Spanish Sculpture - 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th Centuries.
In the early mediaeval period the sculpture of northern Spain was much influenced by contemporary art in France. From the 12th to the 14th century many French architects and sculptors visited and worked in Spain. The cathedral of Santiago de Compostella possesses one of the grandest existing specimens in the world of late 12th-century architectonic sculpture ; this, though the work of a native artist, Mastei Mateo, is thoroughly French in style; as recorded by an inscription on the front, it was completed in 1188. The whole of the western portal with its three doorways is covered with statues and reliefs, all richly decorated with colour, part of which still remains. Round the central arch are figures of the twenty-four elders, and in the tympanum a very noble relief of Christ in Majesty between Saints and Angels. As at Chartres, the jamb-shafts of the doorways are decorated with standing statues of saints,St James the elder, the patron of the church, being attached to the central pillar. These noble figures, though treated in a somewhat rigid manner, are thoroughly subordinate to the main lines of the building. Their heads, with pointed beards and a fixed mechanical smile, together with the stiff drapery arranged in long narrow folds, recall the Aeginetan pediment sculpture of about 500 B.C. This appears strange at first sight, but the fact is that the works of the early Greek and the mediaeval Spaniard were both produced at a somewhat similar stage in two far distant periods of artistic development. In both cases plastic art was freeing itself from the bonds of a hieratic archaism, and had reached one of the last steps in a de-velopment which in the one case culminated in the per-fection of the Phidian age, and in the other led to the exquisitely beautiful yet simple and reserved art of the end of the 13th and early part of the 14th century,the golden age of sculpture in France and England.
In the 14th century the silversmiths of Spain produced many works of sculpture of great size and technical power. One of the finest, by a Valencian called Peter Bernec, is the great silver retable at Gerona cathedral. It is divided into three tiers of statuettes and reliefs, richly framed in canopied niches, all of silver, partly cast and partly hammered.
In the 15th century an infusion of German influence was mixed with that of France, as may be seen in the very rich sculptural decorations which adorn the main door of Salamanca cathedral, the facade of S. Juan at Valladolid, and the church and cloisters of S. Juan de los Reyes at Toledo, perhaps the most gorgeous examples of architectural sculpture in the world. The carved foliage of this period is of especial beauty and spirited execution; realistic forms of plant-growth are mingled with other more conventional foliage in the most masterly manner. The very noble bronze monument of Archdeacon Pelayo (d. 1490) in Burgos cathedral was probably the work of Simon of Cologne, who was also architect of the Certosa at Miraflores, 2 miles from Burgos. The church of this monastery contains two of the most magnificently rich monuments in the world, especially the altar-tomb of King John II. and his queen by Gil de Siloe,a perfect marvel of rich alabaster canopy-work and intricate under-cutting. The effigies have little merit.
In the early part of the 16th century a strong Italian influence superseded that of France and Germany, partly owing to the presence in Spain of the Florentine Torrigiano and other Italian artists. The magnificent tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella in Granada cathedral is a fine specimen of Italian Renaissance sculpture, somewhat similar in general form to the tomb of Sixtus IV. by Ant. Pollai-uolo in St Peter's, but half a century later in the style of its detail. It looks as if it had been executed by Torri-giano, but the design which he made for it is said to have been rejected. Some of the work of this period, though purely Italian in style, was produced by Spanish sculptors,for example, the choir reliefs at Toledo cathedral, and those in the Colegio Mayor at Salamanca by Alonso Berruguete, "who obtained his artistic training in Rome and Florence. Esteban Jordan, Gregorio Hernandez, and other Spanish sculptors produced a large number of elabo-rate retables, carved in wood with subjects in relief and richly decorated in gold and colours. These sumptuous masses of polychromatic sculpture resemble the 15th-century retables of Germany more than any Italian ex-amples, and were a sort of survival of an older mediaeval style. Alonso Cano (1600-1667), the painter, was re-markable for clever realistic sculpture, very highly coloured and religious in style. Montanes, who died in 1614, was one of the ablest Spanish sculptors of his time. His finest works are the reliefs of the Madonna and Saints on an altar in the university church of Seville, and in the cathedral, in the chapel of St Augustine, a very nobly designed Conception, modelled with great skill. In later times Spain has produced little or no sculpture of any merit.
566-3 A kneeling portrait-statue of Mateo is introduced at the back of the central pier. This figure is now much revered by the Spanish peasants, and the head is partly worn away with kisses.
Read the rest of this article:
Sculpture - Table of Contents