigo by Rodrigo Alemán; stone altar in S. Nicolás, Burgos, by Francisco de Colonia). Together with Juan Guas, who represents the opulent decorative Isabelline style, the greatest sculptor in the service of the court was Gil de Siloe, who worked in Burgos but had trained in Flanders or in Germany (altar and tombs in the church of the Carthusian monastery of Miraflores, completed 1499). With this sculptor and his followers in Castile, richness of composition and abundance of detail were carried to extremes.

16th century

Under Ferdinand V and Charles V, Italianism became popular in Spain owing to the import of marbles from Genoa to Catalonia, and the immigration to Castile, Andalusia and Aragon of numerous Florentine artists (D. Fancelli, imitator of Mino da Fiesole to Avila and Granada; Pietro Torrigiano, fellow-student of Michelangelo, to Seville; Francesco and Jacopo del Indaco to Murcia and Granada; Giovanni Moreto to Saragossa). The first Spanish sculptors who supported the aesthetic of the Renaissance, Vasco de la Zarza (d. 1524) and Bartolomé Ordóñez (d. 1520) stem from Fancelli. Whilst showing their predilection for the most ostentatious forms in church furnishings - altars, stalls, choir screens (trascoro) - the artists gradually adapted themselves to the new taste in arrangement and decoration; for example, Philippe Bigarny of Burgundy (1498-1543, at Burgos, Toledo, Granada); the Valencian alabaster sculptor Damian Forment (at Saragossa, where he must have known G. Moreto); the woodcarver from Picardy, Gabriel Joly at Saragossa and Teruel. Local characteristics were more obvious in Guillén de Holanda (about 1521-1540), Guyot de Beaugrant (about 1530-1550) and Juan de Ayala. Diego de Siloe (d. 1563), the son of Gil, who was known principally as an architect of classical tendency, profited by Italian examples in funerary sculpture (tomb of Canon Diego de Santander, Burgos). The greatest Castilian sculptor of that time, Alonso Berruguete (1486-1561), son of the painter Pedro, was also trained in Florence and Rome, where he knew Michelangelo (sculptures in Valladolid museum, Toledo). Like those of the Spanish-naturalised Frenchman Juan de Juni (d. 1577), author of polychrome groups (Valladolid Museum), his Mannerist works are typically Spanish in feeling.

17th century

Whether mystic or realist in expression, the themes of Spanish sculpture were religious. Monumental and sepulchral sculpture disappeared; the altars and especially the processional statues (pasos) mostly treated ecstasy or pain (the Passion). Wood was enriched with polychromy, often with the collaboration of famous painters, and created an expressive realism.

Castile, like Andalusia, was different from the other schools. At Valladolid, Gregorio Fernandez (or Hernandez, c. 1576-1636), sculptor of the Ecce Homo (Valladolid museum), was in line of succession to Berruguete and Juan de Juni, and was emotional to the point of being theatrical. He formed a school in Castile.

In Andalusia, Seville reached the climax of realism in Juan Martinez Montañés (1568-1649) whose high altar in the church at Santiponce near Seville is one of the most beautiful works of the century. The Immaculate Conception (Seville cathedral) is also characteristic of the purity of his style. His dominant personality eclipsed those sculptors who in Andalusia marked the transition from classicism to realism: Gaspar Nuñez Delgado (between 1578 and 1605) in Seville, Pablo de Rojas (between 1581 and 1607) in Granada. Juan de Mesa (1583-1627) was the most original of Martinez Montañés' followers; their works were for a long time confused. He is, however, distinguishable by his emotionalism, particularly in his favourite theme, the Crucifixion (the Cristo del Amor, Seville, S. Salvador).

Alonso Cano (1601-1667) who was painter, sculptor and architect, dominated art in Granada. He also worked in Seville and Madrid. In his search for ideal types, he was classical, and his forms are full of harmony and grandeur (Immaculate Conception, Granada cathedral). His pupil Pedro de Mena (1628-1688), who settled very early in Málaga, with a sincere and more prosaic piety, created one of the most beautiful images for public devotion, the St Francis in Toledo cathedral. Also in Granada was José de Mora (1642-1724), son of a pupil of Cano, and the most original of a family of sculptors.

At the end of the century the Seville school, following Montañés and Cano, was transformed under Bernini's influence. The last great 17th-century Sevillian sculptor was Pedro Roldán (1624-1699): altar in the Caridad hospital, Seville. His daughter, Luisa Roldán (1656-1704), was in her turn a sculptor of merit. In Granada Diego de Mora (1658-1724) continued the art of Alonso Cano (Immaculate Conception, collegiate church, Granada).