Spanish architecture, persistently Gothic, powerfully expressed this enduring medieval mood. The people did not grudge the maravedis that helped royal and noble conscience money, or religious policy, to build immense cathedrals, and to lavish costly ornaments and awesome sculpture and painting upon their favorite saints and the passionately worshiped Mother of God. Barcelona’s cathedral rose slowly between 1298 and 1448: amid the chaos of minor streets it lifts its towering columns, an undistinguished portal, a majestic nave, while its many-fountained cloisters still give refuge from the strife of the day. Valencia, Toledo, Burgos, Lérida, Tarragona, Saragossa, León, extended or embellished their preexisting temples, while new ones rose at Huesca and Pamplona—whose cloisters of white marble, elegantly carved, are as fair as the Alhambra’s patios. In 1401 the cathedral chapter at Seville resolved to erect a church “so great and so beautiful that those who in coming ages shall look upon it will think us lunatics for attempting it.”56The architects removed the decayed mosque that stood on the chosen site, but kept its foundations, its ground plan, and its noble Giralda minaret. All through the fifteenth century stone rose upon stone until Seville had raised the largest Gothic edifice in the world,*so that, said Théophile Gautier, “Notre Dame de Paris might walk erect in the nave.”57 However, Notre Dame is perfect; Seville Cathedral is vast. Sixty-seven sculptors and thirty-eight painters from Murillo to Goya toiled to adorn this mammoth cave of the gods.
About 1410 the architect Guillermo Boffi proposed to the cathedral chapter of Gerona to remove the columns and arches that divided the interior into nave and aisles, and to unite the walls by a single vault seventy-three feet wide. It was done, and the nave of Gerona Cathedral has now the broadest Gothic vault in Christendom. It was a triumph for engineering, a defeat for art. Shrines not so stupendous rose in the fifteenth century at Perpignan, Manresa, Astorga, and Valladolid. Segovia crowned itself with a fortresslike cathedral in 1472; Sigüenza finished its famous cloisters in 1507; Salamanca began its new fane in 1513. In almost every major city of Spain, barring Madrid, a cathedral rises in overwhelming majesty of external mass, with interiors darkly deprecating the sun and terrifying the soul into piety, yet brilliant with the high colors of Spanish painting, and painted statuary, and the gleam of jewelry, silver, and gold. These are the homes of the Spanish spirit, fearfully subdued and fiercely proud.
Nevertheless the kings, nobles, and cities found funds for costly palaces. Peter the Cruel, Ferdinand and Isabella, and Charles V remodeled the Alcazar that a Moorish architect had designed at Seville in 1181; most of the reconstruction was done by Moors from Granada, so that the edifice is a weak sister of the Alhambra. In like Saracenic style Don Pedro Enriquez built for the dukes of Alcalá at Seville (1500 f.) a lordly palace, the Casa de Pilatos, supposedly duplicating the house from whose portico Pilate was believed to have surrendered Christ to crucifixion. Valencia’s Audiencia, or Hall of Audience (1500), provided for the local Cortes a Salon Dorado whose splendor challenged the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in the Palace of the Doges at Venice.
Sculpture was still a servant of architecture and the faith, crowding Spanish churches with Virgins in marble, metal, stone, or wood; here piety was petrified into forms of religious intensity or ascetic severity, enhanced with color, and made more awe-inspiring by the profound gloom of the naves. Retables—carved and painted screens raised behind the altar table—were a special pride of Spanish art; great sums, usually bequeathed in terror of death, were spent to gather and maintain the most skillful workers—designers, carvers, doradores who gilded or damascened the surfaces, estofadores who painted the garments and ornaments, encarnadores who colored the parts representing flesh; all labored together or by turns on the propitiatory shrine. Behind the central altar of Seville Cathedral a retable of forty-five compartments (1483–1519) pictured beloved legends in painted or gilded statuary of late Gothic style; while another in the Chapel of St. James in Toledo Cathedral displayed in gilt larchwood and stern realism the career of Spain’s most honored saint.
Princes and prelates might be represented in sculpture, but only on their tombs, which were placed in churches or monasteries conceived as the antechambers of paradise. So Doña Mencia Enríquez, Duchess of Albuquerque, was buried in a finely chiseled sepulcher now in the Hispanic Society Museum in New York; and Pablo Ortiz carved for the cathedral of Toledo sumptuous sarcophagi for Don Alvaro de Luna and his wife. In the Carthusian monastery of Miraflores, near Burgos, Gil de Siloé designed in Italian style a superb mausoleum for the parents and brothers of the Queen. Isabella was so pleased with these famous Sepulcros de los Reyes that when her favorite page, Juan de Padilla (so recklessly brave that she called him mi loco, “my fool”) was shot through the head at the siege of Granada, she commissioned De Siloé to carve a tomb of royal quality to harbor his corpse; and Gil again rivaled the best Italian sculpture of his time.
No art is more distinctive than the Spanish, yet none has more devoutly submitted to foreign influence. First, of course, to the Moorish influence, long domiciled in the Peninsula, but having its roots in Mesopotamia and Persia, and bringing into the Iberian style a delicacy of workmanship, and a passion for ornament, hardly equaled in any other Christian land. In the minor arts, where decoration was most in place, Spain imitated, and never surpassed, her Saracenic preceptors. Pottery was left almost entirely to the Mudejares, whose lustered ware was rivaled only by the Chinese, and whose colored tiles—above all, the blue azulejos—glorified the floors, altars, fountains, walls, and roofs of Christian Spain. The same Moorish skill made Spanish textiles—velvets, silks, and lace—the finest in Christendom. It appears again in Spanish leather, in the arabesques of the metal screens, in the religious monstrances, in the wood carving of the retables, choir stalls, and vaults. Later influences seeped in from Byzantine painting, then from France, Burgundy, the Netherlands, Germany From the Dutch and the Germans, Spanish sculpture and painting derived their startling realism-emaciated Virgins graphically old enough to be the mother of the Crucified, despite Michelangelo’s dictum about virginity embalming youth. In the sixteenth century all these influences receded before the continent-wide triumph of the Italian style.
Spanish painting followed a similar evolution, but developed tardily, perhaps because the Moors gave here no help or lead. The Catalan frescoes of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are inferior in design to the Altamira cave paintings of prehistoric Spain. Yet by 1300 painting had become a craze in the Peninsula; a thousand artists painted immense murals, huge altarpieces; some of these, from as early as 1345, have survived much longer than they deserved. In 1428 Jan van Eyck visited Spain, importing a powerful Flemish influence. Three years later the King of Aragon sent Luis Dalmau to study in Bruges; returning, Luis painted an all-too-Flemish Virgin of the Councilors. Thereafter Spanish painters, though still preferring tempera, more and more mixed their colors in oil.
The age of the Primitives in Spanish painting culminated in Bartolomé Bormejo (d. 1498). As early as 1447 he made a name for himself with the Santo Domingo that hangs in the Prado. The Santa Engracia bought by the Gardner Museum of Boston, and the gleaming St. Michael of Lady Ludlow’s collection are almost worthy of Raphael, who came a generation later. But best of all is the Pietà (1490) in the Barcelona Cathedral: a bald, bespectacled Jerome; a dark and Spanish Mary holding her limp, haggard, lifeless Son; in the background the towers of Jerusalem under a lowering sky; and on the right a ruthless portrait of the donor, Canon Despla, uncombed and unshaved, resembling a bandit penitent but condemned, and suggesting Bermejo’s “dour conception of humanity.”58Here Italian grace is transformed into Spanish force, and realism celebrates its triumph in Spanish art.
The Flemish influence continued in Fernando Gallegos, and it produced a startling masterpiece in A Knight of the Order of Calatrava, by Miguel Sithium, a Fleming in the service of Isabella; this is one of the finest portraits in the National Gallery in Washington. But then again the Italian influence rose when Pedro Berruguete returned to Spain after a long experience in Italy. There he studied with Piero della Francesca and Melozzo da Forli, and absorbed their quiet Umbrian style. When Federigo of Urbino sought painters to adorn his palace he chose Justus von Ghent and “Pietro Spagnolo.” After the Duke’s death (1582) Pedro brought the Umbrian art to Spain, and painted famous altarpieces at Toledo and Ávila. The pictures ascribed to him in the Louvre, the Brera, the Prado, and the Cleveland Museum hardly support his present réclame as the Velásquez of the Catholic sovereigns, but in drawing and composition they seem superior to anything produced in Spain before him.
Slowly the foreign stimuli were blending with the native genius to prepare for the maturer works of Alonso Coello and El Greco under Philip II, and the triumphs of Velásquez, Zurbarán, and Murillo in the Golden Age of Spain’s seventeenth century. Genius is an individual endowment of force and will, hot it is also a social heredity of discipline and skills formed in time and absorbed m growth. Genius is born and made.