Despite El Greco and Velazquez, Cervantes and Calderón, Spain never had a Renaissance in the rich Italian sense. Her far-won wealth gave new ornaments to her Christian culture, it offered productive rewards to native genius in literature and art, but it did not flow into any exciting recapture-as in Italy and France—of that pagan civilization which had adorned the Mediterranean world before and after Christ, and which had begotten Seneca, Lucan, Martial, Quintilian, Trajan, and Hadrian on the soil of Spain itself. The remembrance of that classic era had been deeply overladen by the long struggle of Spanish Christianity with the Moors; all the glorious memories were of that protracted victory, and the faith that had won it became inseparable from the proud remembrance. While everywhere else in Europe the state was humiliating the Church, in Spain the ecclesiastical organization grew stronger with the generations; it challenged and ignored the papacy, even when Spaniards ruled the Vatican; it survived the pious absolutism of Ferdinand and Charles V and Philip II, and then dominated every aspect of Spanish life. The Church in Spain was almost the sole patron of the arts; therefore it called the tune, named the themes, and made art, like philosophy, the handmaiden of theology. The Spanish Inquisition appointed inspectors to outlaw nudity, immodesty, paganism, or heresy in art, to specify the manner of treating sacred subjects in sculpture and painting, and to direct Spanish art toward the transmission and confirmation of the faith.
And yet Italian influence was pouring into Spain. The rise of Spaniards to the papacy, the conquest of Naples and Milan by Spanish kings, the campaigns of Spanish armies and the missions of Spanish statesmen and churchmen in Italy, the busy trade between Spanish and Italian ports, the visits of Spanish artists like Forment and the Berruguetes to Italy, of Italian artists like Torrigiano and Leone Leoni to Spain—all these factors affected Spanish art in methods, ornament, and style, hardly in spirit or theme, more in painting than in sculpture, and in architecture least.
The cathedrals dominated the landscape and the towns as the faith dominated life. Traveling in Spain is a pilgrimage from one to another of these mighty fanes. Their awesome immensity, their wealth of interior ornament, the dim-lit silence of their naves, the devoted stonework of their cloisters, accentuate the simplicity and poverty of the picturesque tiled dwellings that huddle below, looking up to them as the promise of a better world. The Gothic style still ruled in the giant cathedrals that rose above Salamanca (1513) and Segovia (1522); but at Granada Diego de Siloé, architect son of a Gothic sculptor, designed the interior of the cathedral with classic columns and capitals, and crowned the Gothic plan with a classic dome (1525). The style of the Italian Renaissance completely dislodged Gothic in the palace of Charles V at Granada. Charles had reproved the bishop of Cordova for spoiling the great mosque by building within its 850 pillars a Christian church;34 but he sinned almost as grievously when he tore down some halls and courts of the Alhambra to make room for a structure whose stern mass and dull symmetry might have passed without offense amid kindred buildings in Rome, but proved strikingly out of harmony with the frail elegance and gay diversity of the Moorish citadel.
Something of the Moors’ flair for architectural decoration appeared in the “plateresque” style that marked chiefly the civil architecture of this reign. It took its name from its resemblance to the complex and delicate ornament lavished by the silversmith(platero)or goldsmith upon plate and other objects of their art. It topped and flanked portals and windows with winding arabesques of stone; it grooved or spiraled or flowered columns with Moorish fantasy; it pierced grilles and balustrades with marble foliage and embroidery. This plateresco marked the Obispo Chapel at Madrid, the church of Santo Tomás at Ávila, the choir of the cathedral at Cordova, and it disported itself without restraint on the Ayuntamiento or Town Hall of Seville (1526 f.). Portugal adopted the style on a portal suffused with ornament, and columns carved with decoration, in the magnificent monastery of Santa Maria at Belem (1517 f.). Charles V took the style to the Lowlands and Germany, where it flourished its signature on the town halls of Antwerp and Leyden and the castle of Heidelberg. Philip II found plateresque too florid for his taste, and under his frowns it died an early death.
Spanish sculpture yielded more readily than architecture to the swelling Italian tide. Pietro Torrigiano, after breaking Michelangelo’s nose in Florence and bearding Henry VIII in London, settled in Seville (1521), and modeled in terra cotta an ungainly St. Jeromewhich Goya mistakenly judged to be the supreme work of modern sculpture.35 Feeling poorly paid for a statue of the Virgin, Torrigiano smashed it to bits, was arrested by the Inquisition, and died in its jails.36 Damian Forment, returning to Aragon from Italy, carried the spirit of the Renaissance on his chisel and in his boasts; he called himself “the rival of Pheidias and Praxiteles,” and was accepted at his own estimate. The ecclesiastical authorities allowed him to carve likenesses of himself and his wife on the base of the reredos that he made for the abbey of Monte Aragon. For the church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar at Saragossa he cut in alabaster a spacious retable in bas-relief, combining Gothic with Renaissance elements, painting with sculpture, color with form. To another retable, in the cathedral of Huesca, Forment devoted the last thirteen years of his life (1520–33).
As Pedro Berruguete had dominated Spanish painting in the half-century before Charles V, so his son became the leading Spanish sculptor of this age. Alonso learned the art of color from his father, then went to Italy and worked with Raphael in painting, with Bramante and Michelangelo in statuary. When he came back to Spain (1520) he brought with him Michelangelo’s penchant for figures caught in tense emotion or violent attitudes. Charles appointed him court sculptor and painter. At Valladolid he worked for six years carving in wood an altar screen, forty-two by thirty feet, for the church of San Benito el Real; only fragments remain, chiefly a San Sebastian vividly colored, with blood pouring from the wounds. In 1535 he joined with his chief rival, Felipe de Borgoña, to carve choir stalls in the Toledo Cathedral; here too the Michelangelesque manner swayed his hand, and presaged baroque in Spain. When he neared eighty he was commissioned to erect in the hospital of St. John at Toledo a monument to its founder, Cardinal Juan de Tavera; he took his son Alonso as helper, created one of the chefs-d’oeuvre of Spanish sculpture, and died in the attempt in his seventy-fifth year (1561).
Spanish painting, still in tutelage to Italy and Flanders, produced no outstanding master under Charles V. The Emperor favored foreign painters, imported Anthonis Mor to make portraits of Spanish notables, and for himself declared that he would allow none but the great Titian to paint him. The only Spanish painter of this age whose fame crossed the Pyrenees was Luis de Morales. The first fifty years of his life were spent in the poverty and obscurity of Badajoz, painting for churches and chapels in the province of Estremadura. He was fifty-four when Philip II bade him come and paint in the Escorial (1564). He presented himself in magnificent array, which the King thought unbecoming in an artist, but Philip softened when he learned that Luis had spent his life’s savings to attire himself fitly for an audience with his Majesty. Morales’ Christ Carrying the Cross did not strike the royal fancy, and he returned to Badajoz and penury. Several of his pictures can be seen at the Hispanic Society in New York, all of them beautiful; but the best example of his work is a Virgin and Child in the Prado—a bit too redolent of Raphael. Philip, passing through Badajoz in 1581, allotted the artist a tardy pension, which enabled him—now disabled by palsy and failing eyes—to eat regularly during the five years left to him of life.
The artisans of Spain were often artists in all but name. Spanish lace and leather continued supreme in Europe. The woodworkers too were unsurpassed; Théophile Gautier thought that Gothic art had never come closer to perfection than in the choir stalls of Toledo Cathedral. Metalworkers made works of art out of sanctuary screens, window grilles, balcony railings, door hinges, even nails. Goldsmiths and silversmiths transformed some of the precious metal flowing in from America into ornaments for princes and vessels for the Church; famous were the custodias they made in filigree silver or gold to hold the consecrated Host. Gil Vicente, not satisfied to be the leading dramatist of Portugal and Spain in this period, executed a monstrance—for displaying the Host to the congregation—which has been rated “the masterpiece of the goldsmith’s work in Portugal.”37 And Francisco de Hollanda, Portuguese despite his name, carried on with distinction the dying art of illumination.
All in all, this less than half a century came off with credit in the field of art despite the absorption and disruption of energies in the religious revolution. The masters in architecture, sculpture, and painting were hardly comparable to the giants who shook all Europe with theology; religion was the tune of the time, and art could only provide an accompaniment. But II Rosso, Primaticcio, Lescot, Delorme, Goujon, and the Clouets in France, the Berruguetes in Spain, Brueghel in Flanders, Cranach in Germany, Holbein everywhere, made an honorable roster of artists for an age so agitated and so brief. Art is order, yet everything was in chaos—not religion only, but morals, social order, art itself. Gothic was fighting its losing battle with classic forms, and the artist, uprooted from his own past, had to experiment with tentatives that could not give him the grandeur of a stability mortised in confident time. In the universal turbulence faith too was hesitant, and ceased to give clear imperatives to art; religious images were attacked and shattered; sacred themes that had inspired the creator and the beholder of beauty were losing their power to stir either genius or admiration or piety. And in science the greatest revolution of all was deposing the earth from its theological throne, and losing in the endless void the little globe whose divine visitation had formed the medieval mind and generated medieval art. When would stability come again?