Painting in Spain 1500-1700

Article excerpt


Painting in Spain 1500-1700

New Haven and London: Yale University Press, Pelican History of Art, 1999. 293 pp.; 89 color ills., 239 b/w. $75; $35 paper

Jonathan Brown's Painting in Spain 1500-1700, originally published as The Golden Age of Painting in Spain (Yale University Press, 1991),1 is a distinguished addition to the Pelican History of Art. The original series of Pelican books aimed to offer a broad overview of established periods and areas of art history and to represent reliably the state of their scholarship; the best ones also complied, as Rudolf Wittkower put it, with "the historian's fight and duty to submit to his readers his own vision of the past" (Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750, 1958, preface). Brown has fullfilled both sides of this mandate in exemplary fashion with a splendid text and superb illustrations. The apparatus of the book, its footnotes and bibliographies, includes a great deal of information on individual artists and on issues, and provides a trustworthy guide to existing scholarship that is not always easy to find-no simple task considering the boom in publications on Spanish art during the last several decades, particularly in Spain. The scholarship is brought up through 1996. This does not encompass the catalogues of the recent blockbuster exhibitions held in Spain to commemorate the death of Philip II (1998, 1999) and the birth of the emperor Charles V (2000),2 or the commemoration of the birth of Velazquez (1599), which included Jonathan Brown's own exhibition at the Prado.3 There are also the scholarly congresses that such exhibitions spin off. However, since Pelicans are intended to have a long shelf life, I assume that the second edition will assess the new material, including the newly accepted and stunning Temptation of Saint Thomas Aquinas (with its fiendishly lovely temptress/devil) by Velazquez that Brown included in his exhibition.

Brown also changed the frame of his subject in ways that make his book different from its predecessor in the Pelican series, which was published more than forty years ago. In 1947 when Pevsner commissioned George Kubler and Martin Sofia to write Art and Architecture of Spain and Portugal and Their American Dominions, 1500-1800 (1959), it was an adventure into an enormous, partly uncharted, territory. For scholars who serenely trawled the intellectual lanes between Rome, Florence, Venice and northern ports in France, Flanders, and Germany, the artistic geography of Spain and Portugal-not to mention the viceroyalties of Mexico and Peru-was not a serious concern. Even now, the fourteen volumes of Chandler R. Post's toilsome A History of Spanish Painting (1930-66) have made little impact in spite of their still useful scholarship. Soria's approximately one hundred pages and ninety-two illustrations devoted to painting in Spain between 1500 and 1800 in the original Pelican (Part Three, pp. 199-302) must have seemed generous given the scale of the enterprise, but it was not enough to illustrate or more than mention the works, like those of Titian, for example, that were commissioned by the Spanish Habsburgs and were in the royal collections from an early date. (Why Soria failed to illustrate the second most famous Spanish painting of all time, El Greco's Burial of the Count of Orgaz, is simply not understandable.) With more space at his disposal, Jonathan Brown includes non-Spanish artists like Titian, Sofonisba Anguissola, Pellegrino Tibaldi, and Rubens in a fuller account and thus underscores the point, not stressed in Soria, that painting in Spain was part of and not peripheral to developments in the rest of Europe.

Brown clarifies this European character from the outset in his new Chapter 1, "Hispano-Flemish Painting and the Intrusion of the Italian Renaissance 1470-1530," and Chapter 2, "The Renaissance Once Removed 15201560." He explores the various ways in which Flemish and Italian painting was received and describes its impact on painters (both foreign and Spanish born) in different regional centers of production like Catalonia, Valencia, and Seville. …