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9.4: Spanish Baroque (1580s– early 1700)

  • Page ID
    56318
  • Spanish Baroque ushered in visual realism similar to the rest of Europe with fluid brushstrokes and no visible outlines, often somber or gloomy. Spain had fought and lost wars with the Netherlands and England, draining their finances. The Inquisition by the Catholic church influenced artists and religious style. The Spanish artists were masters of simplicity and painted in earthy colors, refusing to paint in the ostentatious style of the Italian Baroque using the allegorical flowing symbols of the Catholic religion. Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) was the most significant Spanish Baroque painter. Velázquez was a remarkable artist at an early age, creating technical masterpieces as a teenager. He was considered a master painter by the age of 18 and worked as a painter in the king's court of Spain for over 30 years.

    Around 1650, Velázquez traveled to Italy and painted the Portrait of Pope Innocent X (9.16); many historians believe it one of the most elegant portraits ever painted. The sheen of the red silk cape generates subtle highlights of color, creating a focal point in the picture. Velazquez incorporated a dramatic effect by using red in a variety of forms throughout most of the painting. The white linen summer clothes produce contrast and set off the dignity of the Pope on his throne as he is about to stand up and hand us the note in his left hand. Portraits, usually painted to portray the good qualities of a person, however, Velázquez always painted what he saw, representing people as they were. The portrait of Pope Innocent X initiated a distinctive style of painting in the formal court, ordinary people expressed factually, positioned in natural poses.

    Portrait of Pope Innocent X
    9.16 Portrait of Pope Innocent X

    Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) (9.17) is considered one of the world's most magnificent paintings. The painting is ostensibly a portrait of five-year-old princess Margarita Theresa and her ladies in waiting, although Velázquez turned the painting into an illusionary composition, unknown relationships, and unfamiliar positioning of some participants. The painting was almost lost in a fire when found in ruins; the only damage was to the sides, which they trimmed off the sides.

    The focal point in the painting (9.18) is the five-year-old princess (1), her ladies-in-waiting (2, 3), two of the court dwarfs (4, 5), a chaperone (6) and a bodyguard (7), all people expected in the court of the princess. The queen's chamberlain (8) is standing in a doorway, stairs leading to a wall, a point of illumination, wondering if he is arriving or leaving. On the side stands Velázquez himself (9), looking at an oversized canvas more substantial than the painting itself. The reflections of the queen (10) and king (11) can be seen in the mirror at the back of the room; however, it is unknown where they were positioned. Was Velázquez painting the couple? The people in the front are interacting, while others are looking out towards the viewer, adding dimension to the extraordinary qualities of the painting.

    Las Meninas
    9.17 Las Meninas
    Las Meninas key
    9.18 Las Meninas key

    Bartolome Murillo (1618-1682) was one of the most popular religious painters of the Baroque period in Spain, his work combining elements of Mannerism, Realism and Baroque periods. Using Caravaggio’s technique of tenebrism, Murillo placed an emphasis on the scenes of everyday life in Spain. His two paintings Holy Family with Dog (9.19) and Two Women at a Window (9.20), are outstanding examples of Murillo’s use of illumination, light coming from one side of the painting, reflecting on the realistic subjects positioned against the dark, recessive background.

    The Holy Family with Dog
    9.19 The Holy Family with Dog
    A picture containing person, building, wall, indoor
    9.20 Two Women at a Window