What could be expected of it after the ravaging of Spain in the long War of the Spanish Succession? Invading armies pillaged the churches, rifled the tombs, burned the pictures, and stabled their horses in venerated shrines. And after the war a new invasion came; through half a century Spanish art submitted to French or Italian domination; and when, in 1752, the Academy of San Fernando was formed to guide and help young artists, it labored to impress upon them the principles of a neoclassicism completely uncongenial to the Spanish soul.
Baroque struggled violently to preserve itself, and in architecture and sculpture it had its way. It triumphed in the towers that Fernando de Cases y Nova added (1738) to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and in the north front by Ventura Rodríguez (1764) for that same monument to Spain’s patron St. James. One of the legends dear to the people told how a statue of the Virgin on a pillar in Saragossa had come to life and had spoken to St. James; on that site Spanish piety built the Church of the Virgen del Pilar; and for that church Rodríguez designed the Templete, a chapel of marble and silver to house the Virgin’s image.
Two famous palaces were raised in the reign of Philip V. Near Segovia he bought the grounds and grange of a monastery; he engaged Filippo Iuvara of Turin to erect there the Palace of San Ildefonso (1719 f.); he surrounded the buildings with gardens and twenty-six fountains rivaling those of Versailles. The ensemble took the name of La Granja, and cost the people 45,000,000 crowns. It had hardly been finished when, on Christmas Eve of 1734, fire destroyed the Alcázar, which had been the royal residence in Madrid since the Emperor Charles V. Philip moved to Buen Retiro, where Philip IV had built a palace in 1631; this remained the chief royal seat for thirty years.
To replace the Alcázar Iuvara planned a palacio real— apartments, offices, council rooms, chapel, library, theater, and gardens—which would have surpassed in grandeur any royal residence then known; the model alone contained enough wood to build a house. Before he could begin construction Iuvara died (1736). Isabella Farnese rejected his design as impossibly expensive, and his successor, Giovanni Battista Sacchetti of Turin, raised (1737-64) the royal palace that stands in Madrid today—470 feet long, 470 feet wide, 100 feet high. Here the style of the late Renaissance replaced baroque: the façade was of Doric and Ionic columns, and was crowned by a balustrade pointed with colossal statues of Spain’s early kings. When Napoleon escorted his brother Joseph to reign in this palace he said, as they mounted the superb stairway, “You will be better lodged than I.”86 Charles III moved into this immensity in 1764.
Under French and Italian influences Spanish sculpture lost something of its wooden severity, and dowered its seraphim with laughter and a saint or two with grace. Subjects were nearly always religious, for the Church paid best. So the Archbishop of Toledo spent 200,000 ducats for the Transparente which Narciso Tomé raised (1721) behind the cathedral choir: a complex of marble angels floating on marble clouds; an opening in the ambulatory, making the marble luminous, gave the altar screen its name. The old realism survived in the Christ Scourged87 of Luis Carmona—a figure in wood, horrible with welts and bloody wounds. Lovelier are the statues of Faith, Hope, and Charity which Francisco Vergara the Younger carved for the cathedrals of Cuença (1759); Ceán-Bermúdez, the Vasari of Spain, ranked these among the finest products of Spanish art.
The great name in the Hispanic sculpture of the eighteenth century was Francisco Zarcillo y Alcáraz. His father and teacher, a sculptor in Capua, died when Francisco was twenty, leaving him the main support of a mother, a sister, and six brothers. Too poor to pay for models, Francisco invited passers-by, even beggars, to share his meal and pose for him; so, perhaps, he found the figures for his masterpiece, The Last Supper, now in the Ermita de Jesús in Murcia. With the aid of his sister Inés, who drew and modeled, his brother José, who carved details, and his priest brother Patricio, who colored the figures and the drapes, Francisco in his seventy-four years produced 1,792 statues or statuettes, some with such tasteless devices as an embroidered velvet robe on a figure of Christ, some so moving in their simple piety that Madrid offered him rich commissions to decorate the royal palace. He preferred to remain in his native Murcia, which in 1781 gave him a sumptuous funeral.
Spanish painting in the eighteenth century labored under a double foreign incubus, from which it did not recover until Goya broke all shackles with his impetuous and unprecedented art. First came a French wave, with Jean Ranc, René and Michel-Ange Houasse, and Louis-Michel Vanloo. The last became court painter to Philip V, and painted an immense canvas of the entire royal family, wigs, hoops, and all.88 Then a flock of lively Italians—Vanvitelli, Amigoni, Corrado . . .
Giambattista Tiepolo and his sons reached Madrid in June, 1762. On the ceiling of the throne room in the new royal palace they painted a vast fresco, The Apotheosis of Spain, celebrating the history, power, virtues, piety and provinces of the Spanish monarchy: symbolical mythological figures poised in air, nereids, tritons, zephyrs, winged genii, chubby putti, virtues and vices flying through the luminous void, and Spain herself enthroned amid her possessions, and glorified with all the attributes of good government. On the ceiling of the guardroom Tiepolo represented Aeneas Conducted to the Temple of Immortality by Venus; and on the ceiling of the Queen’s antechamber he portrayed again The Triumph of the Spanish Monarchy. In 1766 Charles commissioned Tiepolo to paint seven altarpieces for the Church of San Pasquale at Aranjuez; one of these, still brilliant in the Prado, used the face of a Spanish beauty to represent The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. The King’s confessor, Padre Joaquín de Electa, condemned the paganism and crudities of Tiepolo’s work as alien to the spirit of Spain. Tiepolo repented, and painted a powerful Deposition from the Cross89—a meditation on death brightened by angels promising resurrection. These efforts exhausted the old Titan; he died in Madrid in 1770, aged seventy-four. Shortly afterward the Aranjuez altarpieces were removed, and Anton Raphael Mengs was commissioned to replace them.
Mengs had come to Madrid in 1761. He was then thirty-three, strong, confident, masterful. Charles III, who had never felt at ease on Tiepolo’s fluorescent clouds, saw in the enterprising German just the man to organize the artwork for the palace. In 1764 Mengs was made director of the San Fernando Academy, and he ruled Spanish painting during his stays in Spain. He misinterpreted the classic style into a bloodless, lifeless immobility, enraging both old Tiepolo and young Goya. But he fought beneficently to end the extravagance of baroque decoration and the fantasies of rococo imagination. Art, said Mengs, should seek first a “natural style,” by imitating nature faithfully; only then should it aim at the “sublime style” of the Greeks. How was sublimity to be achieved? By eliminating the imperfect and irrelevant; by combining partial perfections, variously found, into ideal forms conceived by a disciplined imagination, shunning all excess.
Mengs began his work by depicting the deities of Olympus on the ceiling of the King’s bedchamber. Similar pictures decorated the bedroom of the Queen. Perhaps perceiving that their Majesties did not quite follow him to Olympus, Mengs produced for the royal oratory an altarpiece, The Nativity of Our Lord and a Descent from the Cross. He worked hard, ate little, grew irritable, lost his health, thought Rome would restore it; Charles gave him a leave of absence, which Mengs extended to four years. In his second Spanish sojourn (1773-77) he added more frescoes to the royal palaces in Madrid and Aranjuez. His health again gave way, and he begged permission to retire to Rome. The good King granted it, and a continuing pension of three thousand crowns per year.
But were there no native artists then painting in Spain? There were many, but our interest, waning with distance and time, has left them in the murky limbo of fading fame. There was Luis Meléndez, who almost equaled Char-din in still lifes (bordegones, fruteras); the Prado has forty of them, the Boston Museum has an appetizing example, but the Louvre outdoes them all with a wonderful self-portrait. And Luis Paret y Alcázar, who rivaled Canaletto in picturing city scenes, as in his Puerta del Sol90—the main square of Madrid. And Antonio Viladamat, whom Mengs pronounced the finest Spanish painter of the age. And the kindly, surly, devoted Francisco Bayeu y Subías, who won first prize at the Academy in 1758, designed tapestries for Mengs, and became the friend, enemy, and brother-in-law of Goya.