Still paintings and bodegones were very popular during the Spanish golden age. Still paintings and bodegones are artistic works that are at times characterized by inanimate representations. During the Spanish golden era, they were usually portrayed by the arrangement of objects in such anesthetic manner. Unlike those of the rest of Europe that portrayed pleasure, luxurious and flamboyant lifestyles of plentitude, the Spanish still paintings and bodegones had moral and economical cost cutting elements (Thacker, 2007).
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This was because of the major influence of spiritual and scientific concerns of the time which in turn affected the much fancied literature works. The backgrounds were made in a geometrically designed blocks. Economic management, budgeting and cost cutting as emphasized in the society of the time were reflected in the paintings.
The Portrait of Pope Innocent X
Diego Velázquez did this Painting. The painter had been mainly influenced by religion in his early paintings and was done when the Spanish painter visited Italy. The painting reflected the respected and charismatic leader of the Catholic Church. The painting mainly represented the head, which had been expertly drawn using the aesthetic variety of the combinations of the crimson curtain. Due to the influence of the church, other artists redrew the painting in imitative style numerous times and Diego’s fame rapidly spread all over Italy.
Before making the painting Diego had to prove that he was capable of painting the image of the pope with success. He was required to first paint the Pope’s closest associates which he did with success and hence allowed to make this portrait. The portrait is considered by many as one of the finest and most surreal painting ever to be made.
For an artist to be permitted an audience with the Pope, he had to be very renowned and widely acclaimed. For all artists, it was a life long dream to paint the pope. During this time, the church had a widespread influence on all sectors. The portrait was preserved where it continues to fascinate those who get a glimpse at it.
Still life with Lemons oranges and a rose
This masterpiece, which is still at display at the Norton Simon Museum, is a classical representation of the scientific and spiritual influence on the paintings of the Spanish golden era. The background is silhouetted against pitch darkness being illuminated by a kind of glaring dazzling unearthly light.
It portrays the images as if they are in three dimensions though they are in two dimensions. Zurbaran, the artist behind the awesome painting, is best remembered for his classical paintings of spiritual figures. He was fond of painting saints and his paintings depicted the saints’ devotion, dedication, and visions(Walther & Suckale, 2002).
Many critics have interpreted this still life image of lemons oranges and a rose to represent innocence and virginity. The citrons are said to be paschal fruit, chastity suggested by the blossoming appealing oranges, the rose and the cup filled with water as a symbol of life full of abundant, unconditional love and purity. The arrangement of the items is in such way they have been closely linked with the votive Christian offerings on an altar.
During the Spanish Golden Era, the notion that the Virgin Mary at the time of her conception had been exempted from the original sin was the dominant controversial topic. In Deus Pictor by an anonymous painter the concept of Immaculate, non-physical sexual Conception is clearly represented.
The setting of the painting is set in heaven. God the Father has been depicted to take the form of an old bearded man and it is from this old man that rays of light are seen to originate, piercing through the cloud straight into the virgin. The virgin is contained in an eggshell and the finger of the creator is seen to pierce through the egg touching on the virgin
The finger of God theme, which still circulates the modern world, is seen to be what the artist is implying about in this painting. The finger of God is said to work and perform wonders of which is what the artist portrays in the painting. The virgin is represented as a will and work of God of which the phrase the begotten son seem to imply here. The painting is a clear representation of the widespread influence of the church and the emphasis on appealing literature works.
The virgin is portrayed as having a direct connection with heaven, a notion upheld up to date and people plead to the virgin to mediate on their behalf especially the Catholics. This painting is also a symbol of how the virgin is divinely created and her conception a supernatural phenomena. This painting’s representation of the virgin as having direct link with heaven also represents the people’s high regard of the virgin and the notion of Immaculate Conception.
Bodegon of Sanchez Cotan
Sanchez was the main person behind the establishment and popularization of Spanish still life, which came to be popularly referred to as bodegon. In his painting, he masterfully illustrates the depiction of simple fruits and vegetables. He uses the scientific geometry to portray some as hanging from above while others appear leaning on the window.
The background is darkened with all objects standing in asymmetrical equilibrium stature. The forms are arranged, scrutinized, and set in such a scientific evaluation that they take a mystic quality.
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The painting by Sanchez portrays the objects, which is the vegetables and different fruit types, in the painting to be independent of one another and isolated. The isolation provides for the revelation of the aesthetic nature of each object. The painting is able to reveal to the audience the most common fruits and vegetables of the time.
Just like the other Spanish still image paintings, this classic painting by Sanchez depicts the scientific method used at the time for the preservation of foodstuffs. Food was hang and allowed to dangle so as to prevent them from rotting. This is a common feature of the classical Spanish golden age paintings as this was the science of the time.
The Portrait of Philip IV
Diego Velazquez painted the magnificent portrait of the art loving monarch, King Philip IV. This immediately earned him favour in the eyes of the king and consequently he was appointed as a court painter, which was a prestigious post. His post enabled him to have access to even the royal works and collections.
He was also able to access the works of the legendary artist, Titan. These works by Titan exerted the greatest influence on his later paintings. However, limited scientific innovations and advancement made the images made create an illusion of reality. This though at times remarkable, owed to the qualities of light as the source could not be diversified like can be done today using the reflective nature of light.
The drawing of the king’s portrait enabled him to travel all over Europe as a collector of fine art for the royal family when the king was interested at adding his existing collection. He became a close friend of the king, which eventually led to him influencing greatly on the decisions of the king. It was also at his trip to Italy on an official mission for the king that he made the portrait of the Pope. The Pope was a very influential individual both spiritually and politically.
Since the scientific advancements of the time did not afford him sophisticated brushes, he is said to have used the long handed brushes. The Pope was very intrigued and impressed by the dazzling and admirable portrait that Diego was subsequently admitted to the church owned academy of St Luke. This was a great honour to Diego who was also hosted at the congregation of the famous Virtuosi of pantheon.
Scientific and Literature’s Effect on the Paintings
Science and technology has affected the character of human beings throughout history. The Spanish golden age is characterized as an era that was experiencing renaissance after the dormant Middle Ages. Though not significant, scientific endeavours were still evolving. The images painted during that era especially the still images had common characteristics. Foodstuffs are painted dangling to illustrate the main preservative methods of the time. (Wilder, 2007)
The buildings and architectural designs of the time directly affected the art industry. There was also the desire to decorate the large buildings erected. Since there were no cameras for pictures, paintings were the major decorative tools. The monarch had established the art department, which had even the art court. Painters got resources from the state to decorate the newly built structures with beautiful piece of art. Painting was recognized by the state with funds set aside for painting expenditures.
Painting requires beautiful colours for an exemplary piece of art to be produced. Colours inventory and production was the work of science. The colours produced by scientific methods were the only one available for use and thus the artistic products were partially determined by science. Unlike in other European countries, Spanish economics emphasized the need for saving and people shunning flamboyant lifestyle. Therefore, the painting found in Spain did not depict luxurious wasteful, pleasure loving lifestyle.
Poems and other literature art were very influential during the Spanish golden age. Poems were recited to the nobles and in public functions. Paintings to aid poets in their expression of ideas became a very popular. Poetry was a lucrative occupation and thus artists who associated themselves with literature works got hefty rewards. This thus attracted many artists
The Church’s Patronage and Influence
During the Spanish golden era, the church was the most influential body in almost all sectors. Due to his exemplary painting of the Pope, the Pope who was residing in Italy instructed the papal nuncio all the way in Madrid Spain to support and aid Diego using all means possible in his quest of becoming a knight.
Consequently, on returning to Spain, the artist was appointed to the office of chamberlain despite fierce opposition by members of nobility. The appointment guaranteed him a handsome lucrative salary with his residence adjacent and connecting with the royal palace.
In return, Diego used his prestigious post to advance the careers of other artists like that of his close family members. He is said to have helped his grandchildren and son-in law tremendously in an effort to polish their skills. Velazquez is known to have been greatly influenced by religion. In fact one of his paintings depicting of a scenario of Mary and Martha in advocacy of self sacrifice that has been used in the description of the life of a nun.
The portrait was used to show that apart from serving diligently, a nun has also a contemplative meditative life. Due to religion, most of his paintings revealed the spiritual empathy the great artist employed in explaining the nature of people. His paintings were thus intended to make the audience engage in reflective, logical analysis if one was to arrive at the intended message.
The church at the time can be termed as having been the superpower. The church like the state used art to express and represent its teachings and the belief in the spiritual nature of humankind was emphasized. The birth of Jesus Christ was stressed to be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
During this period, which in history is referred to as the Middle Ages or medieval epoch, the Church was both respected and feared (Bailey, 1913). It was both spiritually and legally binding with a huge army to enforce its decisions. The church was thus not to be opposed. If one was disgruntled, then it was advisable to keep it to oneself than be in conflict with the church as one was to be executed or excommunicated. This authoritarian nature of the church is one of the main reasons for the split of the Protestants.
Since the church was very influential especially in Spain, it is automatic that most of the artists were Roman Catholic faithful and their faith led them to painting mostly about spiritually approved images. In Spain, unlike some of the European countries, obscene art was rare as was portrayed as going against the religious teachings.
Those paintings that were pleasing and admired by the church resulted to big and lucrative rewards. The fame, of the artist with the finest piece of work according to the church, skyrocketed and saw more contracts and respect. The influences of the church in the destiny of an artist, attracted many artists in painting spiritual events in an effort to earn a favour in the eyes of the church.
In the epoch of the Spanish golden age, the church, scientific endeavours and literature were the three most influential factors of the time. These fields affected how people thought and any activities in these areas were prioritized. The paintings made in epoch of the Spanish golden era, are held with high regards in the contemporary modern world and the artists of the time are considers the giants of painting and have become inspiration figures of modern art.
Scientific use of geometrical calculations and alignments is evidenced in most of the paintings of the time (De Armas, 2004). The science of time was closely related with the church. The church and science of the time held the notion that the earth was the centre of the solar system. Therefore, most of the paintings about the universe put the earth at the centre.
Primary Reference List
Bailey, T. Twelve great paintings: personal interpretation. New York: The Prang Company, 1913, PP 37-46.
De Armas., A. Writing for the Eyes in the Spanish Golden Age. New Jersey: Rosemont Publishing & Printing Corp, 2004, PP 150-180.
Thacker, J. A Companion to Golden Age Theatre. Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2007 PP 108- 130.
Secondary Reference List
Walther, F., Suckale, R. Masterpieces of Western Art: A History of Art in 900 Individual Studies. Bonn: Taschen, 2002, PP 198- 220.
Wilder, B. Art History For Dummies. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2007, PP 167- 207.