Spanish Art

One who travels in Spain expecting to see such displays of art as are to be found in Italy and the Low Countries is sure to be disappointed. There are multitudes of pictures in Spain, and some of the finest works of art are preserved there, along with many inferior productions. These fine paintings must be hunted out from a mass of rubbish in the cathedrals and churches of the large towns, except in Madrid, where the Royal Gallery contains an almost unequalled collection of masterpieces by painters of all schools. The earliest paintings are poor imitations of the Italian and Flemish schools, sombre in color and monotonous in treatment. They date back to the fifteenth century, and are often found in “retablos,” large carved altar-pieces of wood, gilded and painted, where also interesting works of art are sometimes to be found. Rincon and his son Fernando of Salamanca, Juan de Borgogna, who decorated the walls of the chapter-house at Toledo in fresco with a “History of the Virgin,” and Alonzo Berruguete, who studied under Michael Angelo, were the earliest Spanish painters. Antonio Moro, a Dutch master, founded the Spanish school of portraiture in 1552, and there are splendid portraits by him in the Madrid gallery. Coello, whose portraits of Philip II. and Philip III. are in the same place, and Juan Pantoja de la Cour, who succeeded him as court painter, have left many specimens of portrait painting, but their pictures are poor.

There are many pictures of the sixteenth century by Luis de Morales and Juan de Juanes. The former has been called “the divine Morales,” as has been wittily said, “more because he painted subjects of divinity, than from any divinity in his painting.” He is remarkable chiefly for the painful nature of his pictures, which embody physical suffering and strong emotions. Juanes is called the Spanish Raphael, and by comparison with other Spaniards he may merit the designation, for his colors are brilliant, and his compositions are much more harmonious and graceful than any of his Spanish contemporaries’, though far behind the great Italian’s.

The next century is the period of Spanish art. Jose Ribera, who was born at Valencia, in 1588, was a pupil of Francisco Ribalta, became more celebrated than his master, and was known in Italy, where he studied and painted, as the “Spagnoletto” or little Spaniard. His pictures are chiefly religious, flavored with the bigotry of the times, and terrors of the Inquisition, and abound in tortures and martyrdom, and suffering saints. There is a large collection of his paintings in the Madrid gallery, among which “Jacob’s Dream” and “St. Bartholomew’s Martyrdom ” are justly celebrated. He lived and died at Naples, and though Spain has the majority of his pictures no gallery in Europe is without specimens of his art. Velasquez and Murillo are the two great Spanish painters. They had contemporaries, who were lesser lights, Zurbaran, Herrera, Cano, Rodas, and others; but the judgment of time has stamped Ribera, Velasquez, and Murillo as the great masters of Spanish art.

Whoever would know Velasquez and Murillo thoroughly must go to Spain to see their paintings. The Madrid gallery has forty-six Murillos, and sixtyfour paintings by Velasquez. There are, besides these, fifty-eight by Ribera, threescore pictures by Rubens, more than fifty by Teniers, ten by Raphael, twenty-two by Van Dyck, forty-three by Titian, twenty-five by Paul Veronese, and numbers by other celebrated artists. The authenticity of the ascription of these paintings is undoubted, as the most important were painted by special order for the palaces of Spain, whose inventories designate them by number and de scription. There are more than two thousand, and they belong to the Crown of Spain. No wonder that the Madrid gallery is often considered the finest in the world, a collection of gems of art from all lands. It is also a delightful place in which to enjoy and study art: the atmosphere of Spain is dry and clear; there is always light, which adds so much to the charms of color; the picture gallery is admirably arranged, well catalogued, and never crowded. Even the untrained and purely amateur lover of art can spend the better part of a week in visiting this gallery for a few hours each day, or if he has only a forenoon at his disposal, can be well repaid for travelling to Madrid by such a morning’s treat.

I had seen every gallery in Europe except that of Madrid, and desired chiefly to see the works of Velasquez and Murillo. The former was born in Seville in 1599, and died in Madrid in 1660. His wife was the daughter of a painter, who was also a writer on art, and from his father-in-law the young man received much valuable instruction. He had a genius for painting from childhood, copying from nature and models, and in his twenty-third year came to Madrid, and was taken into the service of Philip IV., an enthusiastic lover of art, and himself a painter. He formed a friendship with Rubens, who was in Madrid as a diplomat, and studied in Italy at two different times. His “Crucifixion” is one of the most solemn and sublime conceptions that was ever placed upon canvas, and his ” Surrender of Breda” has been considered “the finest representation and treatment of a contemporary historical event in the world.” As a portrait painter, and in his representation of animals, he is almost without a rival; his works are equal in quality, his light and shade, gradations of tone and color, and perspective have been the admiration of artists, and his pictures are the delight of many who are able to enjoy, though not competent to criticise them. One of the most famous of his pictures is “Las Meninas.”On the left of the spectator stands the painter, brush in hand. In the foreground and in the centre, the young princess, daughter of Philip IV., is being amused by her female “meninas,” or favorites. On the right are two dwarfs, worrying a beautiful old dog, who bears it patiently. In the background, a looking-glass reflects the faces of Philip IV. and his queen, who are standing for their portraits; an open door admits the light. When the picture was finished, Velasquez showed it to the king, and asked, “Is anything wanting?” “One thing only,” answered Philip; and, taking the pallet from his hands, he painted on the breast of the painter in the picture the Cross of the Order of Santiago, the most distinguished in Spain.

Bartolome Esteban Murillo was born in Seville in 1616. From boyhood he painted pictures, which were sold in the market-place, bought by dealers, and sent to the Spanish colonies in America. He went to Madrid and studied, and then returned to Seville, where he established himself for the rest of his life, painting with the help of his scholars a multitude of pictures for churches and convents in Spain and her colonies. French invaders and picture dealers have carried many of his pictures away; and from Russia to England, in all the great galleries, there are specimens of his work. In Madrid and Seville it is still best seen. At Madrid, in the academy of St. Fernamdo, are his wonderful pictures of “St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Relieving the Sick,” and ” The Patrician’s Dream “; in the Royal Gallery, several of his “Conceptions,” among them one very like the famous one in the Louvre at Paris, the “Holy Family,” the “Adoration of the Shepherds,” and other beautiful compositions. Seville contains a choice variety of Murillo’s pictures, of which I will write later on.

The pictures of Raphael in the Madrid gallery are all noteworthy. Titian is nowhere more characteristically represented, and Rubens is illustrated both in the number and style of his paintings, which are here preserved. If there were nothing else in the city worth seeing, it would well repay a journey from Paris to study and enjoy the great gallery of pictures at Madrid.