The Golde Age of the Spanish painting belongs to the baroque epoch even though manierist influences can be found at the beginning of the 17th century (until 1630 circa). A new idea of man is a significant moment in this era. This and also other important developments can be seen in 17th century Spanish paintings and scultpures showcased until 30th October 2016 in Gemäldegalerie Berlin. 135 oeuvres made by Velázquez, El Greco, Zurbrán and other known and less known artists are presented.
The 17th century in Spain: a time that is caracterized by controversies. Even though we call it now the Golden Age, the situation back then at the end of the 16th century wasn´t golden at all. Different events led to a downfall of Spanish power. There was the bad economical situation due to high military spending during the war with France that got even worse after the banishment of the Moriscos (baptised Moors) in 1609-1614 who were the basic element in trade and agriculture. The riches that were captured in the colonies in the New World were mostly spent for the wars (there were also the Thirty Years War and the war with the Netherlands that continued).
And although Spain was economically ruined, it was the same time that painting and poetry could reach their highest bloom and make this period become the Golden Age in these fields.
After he was made court painter in Madrid in 1623, Velázquez focused on other than religious topics like portrait painting and historical painting- the topics that were favorised at the court. Because of the sponsorship of the King, Velázquez was sent on two Italy voyages, his first in 1628 and his second in 1648. After the second trip he reached the peak of his carrer and painted his most famous oeuvres.
One of his famous paintings called Mars (1641) is also shown in this exhibition. The pose of the God demonstrates an impact of sculptures from the antiquity that Velázquez has studied during his Italy tour. Nonetheless the figure seems to have nothing in common with the Olympic God since his pose shows nothing heroic. This fact makes the myth unsacred, we more see a cheated lover, a mustached soldier in the tradition of Carcajada ante la mitologia (laughter before mythology), a literary source that probably inspired Velázquez.
Francisco de Zurbarán
Following a call of Velázquez, Zurbarán worked on profane and mythological paintings in Madrid at the King´s court. Creating very impressive still lifes, he paints in Caravaggio´s manner – using the change of light and shadow in front of a dark background allows him to work out detailed objects. The same technique is responsible for the characterisation of the different materials shown on the still lifes (like tissue, ceramics etc.). The arrangement of the objects in one line without using any overlaps makes them a silent secret…
I don´t want to uncover all the secrets and treasures of the exhibition. I only advise to go there if you plan a trip to Berlin and to enjoy the magic and mystery of the very special art of the Spanish Siglo de Oro.
For more information on Spanish 17th century painting see:
Hohenzoller, Johann Georg von (Hrsg.): Von Greco bis Goya. Vier Jahrhunderte Spanische Malerei, Ausstellungskat., München 1982.
Giorgi, Rosa: Das 17. Jahrhundert, Berlin 2007.
Hänsel, Sylvaine/Karge, Henrik (Hrsg.): Spanische Kunstgeschichte. Eine Einführung, Band 2, Berlin 1992.