Spain and Portugal Art

From the Roman presence to the appearance of geniuses as different as Greco and Gaudi, artists, both in Spain and in Portugal art, have never been isolated

From the Roman presence to the appearance of geniuses as different as Greco and Gaudi, artists, both in Spain and in Portugal, have never been isolated: Roman then Arab influences, close and fruitful contacts with the Flemish artistic world, Germanic, Italian and French show how techniques, themes, and models circulated in Europe. Far from being limited to pastiche, copying or hosting foreign artists, Spain and Portugal, while assimilating these experiences, have expressed their vision of the world in singular works that mix, depending on the period, passion, austerity, mysticism, shadow, and light. With the kind permission of Éditions Citadelles & Mazenod, we reproduce here, the foreword to the Iberian Peninsula constitutes a geographical unit comprising two distinct European States, Spain, and Portugal in specific periods lived a shared history. It received many cultural contributions from the East and the West. It opened on the sea several times: Catalonia and Valencia turned to the Mediterranean, Castile to the Cantabrian Sea, and the Atlantic after discovering the Americas. Portugal naturally oriented itself towards the Atlantic and then towards the Indian Ocean, where it established powerful colonies. Therefore, in the peninsula’s art history, very varied influences mingle, and the singular way in which foreign forms and styles are reinterpreted is precisely its most remarkable singularity.

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656–57. Museo del Prado.

The mythical Tartessos, the seat of a strongly orientalized culture in contact with the Phoenician world, is famous for its silver mines and its location on the Portuguese coast’s obligatory passage of the tin route. The Greek contribution enriches the native life. The so-called “Iberian” culture offers beautiful and very personal models of fusion of forms coming from the East or pre-classical Greece, like the “ladies” of Baza and Elche, of very high quality.

For three centuries, the Roman presence made the peninsula one of the most important possessions of the Empire: Iberia enjoyed lasting peace and even provided emperors to the metropolis. Moreover, the institutional organization and the layout of new towns, often designed on the military encampment model, leave a deep imprint from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic.

The assimilation of foreign art style, skillfully blended into Iberian art, has produced admirable examples that coexist with works directly imported from Rome and essential constructions.

Christianity, which has spread with relative rapidity, uses modes of expression similar to those of pagan art. Mosaics and sarcophagi are closely related to those of the metropolis. The invasion of “barbarian” tribes into Europe, notably the Visigoths, results in a new cultural contribution and a specific nationality affirmation, which finds its symbol in Toledo. The artistic achievements reveal the combination of Roman and Eastern traditions with decorative elements of the Nordic world, with geometric and abstract taste. In the architectural field, the horseshoe arch makes a lasting appearance.

The Visigothic world is soon overwhelmed by the Arab invasion between 711 and 716, bringing with it significant novelties that are incorporated definitively in all that will be carried out later. The decorative mode, made of repeated geometric rhythms, the taste for compartmentalized spaces, the crisscrossing rib vaults, the arts of wood and stucco will become usual in Hispanic art history. One of the most singular aspects of the Spanish Middle Ages is “Mozarabic” art, the work of Christians deeply penetrated by Islamism, who expressed a wonderful fantasy world in their manuscripts.

Saint John the Baptist, by Alonso Cano from the province of Valladolid. Now in the National Museum of Sculpture of Castile and León, Valladolid.

While the learned and refined Islamic world of the south and East of the peninsula develops its forms imbued with Orientalism. In the North, a front of resistance is being created against what is considered an invasion; then begins the long process of the Reconquista, particularly well represented in Asturian art style content. In contact with the Carolingian world and the currents of the Hispano-Roman tradition, the Asturian monuments of the 9th century have a powerful personality, which will remain without consequence. In fact, in the 11th century, the strong links with the European world and the growing importance of the “Way of Saint James,” a pilgrimage route to Compostela, opened the way to a certain internationalization. In Catalonia, the influence is mainly Italian, while it is French in Castile, Galicia, and Portugal. But the presence of elements of the Muslim tradition persists; the vaults with crisscrossing ribs and the domes with an oriental profile are juxtaposed with German-Ottoman elements, visible in the goldsmith’s work and the manuscripts.

The transition from the Romanesque world, monastic and warlike, to urban Gothic is marked by France’s growing influence and Castile and Portugal’s contacts with England. Catalonia, Valencia, and Aragon cities have close relations with Italy. French models inspire the great Castilian cathedrals, but one frequently meets elements coming from the Moslem repertoire. In the 15th century, the close ties with the Netherlands and the presence of numerous artists from this country favored a synthesis of Spanish art and Flemish art. This characteristic can be observed both in “flowery” architecture style. The Catholic Monarchs kingdom or in Portuguese Manueline architecture, as in painting and sculpture, which a Gothic according to French models – or Italian in the Catalan area – to an acceptance and identification with Flemish models. One of the most exciting chapters in Spanish art history is this “Hispano-Flemish” style which appropriates the concrete’s taste and adds to painting and sculpture a note of dramatic expressionism. In Portugal, loyalty to Flemish models persisted throughout the 16th century.

Throughout the 17th century, Portugal established its own style of tile painting. Following the destruction of the 1755 earthquake, there were plenty of opportunities for tile painters to restore broken homes or decorate brand-new ones, numerous examples of which can still be seen in today’s cities ‘ streets.

The Spanish Civil War and the ultimate empowerment of General Francisco Franco (1892 to 1975) in 1939, in specific, start a period of economic and political isolation in Spain that is not conducive to art production. Over the course of its long continuance, the Franco regime validates an academic style of art that it believes to be consonant with its political ideology.

Through the 1930s, centers of Surrealist art creation prosper in the Iberian Peninsula, in both the visual arts and literature. In between 1964 and 1981, the Spanish Equipo Crónica, a group of artists led by Rafael Solbes (1940 to 1981) and Manolo Valdés (born 1942), create art inspired by Europe and the Americas Pop Art Style but directed against the Franco regime.

Pablo Picasso (1881 to 1973), perhaps the most influential artist of the 20th century, begins his earliest period of experimentation in Cities as Barcelona and Madrid, prior to settling in Paris in 1904.

The European countries of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal, and Spain make essential contributions to 20th-century culture, regardless of the interruptions and isolation triggered by repressive political routines throughout much of the period.

Frederico Pradilla, Doña Juana La Loca (Joan the Mad). Museo del Prado.

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