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Spanish art and architecture

The Baroque Period

The baroque period (17th–mid 18th-century) was marked by decisive affirmation of native taste and individual genius in all the arts. Polychrome religious sculptures by Juan Martínez Montañés, Alonso Cano, and Pedro de Mena exemplify characteristic effects of extreme realism and an inward spirituality. Similarly in painting, sobriety of color and insistent naturalism, as well as dramatic contrasts of light and shade, were typical of such masters as Ribalta, Ribera, Navarrete, and Zurbarán, who are sometimes linked with Caravaggio and the Italians known for their dark palettes, termed tenebrosi [gloomy]. However, the outstanding master of the period was Velázquez, one of the greatest figures in the history of art. His paintings are admired as much for their display of technical virtuosity as for their profundity of characterization. The works of Murillo revealed a tendency to lyricism and decorative effects.

In architecture an extreme reaction against the severity and restraint of Renaissance forms manifested itself in the Churrigueresque style (see under Churriguera), which was characterized by animation of surface, play of light and shade effects, and an exaggeration and sumptuousness of ornament. Examples of Churrigueresque architecture include the Transparente in Toledo cathedral and the sacristy of the Cartuja (Granada). The style was imported into the American colonies (see Spanish colonial art and architecture), where many examples of the style can still be seen.

Under the Bourbons there was strong reaction against the individualism and exuberance of late baroque art. The founding in 1752 of the first of the Spanish academies of art resulted in a wave of sterile academic neoclassicism that tended to discourage creativity in the arts for nearly two centuries. The great exception to the general decline was Francisco Goya, who detailed in his works the corruption and brutality of this era in Spanish history.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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