National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION

Tour: Spanish Painting in the Seventeenth Century
Overview

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In the 1500s, Spain had been enriched by treasure from the Americas, and the next century saw the Golden Age of Spanish painting. Most of the painters who made this such an outstanding period are represented.

Juan van der Hamen was the son of a Flemish aristocrat at the court in Madrid. Because of its holdings in the Low Countries, Spain had close political -- and artistic -- contact with the North. Van der Hamen, widely regarded as one of the greatest still-life painters of the seventeenth century, was known for detailed and convincing depictions of everyday objects. Still life had only begun to be considered as an independent subject in the late 1500s, when it appeared in the North, Italy, and Spain more or less simultaneously.

At the age of twenty-five Jusepe de Ribera settled in Naples, which was under the control of the Spanish crown. Since his paintings often returned to Spain -- even though he did not -- Ribera exerted a strong influence on other Spanish artists and helped introduce them to new developments in Italian painting. Responding to Counter Reformation calls for works that involved the emotions of the faithful, his images of saints convey both physical reality and the mysticism of religious experience.

Even after Madrid became the center of the Spanish court, Seville remained the country's most important economic center. During the 1620s and 1630s, its many religious foundations kept Francisco de Zurbarán and his large workshop busy with commissions. After about 1640, however, Zurbarán's style -- sober and restrained -- lost favor to the softer look and more emotional appeal of younger artists, and he began to produce a large number of paintings for export to the New World.

Bartolomé Murillo succeeded Zurbarán as Seville's leading artist. His subjects are engaging, animated by his flair for narrative. And his seemingly effortless style -- though in fact he designed his compositions with great care and remained a diligent student of painting technique -- gives them appealing immediacy.

Diego de Velázquez devoted most of his career to strikingly innovative portraits of the Spanish monarchy and royal court. At the age of twenty-four he became painter to Philip IV, and served the king as portraitist and courtier until his death. The shorthand of Velázquez' brushwork mimics the effect of light and color with extraordinary realism. His free and fluid style, a legacy of the Venetian renaissance, in turn, influenced Manet and the first masters of modern art.

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