Room in the Prado Museum Madrid

Main Artistic Periods in Spain

Spanish art constitutes one of the most important cultural heritages of the world.

The first artistic samples date back to the Superior Palaeolithic age and feature cave paintings from the Altamira cave and the Mediterranean arch. The Phoenician and Greek influence is evident in the gold work and sculpturing. Hispanic Roman art reached its zenith in the Imperial era (1st century A.D.). Important vestiges including the walls of Lugo, the theatres of Sagunto and Merida, the aqueduct of Segovia, Italica in Seville and the several displays of this art in Tarragona, amongst others. Early Christian art began in the 3rd century and was followed by Visigoth art from the 5th century onward. Important remnants from these periods such as the Constantinian necropolis of Centcelles (Tarragona), the Church of San Juan de Baños (Palencia), the early Christian sarcophagus and the Visigoth goldwork have remained.

The Hispanic-Muslim art period extended from the 8th century through to the 15th in various phases: the Cordoba mosque stems from the Caliphal period; beautifully decorated palaces remain from the period in which small Spanish kingdoms reigned after the disintegration of the Caliphate of Cordoba in 1031 (Aljafería, Zaragoza); the Giralda de Seville is conserved from the period of Almoravid art; and the impressive Alhambra of Granada remains from the Nazarite period. In the North of Spain, various artistic examples such as Mozarab art (San Millán de la Cogolla, La Rioja), the Asturian pre-Romanesque (Santa María del Naranco, Oviedo) and Catalan pre-Romanesque art (Churches of Terrassa) were developed during these centuries. From the 11th century onward, Romanesque art began to dominate in Christian Spain, where it played an important role in the construction of monasteries (Sant Pere de Rodes, San Martín de Frómista). From the 13th century onward, a new style began to become prominent: Gothic art, extended throughout Europe thanks to the Cistercian Order. There are important examples in Spain, such as the monasteries of Poblet and Santes Creus (Catalonia), and the Cathedrals of Leon, Burgos and Toledo. Painting and sculpture reached a peak during the Gothic age; particularly prominent were the monumental doorways and tempera painted altarpieces.

Parallel to the Romanesque and Gothic period, a peculiar artistic style emerged in Spain: the Mudejar, a combination of Christian and Muslim styles. The best examples thereof can be found in Toledo and Teruel. At the end of the 15th century, Renaissance art, imported from Italy, began to dominate. The most important examples of architecture are the Charles V Palace (Granada) and the El Escorial monastery (Madrid); the works of Alonso Berruguete and Juan de Juni are fundamental in the area of sculpture; with regard to painting important pieces include the work of Juan de Juanes, Pedro Berruguete and above all, the figure of El Greco. The Baroque period in Spain extended throughout the 17th century and the first half of the 18th. Ornamental architecture became more pronounced (Cathedral of Murcia, Palace of the Marques de Dos Aguas in Valencia); religious imagery proliferated, in particular the works of Gregorio Fernández and Juan de Mesa; and this was the best period in the history of art painting in Spain, during which time artists such as Ribera, Zurbarán, Murillo and above all the master Velázquez stood out. In the middle of the 18th century, neoclassicism began to prevail; this is evident in the architecture of the Prado Museum, the return to the classic canons in sculpture, and painting which was strongly dominated by Goya. The arts known as minor arts gained great importance thanks to royal protection, embodied by the Royal Factories such as the Tapestries Factory, founded by Phillip V, and the Buen Retiro Porcelain Factory, founded by Charles III. Romanticism broke with the Neoclassic style in the 19th century. The National Library and the paintings of Mariano Fortuny and Pérez Villaamil stand out from this period. Modernism was particularly triumphant in Catalonia; its most important representative being Gaudí, designer of the Sagrada Familia and Casa Milá, amongst others. The 20th century was influenced by diverse styles: contact with the Parisian ambience at the beginning of the century, international isolation following the civil war and the opening up to new trends from the fifties onward. Twentieth century Spanish painting reached great levels of international recognition, thanks to painters such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí. In present day art, artists such as Bofill, Moneo and Calatrava (architecture), Chillida (sculpture) and Tàpies and Barceló (painting) are of great importance.

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