This period marks a significant turn in the tide of fortunes for the Iberian Peninsula. The English defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 is the first of several debilitating blows to Spanish authority suffered by the country in the warfare with which the period is rife. Nevertheless, the artistic life of Spain flourishes, and the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries produce the greatest masters of the Spanish school. Monarchs avidly patronize native artists as well as Flemish and Italian masters, as lavish displays of pomp and splendor are used to assert the glory of the Spanish crown. The Baroque style is brought to the region through contact with Italy; it gives way in the eighteenth century to a severe Neoclassicism. The artistic and architectural styles that take root in Spain in turn appear in the arts of the Spanish colonies of the Americas.
In 1640, Portugal overthrows Spanish authority; by the early eighteenth century, the country experiences a period of great prosperity that enables a surge of artistic production and building activity. After a devastating earthquake in 1755, the city of Lisbon is rebuilt as an elegant and cosmopolitan capital.
Philip III rules Spain, Naples, Sicily, the Southern Netherlands, and (as Philip II) Portugal. Fervently pious but having little interest in matters of state, Philip delegates most of his authority to a royal favorite, Francisco Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas, duque de Lerma (1553–1625). Lerma’s administration is marked by a mass expulsion of moriscos (Moors converted to Christianity) from 1609 to 1614, resulting mainly from suspicions that they, in alliance with Henry IV of France, the Dutch, and the Turks, plan to assassinate the king. This expulsion contributes to a further decline in Spain’s industry and commerce as it loses an enormous, culturally rich segment of its population, but is seen as a religious and political triumph. Despite financial ills and precarious foreign relations, including an uneasy twelve-year truce with the Dutch (1609–21), the country witnesses a flowering of the liberal and visual arts. Some of the greatest masters of Spanish literature are active at this time, including Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), whose Don Quixote appears in 1605–15, and Félix Lope de Vega Carpio (1562–1635), the foremost and certainly most prolific Spanish dramatist, author of some 1,800 plays.
Seville is the artistic center of the Iberian Peninsula, producing some of the period’s greatest masters: Velázquez (Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez) (1599–1660), Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664), Bartolomé Estebán Murillo (1617–1682), and Juan de Valdés Leal (1622–1690).
Spanish painter Juan Sánchez Cotán (1560–1627) retires to the charterhouse at Granada, where he lives as a Carthusian lay brother until his death. An inventory of his studio made shortly thereafter includes twelve still lifes, among the first painted in Europe; the artist depicts fruits, vegetables, and fowl arranged on a shallow ledge against a dark background, or suspended from threads. Purity of composition, peerless observation of detail, and bright illumination combine to effect an astonishing drama in everyday objects.
Juan Martínez Montañés (1568–1649) is the finest and best-known sculptor in Seville. In this year, he receives two of his most ambitious commissions: one for the design and execution of an altarpiece for the convent of San Isidoro del Campo, Santiponce, Seville, and another for the high altar of San Miguel, Jerez de la Frontera. Montañés works in the medium of polychrome wood, widely popular at this time (he does not apply the polychrome himself but employs skilled masters to do so), and imbues his figures with a naturalism and a mystical grace that contribute to his fame and win him patronage from as far as the Americas.
Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652), a painter and printmaker of Valencian birth, is active in Italy, where he remains for the entirety of his career. He is greatly influenced by Caravaggio and his Northern followers in Rome, and several years later settles in Naples, where his patrons include the ruling Spanish viceroys. Though Ribera’s style reflects the artistic events of his adopted home, the artist remains aware of his Spanish origins, often signing his works with his place of birth, as in a fine late work, The Holy Family with Saints Anne and Catherine of Alexandria (34.73)
Painter Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called El Greco, the greatest Spanish master of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, dies in Toledo. In his portraits and religious subjects, El Greco captures with expressive handling and bold use of color the fervent spirituality of his time.
At the death of his father, Philip IV (r. 1621–65) ascends the throne. His reign is largely occupied by war, including renewed participation in the Thirty Years’ War. Victories of the early 1620s against the French and Dutch are followed by later losses, including a major concession of territory in Flanders to France by the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659), which, combined with the terms of the Peace of Westphalia (the 1648 treaty that ends the Thirty Years’ War), bolsters the steadily growing power of France and marks the steady decline of Spanish authority. Philip also faces mounting economic crises, the secession of Portugal (1640), and Catalan revolt (1640–52). He is aided until the early 1640s by Gaspar de Guzmán, conde-duque de Olivares (1587–1645), a gifted statesman who works toward government reform and a reassertion of Spain’s glory and strength as a world power. Despite a shortage of funds, displays of royal splendor are encouraged as a means of propaganda, and both the king and his chief minister are avid patrons. Philip is inspired in his connoisseurship by that of his grandfather, Philip II, who during his reign (1556–98) amassed a collection including works by the greatest Italian masters of the sixteenth century. Philip IV brings many of these works from the Escorial to Madrid, and patronizes many of the great masters of his own time, including Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1651/53); Alonso Cano (1601–1667), the sculptor/architect placed in charge of the construction of a cathedral at Granada; Velázquez; and the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), a friend and advisor to the king, celebrated not only for his peerless artistic merit but also for his skill as a diplomat and ambassador. In 1649, Philip acquires the art collection of the late Charles I of England, making him the rival of connoisseurs across Europe.
Painter Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599–1660) is summoned to Madrid from his native Seville to paint a portrait (now lost) of Philip IV. Pleased with this work, the king names Velázquez his official painter; the artist retains this title, with increasing honors, for the rest of his life. During two trips to Italy (1629–31; 1649–51), he adds a mastery of perspective and a heightened awareness of classical antiquity to his superb natural ability to capture human likenesses—from court jesters and dwarfs to high-ranking officials such as Pope Innocent X (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome)—with astonishing truth and dignity. The culmination of his talents is represented by the late masterpiece Las Meninas (Prado, Madrid).
The palace of Buen Retiro is raised on the outskirts of Madrid. Its lavish decorative program is unmistakably propagandistic, glorifying the monarch, the Church, and Spanish military victory in such monumental works as Velázquez’s canvas The Surrender of Breda, as well as his portrait of Philip IV on horseback (1635). The palace also contains the Coliseo, the country’s first permanent theater.
Settled in Seville, Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664) produces the works of his maturity. The saints, martyrs, and clerics that are his chosen subject matter exhibit solemn dignity, intense piety, and at times even a quiet domesticity; the spirituality of these images is focused by simple composition and strong contrasts of light and shade, often in which the subject is illuminated against a dark background.
Tile production flourishes in Portugal. Tiles, or azulejos, often sumptuously decorated with intricate painted designs, are used to adorn furniture and interior walls as well as exterior facades.
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682) paints a series of eleven saints for a monastery in his native Seville. The pictures secure immediate renown for the artist and establish him as the foremost painter in the city, a position he retains until his death. Murillo’s techniques of composition and lighting bear the influence of Zurbarán as well as the Caravaggists, but stark intensity gives way to warmth and sweetness in many of Murillo’s works (see the Virgin and Child, 43.13). Murillo is a skilled portraitist (see A Knight of Alcántara or Calatrava, 54.190; and Don Andrés de Andrade y la Cal, 27.219), and excels at the depiction of children in poignant genre scenes. The gentleness that suffuses Murillo’s oeuvre is highlighted in his eleven canvases, depicting acts of Christian charity, for the Hospital de la Caridád in Seville.
Gaspar Sanz (1640–1710) publishes the multivolume guitar method Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra española. Sanz is an important figure in the popularization of the guitar as well as a gifted composer.
The Churriguera family of artists, led by José Benito de Churriguera (1664–1725), popularizes a style of architecture characterized by extraordinary plasticity, exuberant animation of form, and rich surface ornament. Masterworks of the Churrigueresque style include José Benito’s altar for San Esteban in Salamanca (ca. 1700), and his brother Alberto’s (1686–1750) designs for the splendid Plaza Mayor in the same city, the family’s center of activity. Other influential masters of the period take inspiration from the Churriguera, including Fernando Casas y Nóvoa (1691–1749), who adds a splendid west facade (1738–50), called the Fachada del Obradoiro, to the Romanesque cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. The style is also brought to Spanish colonies in the Americas.
Neapolitan painter Luca Giordano (1632–1705), a pupil of Pietro da Cortona and Ribera, enters the service of Charles II (r. 1665–1700), successor to Philip IV, in Madrid; he contributes frescoes to the chapel of San Lorenzo and the Escorial, and executes others in Madrid and Toledo.
Shortly before his death, the childless king Charles II names Philip, duke of Anjou (grandson of Louis XIV of France), as heir to the throne. This provokes the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) as England, Holland, and imperial authorities react against the extension of French authority that comes with the accession of a Bourbon monarch. It ends with several treaties, collectively known as the Peace of Utrecht, in 1713.
The lavish splendor of the Baroque is exemplified in the clocktower (1728–33) and library (1716–23)—adorned with illusionistic paintings, marble inlay floors, and a profusion of decorative arts—at the University of Coimbra, Portugal. The city has flourished as a center of humanism and the arts from the time of the university’s permanent establishment there in 1537.
Italian architect Filippo Juvarra (1678–1736) is at work on the palace at Mafra in Portugal. Commissioned by John V (r. 1706–50) with the aim of rivaling the Escorial in Spain in its size and splendor, this massive complex of palace, monastery, and church represents a period of great prosperity in Portugal, when gold and diamond deposits from Portuguese mines in Brazil fund extravagant royal projects.
The Palacio Real (royal palace) in Madrid is destroyed by fire. In 1735, Philip V (r. 1700–1746) commissions Filippo Juvarra to build a new palace, but the architect dies in the following year. His gifted pupil, Giovanni Battista Sacchetti (1690–1764), takes over the project. In Sacchetti’s hands, the elaborate Baroque design of his master takes a Neoclassical turn, reducing the size of the structure while emphasizing its mass and volume with column orders and double staircases.
Music and the performing arts flourish during the reign of Ferdinand VI of Spain and his queen, Maria Bárbara de Braganza (1711–1758), daughter of John V of Portugal. Carlo Farinelli (1705–1782), the most illustrious singer of the period, as well as the Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757) are fixtures at their court.
In the year of his accession, Charles III of Spain (r. 1759–88) opens the Real Fábrica del Buen Retiro porcelain factory, named for the palace it inhabits. The factory is staffed by artisans from the workshops at Capodimonte, established by Charles during his reign as king of Naples and Sicily (1734–59). The Buen Retiro porcelain factory is the most important in Spain until its destruction in 1808.
Luis Egidio Meléndez (1716–1780), born in Naples (where he later settles for several years of study) and trained as a miniaturist, begins a specialization in still-life painting. Meléndez captures the volumetric solidity of fruits and vegetables arranged on a simple surface and often against a sober background, but relishes with a scientific eye the conveyance of texture and the depiction of detailed surface markings (1982.60.39). He paints a series of forty-five still lifes for the Palacio Real in Madrid, where he spends most of his career, claiming that his aim is to decorate a room with every type of fruit and vegetable that the Spanish climate produces.
German painter Anton Raphael Mengs (1728–1779) is at work at the Palacio Real. He executes a ceiling fresco, the Triumph of Aurora (1762–64), for the bedroom of the Queen Mother Isabella Farnese, and the Apotheosis of Hercules (1762–69 and 1775) for the Antecámara de Gasparini. Mengs is a major exponent of the Neoclassical style, which he practices in Dresden and Italy before entering the service of Charles III, who appoints him to the position of principal painter in 1766. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770) and his two sons Giovanni Domenico (1727–1804) and Lorenzo (1736–1776) are also active from 1762 at the Palacio Real, to which they contribute three ceiling frescoes (1764–66): the Glory of Spain, the Glory of the Spanish Monarchy, and the Apotheosis of Aeneas. Giovanni Battista dies in Spain; Domenico returns to Venice shortly after his father’s death, but Lorenzo remains until his own death.
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828) is invited by Mengs to paint tapestry cartoons for the royal tapestry factories at Santa Bárbara; thus begins a relationship with the Spanish monarchy that occupies the remainder of the artist’s career. The foremost artist of late eighteenth-century Spain, Goya turns from lighthearted genre scenes and portraits to paintings and graphic works that express a profound pessimism and a preoccupation with human corruption.
Under architect Juan de Villanueva (1739–1811), construction begins on a museum of natural history on the Paseo del Prado in Madrid. It is completed during the reign of Ferdinand VII (1814–33), and is today known as the Museo del Prado, one of the finest museums of painting and sculpture in Europe.
“Iberian Peninsula, 1600–1800 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=09®ion=eusi (October 2003)