Things to see and do - Spain
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Art and culture
Art and culture
Architecture and the visual arts
Over the centuries, Spain has amassed countless artistic and architectural treasures across the length and breadth of the country, ranging from diminutive Romanesque chapels, lofty Gothic cathedrals and exuberant Baroque churches to awe-inspiring Hispano-Moorish monuments, imposing castles, magnificent paintings and outstanding sculptures.
From Prehistory to the Moorish Conquest
Prehistoric inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula have left some outstanding examples of their art. The oldest are the Upper Palaeolithic (40 000–10 000 BC) cave paintings in Cantabria (Altamira and Puente Viesgo), Asturias (El Pindal, Ribadesella and San Román) and the Levante region (Cogull and Alpera). Megalithic monuments like the famous Antequera dolmens were erected during the Neolithic Era (7 500–2 500 BC), or New Stone Age, while in the Balearic Islands strange stone monuments known as talaiots and navetas were built by a Bronze Age people (2 500–1 000 BC).
First Millennium BC
Iberian civilisations produced gold and silverware (treasure of Carambolo in the Museo Arqueológico in Sevilla), and fine sculpture. Some of their work, such as the Córdoba lions, the Guisando bulls and, in the Museo Arqueológico in Madrid, the Dama de Baza and the Dama de Elche , is of a remarkably high standard. Meanwhile, Phoenician, Carthaginian and in turn Greek colonisers introduced their native art: Phoenician sarcophagi in Cádiz, Punic art in Ibiza and Greek art in Empúries.
Roman Spain (1C BC–5C AD)
Besides roads, bridges, aqueducts, towns and monuments, Roman legacies include the Mérida theatre, the ancient towns of Italica and Empúries, and the Segovia aqueduct and Tarragona triumphal arch.
The Visigoths (6C–8C)
Christian Visigoths built small stone churches (Quintanilla de las Viñas, San Pedro de la Nave) adorned with friezes carved in geometric patterns with plant motifs. The apsidal plan was square and the arches were often horseshoe-shaped. The Visigoths were outstanding gold and silversmiths who made sumptuous jewellery in the Byzantine and Germanic traditions. Gold votive crowns (Guarrazar treasure in Toledo), fibulae and belt buckles adorned with precious stones or cloisonné enamel were presented to churches or placed in the tombs of the great.
Hispano-Moorish Architecture (8C–15C)
The three major periods of Hispano-Moorish architecture correspond to the reigns of successive Arab dynasties over the Muslim-held territories in the peninsula.
Caliphate or Córdoba architecture (8C–11C)
This period is characterised by three types of building: mosques , built to a simple plan consisting of a minaret, a courtyard with a pool for ritual ablutions and finally a square prayer room with a mihrab (prayer-niche marking the direction of Mecca); alcázares (palaces), built around attractive patios and surrounded by gardens and fountains; and alcazabas (castle fortresses), built on high ground and surrounded by several walls crowned with pointed merlons – one of the best examples of these can be found in Málaga. The most famous monuments from this period are in Córdoba (the Mezquita and the Medina Azahara palace) and in Toledo (Cristo de la Luz) where, besides the ubiquitous horseshoe arch which virtually became the hallmark of Moorish architecture, other characteristics developed including ornamental brickwork in relief, cupolas supported on ribs, turned modillions, arches with alternating white stone and red-brick voussoirs, multifoil arches and doors surmounted with blind arcades. These features subsequently became popular in Mudéjar and Romanesque churches.
The Umayyads brought a taste for profuse decoration from Syria. As the Koran forbids the representation of human or animal forms, Muslim decoration is based on calligraphy (Cufic inscriptions running along walls), geometric patterns (polygons and stars made of ornamental brickwork and marble) and lastly plant motifs (flowerets and interlacing palm leaves).
Almohad or Sevilla architecture (12C–13C)
The religious puritanism of the Almohad dynasty, of which Sevilla was the capital, was expressed in architecture by a refined, though sometimes rather austere, simplicity. One of the characteristics of the style consisted of brickwork highlighted by wide bands of decoration in relief, without excessive ornamentation (the Giralda tower in Sevilla is a good example). The style was later used in the Mudéjar architecture of Aragón. Other features that emerged at this time include artesonado ceilings and azulejos . Arches of alternate brick and stonework disappeared, the horseshoe arch became pointed and the multifoil arch was bordered by a curvilinear festoon (ornament like a garland) as in the Aljafería in Zaragoza. Calligraphic decoration included cursive (flowing) as well as Cufic script to which floral motifs were added to fill the spaces between vertical lines.
Nasrid or Granada architecture (14C–15C)
This period of high sophistication, of which the Alhambra in Granada is the masterpiece, produced less innovation in actual architectural design than in the decoration, whether stucco or ceramic, that covered the walls. Surrounds to doors and windows became focal points for every room’s design and the spaces between them were filled by perfectly proportioned panels. Arch outlines were simplified – the stilted round arch became widespread – while detailed lacework ornamentation was used as a border.
This is the name given to work carried out by Muslims while under the Christian yoke, yet executed in the Arab tradition. It was fashionable from the 11C to the 15C in different regions depending on the area recovered by the Reconquest, although some features, like artesonado ceilings, continued as decorative themes for centuries.
Court Mudéjar, developed by Muslim artists (in buildings ordered by Peter the Cruel in Tordesillas and Sevilla, and in synagogues in Toledo), was an extension of the Almohad or contemporary Nasrid style. Popular Mudéjar, on the other hand, was produced by local Muslim workshops and reflects marked regional taste: walls were decorated with blind arcades in Castilla (Arévalo, Sahagún and Toledo) and belfries were faced with azulejos and geometric strapwork in Aragón.
Pre-Romanesque and romanesque art and architecture (8C–13C)
A highly sophisticated style of court architecture, characterised by sweeps of ascending lines, developed in the small kingdom of Asturias between the 8C and the 10C.
Asturian churches (Naranco, Santa Cristina de Lena) followed the precepts of the Latin basilica in their rectangular plan with a narthex, a nave and two aisles separated by semicircular arches , a vast transept and an east end divided into three. Decoration inside consisted of frescoes, and borrowings from the East including motifs carved on capitals (strapwork, rosettes and monsters, and ornamental openwork around windows. Gold and silversmiths in the 9C and 10C produced rich treasures, many of which may be seen in the Cámara Santa in Oviedo Cathedral.
This term is given to work carried out by Christians living under Arab rule after the Moorish invasion of 711. Churches built in this style, especially in Castilla (San Miguel de Escalada, San Millán de la Cogolla), brought back Visigothic traditions (horseshoe arches) enriched by Moorish features such as ribbed cupolas and turned modillions.
Illuminated manuscripts provide the earliest known examples of Spanish medieval painting (10C). They were executed in the 10C and 11C by Mozarabic monks and have Moorish features such as horseshoe arches and Arab costumes. They portray St John’s Commentary on the Apocalypse written in the 8C by the monk Beatus de Liébana , after whom the manuscripts were named.
Catalunya, home of the earliest Romanesque style in Spain
Catalunya had intimate links with Italy and France and consequently developed an architectural style strongly influenced by Lombardy from the 11C to the 13C. This evolved in the Pyrenean valleys, isolated from the more travelled pilgrim and trade routes. Sober little churches were built often accompanied by a separate bell tower decorated with Lombard bands. Interior walls in the 11C and 12C were only embellished with frescoes which, in spite of their borrowings from Byzantine mosaics (heavy black outlines, rigid postures, and themes like Christ in Glory portrayed within a mandorla), proved by their realistic and expressive details to be typically Spanish. Altar fronts of painted wood, executed in bright colours, followed the same themes and layout.
European Romanesque art along the pilgrim routes
Northwest Spain opened its gates to foreign influence during the reign of Sancho the Great of Navarra early in the 11C. Cistercian abbeys were founded and French merchants allowed to settle rate free in towns (Estella, Sangüesa and Pamplona). Meanwhile, the surge of pilgrims to Compostela and the fever to build along the routes brought about the construction of a great many religious buildings in which French influence was clearly marked (characteristics from Poitou in Soria and Sangüesa, and from Toulouse in Aragón and Santiago de Compostela . The acknowledged masterpiece of this style is the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.
In Aragón, Romanesque art was particularly evident in sculpture. The artists who carved capitals in the manner of their leader, the Maestro de San Juan de la Peña, had a seemingly clumsy style because their emphasis was more on symbolism than realistic portrayal. Disproportionate faces with bulging eyes were the means by which the sculptor illustrated the soul, while gestures such as outstretched hands conveyed religious meaning.
In the early 12C, reform of the Cistercian Order with emphasis on austerity brought an important change to architecture. The transitional style which heralded the Gothic (intersecting ribbed vaulting, squared apses) was introduced and the profusion of Romanesque decoration disappeared. Examples of this style may be seen in the monasteries of Poblet, Santes Creus, La Oliva and Santa María de Huerta.
The Gothic Period (from the 13C)
The early stages
French Gothic architecture made little headway into Spain except in Navarra where a French dynasty had been in power since 1234. The first truly Gothic buildings (Roncesvalles church, Cuenca and Sigüenza cathedrals) appeared in the 13C. Bishops in some of the main towns in Castilla ( León , Burgos, Toledo) sent abroad for cathedral plans, artists and masons. An original style of church, with no transept, a single nave (aisles, if there were any, would be as high as the nave), and pointed stone arches or a wooden roof resting on diaphragm arches, developed in Valencia , Catalunya and the Balearic Islands . The unadorned walls enclosed a large, homogeneous space in which there was little carved decoration, and purity of line supplied a dignified elegance.
Civil architecture followed the same pattern and had the same geometrical sense of space, used with rare skill particularly in the lonjas or commodity exchanges of Barcelona, Palma, Valencia and Zaragoza.
The Gothic style develops
During the 14C and 15C in Castilla, the influence of artists from the north, such as Johan of Cologne and Hanequin of Brussels , brought about the flowering of a style approaching Flamboyant Gothic. As it adapted to Spain, the style developed simultaneously in two different ways: in one, decoration proliferated to produce the Isabelline style; in the other, structures were simplified into a national church and cathedral style, which remained in favour until the mid-16C (Segovia and Salamanca ).
The last of the Gothic cathedrals
Following the example of Sevilla, the dimensions of Gothic cathedrals became ever more vast. Aisles almost as large as the nave increased the volume of the building, while pillars, though massive, retained the impression of thrusting upward lines. A new plan emerged in which the old crescendo of radiating chapels, ambulatory, chancel and transept was superseded by a plain rectangle. Gothic decoration accumulated around doors, on pinnacles and in elaborate star vaulting; a style echoed in some Andalucían cathedrals.
Artists in the Gothic era worked on polyptyches and altarpieces which sometimes reached a height of more than 15m/49ft.
The Primitives, who customarily painted on gold backgrounds, were influenced by the Italians (soft contours), the French and the Flemish (rich fabrics with broken folds and painstaking detail). Nonetheless, as they strove for expressive naturalism and lively anecdotal detail, their work came across as distinctively Spanish.
There was intense artistic activity in the states attached to the Crown of Aragón, especially in Catalunya. The Vic, Barcelona and Valencia museums contain works by Jaume Ferrer Bassá (1285–1348) who was influenced by the Sienese Duccio , paintings by his successor Ramón Destorrents (1346–91), and by the Serra brothers, Destorrents’ pupils. Among other artists were Luis Borrassá (c. 1360–c. 1425), who had a very Spanish sense of the picturesque, Bernat Martorell , who gave special importance to landscape, Jaime Huguet (1412–92), who stands out for his extreme sensitivity and is considered to be the undisputed leader of the Catalan School, and finally Luis Dalmau and Bartolomé Bermejo (c. 1440–c. 1498), both influenced by Van Eyck (who accompanied a mission sent to Spain by the Duke of Burgundy).
In Castilla, French influence predominated in the 14C and Italian in the 15C until about 1450 when Flemish artists like Roger van der Weyden arrived. By the end of the 15C, Fernando Gallego had become the main figure in the Hispano-Flemish movement in which Juan de Flandes was noted for his appealingly delicate touch.
Gothic sculpture, like architecture, became more refined. Relief was more accentuated than in Romanesque carving, postures more natural and details more meticulous. Decoration grew increasingly abundant as the 15C progressed and faces became individualised to the point where recumbent funerary statues clearly resembled the deceased. Statues were surmounted by an openwork canopy, while door surrounds, cornices and capitals were decorated with friezes of intricate plant motifs. After being enriched by French influence in the 13C and 14C and Flemish in the 15C, sculpture ultimately developed a purely Spanish style, the Isabelline .
Portals showed a French influence. Tombs were at first sarcophagi decorated with coats of arms, sometimes surmounted by a recumbent statue in a conventional posture with a peaceful expression and hands joined. Later, more attention was paid to the costume of the deceased; with an increasingly honed technique marble craftsmen were able to render the richness of brocades and the supple quality of leather. In the 15C, sculptors produced lifelike figures in natural positions, kneeling for instance, or even in nonchalant attitudes like that of the remarkable Doncel in Sigüenza Cathedral. Altarpieces comprised a predella or plinth, surmounted by several levels of panels and finally by a carved openwork canopy. Choir stalls were adorned with biblical and historical scenes or carved to resemble delicate stone tracery.
The Isabelline style
At the end of the 15C, the prestige surrounding the royal couple and the grandees in the reign of Isabel the Catholic (1474–1504) provided a favourable context for the emergence of a new style in which exuberant decoration covered entire façades of civil and religious buildings. Ornamentation took the form of supple free arcs, lace-like carving, heraldic motifs and every fantasy that imagination could devise. The diversity of inspiration was largely due to foreign artists: Simon of Cologne (son of Johan) – San Pablo in Valladolid, Capilla del Condestable in Burgos; Juan Guas (son of the Frenchman Pierre) – San Juan de los Reyes in Toledo; and Enrique Egas (nephew of Hanequin of Brussels) – Capilla Real in Granada.
The Renaissance (16C)
In the 16C, at the dawn of its Golden Age, Spain was swept by a deep sense of its own national character and so created a style in which Italian influence became acceptable only when hispanicised.
Plateresque was the name given to the early Renaissance style because of its finely chiselled, lavish decoration reminiscent of silverwork ( platero : silversmith). Although close to the Isabelline style in its profusion of carved forms extending over entire façades, the rounded arches and ornamental themes (grotesques, foliage, pilasters, medallions and cornices) were Italian. The Plateresque style was brought to a climax in Salamanca in the façade of the Universidad and that of the Convento de San Esteban.
Among architects of the time were Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón , who worked at Salamanca (Palacios de Monterrey and Fonseca) and at Alcalá de Henares (university façade), and Diego de Siloé , the main architect in Burgos (Escalera de la Coronería). Together with Alonso de Covarrubias (1488–1570), who worked mainly in Toledo (Alcázar and Capilla de los Reyes Nuevos in the cathedral), Diego de Siloé marked the transition from the Plateresque style to the Classical Renaissance. Andrés de Vandelvira (1509–75) was the leading architect of the Andalucían Renaissance (Jaén Cathedral). His work introduces the austerity which was to characterise the last quarter of the century.
The Renaissance style drew upon Italian models and adopted features from Antiquity such as rounded arches, columns, entablatures and pediments. Decoration became of secondary importance after architectonic perfection. Pedro Machuca (c. 1490–1550), who studied under Michelangelo, designed the palace of Charles V in Granada, the most classical example of the Italian tradition. Another important figure, Bartolomé Bustamante (1500–70), built the Hospital de Tavera in Toledo .
The greatest figure of Spanish Classicism was Juan de Herrera (1530–93), who gave his name to an architectural style characterised by grandeur and austerity. He was the favourite architect of Philip II. The king saw in him the sobriety that suited the Counter-Reformation and in 1567 entrusted him with the task of continuing work on El Escorial, his greatest achievement.
Sculpture in Spain reached its climax during the Renaissance. In the 16C, a great many choir stalls, mausoleums and altarpieces (also known as retables ) were still being made of alabaster and wood. These latter were then painted by the estofado technique in which gold leaf is first applied, then the object is coloured and finally delicately scored to produce gold highlights. Carved altarpiece panels were framed by Corinthian architraves (epistyles) and pilasters.
The sculptures of Damián Forment (c. 1480–1540), who worked mainly in Aragón, belong to the transition period between Gothic and Renaissance styles. The Burgundian Felipe Vigarny (c. 1475–1542) and the architect Diego de Siloé , who was apprenticed in Naples, both worked on Burgos Cathedral. Bartolomé Ordóñez (c. 1480–1520) studied in Naples and carved the trascoro (choir screen) in Barcelona Cathedral and the mausoleums of Joanna the Mad, Philip the Handsome (Capilla Real in Granada) and Cardinal Cisneros (Alcalá de Henares).
The home of the Renaissance School moved from Burgos to Valladolid in the mid-16C by which time the Spanish style had absorbed foreign influences and Spain’s two great Renaissance sculptors had emerged. The first, Alonso Berruguete (c. 1488–1561), who studied in Italy under Michelangelo, had a style which drew closely on the Florentine Renaissance and reflected a strong personality. He sought strength of expression rather than formal beauty and his tormented fiery human forms are as powerful as those of his master (statue of San Sebastián in the Museo de Valladolid). The second, Juan de Juni (c. 1507–77), a Frenchman who settled in Valladolid, was also influenced by Michelangelo and founded the Catalan School of sculpture. His statues, recognisable by their beauty and the fullness of their forms, anticipated the Baroque style through the dramatic postures they adopted to express sorrow. Many of his works, such as the famous Virgen de los Siete Cuchillos (Virgin of the Seven Knives) in the Iglesia de las Angustias in Valladolid and the Entombments in the Museo de Valladolid and Segovia Cathedral, were subsequently copied.
Most of the finely worked wrought-iron grilles closing off chapels and coros (chancels) were carved in the 15C and 16C. Members of the Arfe family, Enrique, Antonio and Juan, stand out in the field of gold and silversmithing. They made the monstrances of Toledo, Santiago de Compostela and Sevilla Cathedrals respectively.
Under Italian Renaissance influence, Spanish painting in the 16C showed a mastery of perspective, a taste for clarity of composition and glorification of the human body. These features found their way into Spanish painting mainly through the Valencian School where Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina and Hernando Llanos introduced the style of Leonardo da Vinci, while Vicente Macip added that of Raphael and his son Juan de Juanes produced Mannerist works. In Sevilla, Alejo Fernández painted the famous Virgin of the Navigators in the Alcázar. In Castilla, the great master of the late 15C was Pedro Berruguete (c. 1450–1503), whose markedly personal style drew upon all the artistic influences in the country. His successor, Juan de Borgoña, specialised particularly in landscape, architecture and decorative motifs. Another artist, Pedro de Campaña from Brussels, used chiaroscuro to dramatic effect while Luis de Morales (c. 1520–86), a Mannerist, gave his work a human dimension through the portrayal of feelings. Ordinary people with religious sentiments responded favourably to the spiritual emotion expressed in his paintings. At the end of the 16C, Philip II sent for a great many Italian or Italian-trained artists to paint pictures for El Escorial. During his reign he introduced portrait painting under the Dutchman Antonio Moro (c. 1519–c. 1576), his cohort Alonso Sánchez Coello (1531–88) and Juan Pantoja de la Cruz (1553–1608). El Greco (1541–1614), on the other hand, was scorned by the court and settled in Toledo.
Spanish art reached its apogee in the mid-17C. Baroque met with outstanding success in its role as an essentially religious art in the service of the Counter-Reformation and was particularly evident in Andalucía, then enriched by trade with America.
Architects in the early 17C were still under the influence of 16C Classicism and the Herreran style to which they added decorative details. Public buildings proliferated and many continued to be built throughout the Baroque period.
Public buildings of the time in Madrid include the plaza Mayor by Juan Gómez de Mora , built shortly before the ayuntamiento (town hall), and the most significant building of all, the present Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) by Juan Bautista Crescenzi , the architect of the Panteón de Reyes at El Escorial.
Church architecture of the period showed greater freedom from Classicism. A style of Jesuit church, with a cruciform plan and a large transept that served to light up altarpieces, began to emerge. Madrid has several examples including the Iglesia de San Isidro by the Jesuits Pedro Sánchez and Francisco Bautista , and the Real Convento de la Encarnación by Juan Gómez de Mora . In the middle of the century, architects adopted a less rigid style, changing plans and façades, breaking up entablatures and making pediments more elaborate. A good example of this Italian Baroque style is the Iglesia Pontificia de San Miguel (18C) in Madrid. A new feature, the camarín , was introduced: at first simply a passage behind the high altar leading to the retable niche containing a statue venerated by the faithful, it developed into a highly ornate chapel. Decoration of this kind may be seen in Zaragoza’s Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar designed by Francisco Herrera el Mozo (1622–85). The Clerecía in Salamanca is a magnificent Baroque creation with a patio that anticipates the audacity and superabundant decoration characteristic of the Churrigueresque style.
The Churrigueresque style
In this style, named after the Churriguera family of architects (late 17C), architecture became no more than a support for dense concentrations of ornament covering entire façades. The style is typified by the use of salomónicas , or barley sugar columns entwined with vines, and estípites , or pilasters arranged in an inverse pyramid. Early examples of this extravagance, the altarpiece of the Convento de San Esteban in Salamanca and the palace in Nuevo Baztán near Madrid, were by José de Churriguera (1665–1725), who was the instigator of the style but did not make any architectural changes. His brothers Joaquín (1674–1724) and especially Alberto (1676–1750), who designed the plaza Mayor in Salamanca, took greater liberties in their work. Pedro de Ribera (1681–1742), a Castilian architect who worked mainly in Madrid, surpassed the Churriguera brothers in decorative delirium. The other great Castilian, Narciso Tomé , is remembered for the façade of the Universidad de Valladolid (1715) and particularly for the Transparente in Toledo Cathedral (1721–32).
The popularity of the Baroque spread countrywide, differing from province to province. In Galicia , where the hardness of the granite precluded delicate carving, Baroque took the form of softer lines and decorative mouldings. The best example of the style was by Fernando de Casas Novoa , who designed the Obradoiro façade of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (1750) at the end of his life.
In Andalucía , Baroque attained its utmost splendour, especially in decoration. Undulating surfaces characterised the façades of palaces (Écija), cathedrals (Guadix) and the doorways of countless churches and mansions (Jerez) in the 18C. As well as sculptor and painter, Alonso Cano was the instigator of Andalucían Baroque and designed the façade of Granada Cathedral. The major exponent of the style was, however, Vicente Acero , who worked on the façade of Guadix Cathedral (1714–20), designed Cádiz Cathedral and built the tobacco factory in Sevilla. Mention should also be made of Leonardo de Figueroa (1650–1730) for the Palacio de San Telmo in Sevilla and Francisco Hurtado (1669–1725) and Luis de Arévalo for La Cartuja in Granada; Hurtado worked on the monastery’s tabernacle and Arévalo on the sacristy, the most exuberant Baroque works in Andalucía.
In the Levante , Baroque artists used polychrome tiles to decorate church cupolas and spires like that of Santa Catalina in Valencia. In the same town, the Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas by Luis Domingo and Ignacio Vergara is reminiscent of façades by Ribera, although its design is more like French Rococo. The cathedral in Murcia has an impressive façade by Jaime Bort y Meliá .
The golden age of Spanish painting
This was characterised by the rejection of the previous century’s Mannerism and the adoption of Naturalism. The starting point was Caravaggio’s tenebrism, powerful contrasts of light and shade, and his stern realism. Painters took up portraiture and still life (bodegón) , while allegories on the theme of vanitas (still-life paintings showing the ephemerality of life) reflected a philosophical purpose by juxtaposing everyday objects with symbols of decay to illustrate the transience of wealth and the things of this world and the inevitability of death. Among 17C artists were two from the Valencian School – Francisco Ribalta (1565–1628), who introduced tenebrism into Spain, and José de Ribera (1591–1652), known for his forceful realism.
Some of the greatest Baroque artists worked in Andalucía. One was Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664), master of the Sevilla School; light in his paintings springs from within the subjects themselves. Other artists included Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–82), who painted intimate, mystical scenes, and Valdés de Valdés Leal whose powerful realism clearly challenged earthly vanities. Alonso Cano (1601–67), architect, painter and sculptor, settled in Granada and painted delicate figures of the Virgin.
The Castilian painters of the century, Vicente Carducho (c. 1576–1638) and the portraitists Juan Carreño de Miranda (1614–85) and Claudio Coello (1642–93), all excellent artists, nonetheless pale beside Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). His aerial perspective and outstanding sense of depth are beyond compare.
Spanish Baroque sculpture was naturalistic and intensely emotive. The most commonly used medium was wood, and while altarpieces continued to be carved, pasos or statues specially made for Semana Santa processions proved a great novelty.
The two major schools of Baroque sculpture were in Castilla and Andalucía. Gregorio Hernández, Juni’s successor, worked in Valladolid, the Castilian centre. His style was a lot more natural than that of his master, and his Christ Recumbent for the Convento de Capuchinos in El Pardo was widely copied. Sevilla and Granada were the main centres for the Andalucían School. Juan Martínez Montañés (1568–1649) settled in Sevilla and worked exclusively in wood, carving a great many pasos and various altarpieces. Alonso Cano became famous for the grace and femininity of his Immaculate Conceptions while his best-known disciple, Pedro de Mena, produced sculptures of great dramatic tension which contrasted with his master’s understated style. The statue of Mary Magdalene (Museo Nacional de Escultura Policromada, Valladolid), St Francis (Toledo Cathedral) and the Dolorosa (Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Madrid) are telling examples of his work.
The 18C saw the rise to prominence of the great Murcian, Francisco Salzillo , whose dramatic sculptures were inspired by Italian Baroque.
Churrigueresque excess in sculpture took the form of immense altarpieces which reached the roof. These huge constructions took on such grand proportions that they began to be designed by architects. Their statues seemed smothered by decoration, lost in an overabundance of gilding and stucco.
Austrian imperialism was succeeded by enlightened Bourbon despotism which resulted in artistic as well as political change in the 18C. Henceforth the rules of art were to be governed by official bodies like the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
During the first half of the century architecture still bore the stamp of Spanish Baroque, itself influenced at the time by French Rococo. The king and queen had palaces built in a moderate Baroque style (El Pardo, Riofrío, La Granja and Aranjuez) and began work on Madrid’s Palacio Real modelled on Versailles. These buildings sought to ally French Classical harmony with Italian grace, and to this end most of the work was entrusted to Italian architects who generally respected the traditional quadrangular plan of alcázares , so typically Spanish. The vast gardens were given a French design.
Excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum contributed to the emergence of a new, Neoclassical style which flourished between the second half of the 18C and 19C. It repudiated Baroque excess and aspired to Hellenistic beauty through the use of Classical orders, pediments, porticoes and cupolas. The Kings of Spain, Charles III in particular, set about embellishing the capital by building fountains (Cibeles, Neptune), gates (Alcalá and Toledo), and planting botanic gardens.
The first Spanish Neoclassical architect, Ventura Rodríguez (1717–85), who was actually apprenticed in Italian Baroque, quickly developed an academic Neoclassical style. His works include the façade of Pamplona Cathedral, the paseo del Prado in Madrid and the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragoza. Francesco Sabatini (1722–97), whose style developed along similar lines, designed the Puerta de Alcalá and the building that now houses the Ministerio de Hacienda (Ministry of Finance) in Madrid. The leading architect was without doubt Juan de Villanueva (1739–1811), schooled in Classical principles during a stay in Rome. He designed the façade of the ayuntamiento in Madrid, the Casita del Príncipe at El Escorial and most importantly, the Museo del Prado . Two notable town planners emerged during the 19C: Ildefonso Cerdá in Barcelona and Arturo Soria (1844–1920) in Madrid.
Bourbon monarchs took pains to attract the greatest painters to court and grant them official positions. In 1752 Ferdinand VI founded the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando where it was intended that students should learn official painting techniques and study the Italian masters. Leading artists of the time were Anton Raphael Mengs (1728–79) from Bohemia and the Italian Giambattista Tiepolo (1696–1770), both of whom decorated the Palacio Real. There was also Francisco Bayeu (1734–95) from Aragón, who painted a great many tapestry cartoons, as did his brother-in-law Francisco de Goya (1746–1828). Goya’s work, much of which may be seen in the Prado, Madrid, was to dominate the entire century.
Painters working in the post-Goya period did not follow in the master’s footsteps as academic Neoclassical influences and Romanticism took over; Goya’s legacy was not taken up until the end of the 19C. The following stand out among artists of the academic Romantic trend: Federico de Madrazo , representative of official taste in royal portraits and historical scenes, Vicente Esquivel , portrait-painter, and lastly Leonardo Alenza , and Eugenio Lucas Velázquez , the spokesmen for Costumbrismo , which had attained full status as a genre. (This was a style of painting illustrating scenes of everyday life which gradually developed from the simply anecdotal to a higher calling, the evocation of the Spanish soul.) Historical themes became very popular in the 19C with works by José Casado del Alisal , Eduardo Rosales and Mariano Fortuny .
Impressionist features began to appear in naturalist paintings by Ramón Martí Alsina and in post-Romantic landscapes by Carlos de Haes . The style secured a definitive hold in the works of Narciso Oller , Ignacio Pinazo Camarlench , the best Valencian Impressionist, Darío de Regoyos and lastly, Joaquín Sorolla , who specialised in light-filled folk scenes and regional subjects.
The Basque artist Ignacio Zuloaga (1870–1945) expressed his love for Spain in brightly coloured scenes of everyday life at a time when Impressionism was conquering Europe.
The decorative arts
Factories were built under the Bourbons to produce decorative material for their royal palaces. In 1760, Charles III founded the Buen Retiro works, where ceramics for the famous Salones de Porcelana in the royal palaces of Aranjuez and Madrid were made. The factory was destroyed during the Napoleonic invasion.
In 1720, Philip V opened the Real Fábrica de Tapices de Santa Bárbara (in Madrid), the equivalent of the French Gobelins factory in Paris. Some of the tapestries were of Don Quixote while others depicted scenes of everyday life based on preparatory cartoons by Bayeu and Goya.
From Modernism to Surrealism
The barren period that Spanish art in general experienced at the end of the 19C was interrupted in Catalunya by a vast cultural movement known as Modernism . This was particularly strong in architecture, with outstanding work by Antoni Gaudí , Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Maria Jujol .
In the field of sculpture, Pablo Gargallo broke new ground through the simplicity of his shapes, the attention he gave to volume and the use of new materials like iron.
Painting was varied and prolific. The following stand out among the many artists of the time: Ramón Casas , the best Spanish Impressionist, whose works are suffused with an atmosphere of grey melancholy, Santiago Rusiñol , Isidro Nonell , instigator of Spanish Expressionism, and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), the dominant figure whose innovations were to mark the entire history of 20C painting.
Picasso’s attention was first devoted to academic Naturalism (Science and Charity) . He subsequently became a Modernist and social Expressionist. Later, once he had moved to Paris (1904), his style developed through the successive blue and rose periods to Cubism (Les Demoiselles d’Avignon) , Surrealism and Expressionism (Guernica) , which in turn led to a totally personal and subjective lyrical style (La Joie de Vivre) .
In the 1920s a movement began to emerge that was influenced by Cubism and, more particularly, by Surrealism. Its sculptors were Ángel Ferrant , Victorio Macho , Alberto Sánchez Pérez and lastly Julio González , who strove towards Abstract Expressionism through the use of iron and simple shapes. Painters of the movement included Daniel Vázquez Díaz , Juan Gris, Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí. Juan Gris (1887–1927), the most faithful analytical Cubist, worked in Paris. The works of Joan Miró (1893–1983), champion of Surrealism, are characterised by childlike spontaneity and an original attitude to everyday objects. Miró used very bright colours and magic symbols in all his paintings; today the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona houses her works. Salvador Dalí (1904–89), a quasi-Surrealist, dreamed up his own creative method which he called the paranoic critical. Some of his best paintings were a result of his interest in the subconscious and his vision of a dream world. All his works attest to an excellent drawing technique and many show an attention to detail worthy of the best miniaturists.
Spanish art was crucially affected by the Civil War in two ways: firstly, the fact that several artists went into exile meant that the country suffered cultural loss, and secondly, official taste in architecture developed a penchant for the monumental. This is clearly apparent in a number of colossal edifices. Many government buildings, all in Madrid, were designed in the manner of El Escorial, including the Ministerio del Aire, the Museo de América, the Arco del Triunfo and the Consejo de Investigaciones Científicas. The most striking example is the monument of the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) outside Madrid. However, among exponents of the Nationalist style, there were several innovative architects like Miguel Fisac .
In 1950 the first signs of a new style, based on rational and functional criteria, began to emerge. Examples abound in Barcelona, including the Vanguardia building by Oriol Bohigas and José María Martorell , the residential block by Ricardo Bofill Leví in carrer de Nicaragua, and in Madrid, the Colegio Monfort by Antonio Fernandez Alba , the Maravillas secondary school (gimnasio) by Alejandro de la Sota and the Torres Blancas (White Towers) by Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oíza .
Post-war sculpture and painting are basically academic but there are some notable artists such as José Gutiérrez Solana , whose paintings are full of anguish, and the landscape painters Benjamín Palencia , who glorifies the country and light of Castilla, and Rafael Zabaleta , who is more interested in painting the region’s country folk.
Avant-Garde painters also began to emerge after the war. The first post-war Surrealists are members of a group called Dau al Set including Modest Cuixart , Antoni Tàpies and Joan-Josep Tharrats . Tàpies is a veritable pioneer, one of the major abstract artists.
New artistic trends
In the 1950s two abstract groups, with different qualities but with the common aim of artistic innovation, were formed: the El Paso group in Madrid with Antonio Saura , Manolo Millares , Rafael Canogar , Luis Feito , Manuel Viola and Martín Chirino , all representatives of what was known as action painting; and the Equipo 57 group in Cuenca with Ángel Duarte , Agustín Ibarrola , Juan Serrano and José Duarte , who were more interested in drawing. The movement’s sculptors included Jorge Oteiza , Andreu Alfaro and lastly Eduardo Chillida , who worked in iron and wood and stripped his sculptures of any figurative suggestion.
The gardens of Spain are a further example of the country’s rich culture, and bear witness to an enviable ability to adapt to a varied climate. Although Spanish landscape gardening has inherited many of its traditions from within Europe, particularly from the Greco-Roman era, the long period of Moorish occupation added a completely new dimension to the country’s landscape.
The Generalife (14C), Granada
The Moors were truly gifted gardeners. The Generalife is the Moorish garden par excellence, despite the alterations it has undergone over the centuries. As a result of its extraordinary position it is a magnificent balcony, but above all it has been able to preserve an intimate, sensual character which was such a feature of Muslim gardens.
A Moorish garden is always an evocation of paradise; it is a feast for the senses and a harmonious whole which avoids grandiloquence. Nothing has been left to chance: the colour of the plants and flowers, their scent, and the omnipresence of water combine to create a serene ambience full of intimate charm. The Generalife has been laid out on several levels to ensure that the trees in one garden do not interfere with the views from another. In fact, the Generalife is a series of landscaped areas and enclosures each with its own individuality yet part of an overall design. The garden’s architectural features and vegetation, reflected in the water channels, blend together to create a perfect whole.
La Granja (18C), La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia
Once he came to the Spanish throne, Philip V, the grandson of Louis XIV, chose a beautiful spot in the Segovian countryside at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama to create these magnificent Baroque gardens. They bring to mind those of Versailles, where the monarch spent his childhood. Philip V was to make La Granja his personal retreat.
Although the Versailles influence is clearly evident, the differences are also obvious. Because of its position, hemmed in by the mountains, the grandiose perspectives of Versailles are not to be found at La Granja.
The rigidity of the French garden is also lost here as there is no clear central axis; instead, La Granja consists of a succession of parts each with a certain independence, thus adopting hints of Moorish design. Although the gardeners brought with them a variety of species from France, they were able to adapt perfectly to the features of the local landscape and to preserve the somewhat wild appearance which gives it an undoubted charm. Magnificent fountains and sculptures scattered in small squares and along avenues add a theatrical touch.
Pazo de Oca (18C–19C), La Estrada, La Coruña
A pazo is a Baroque-style manor typically found in Galicia. These large rustic residences are built on plots of land which generally comprise a recreational garden, a kitchen garden and cultivated farmland.
The Pazo de Oca garden, the oldest in Galicia, is a magnificent example of a garden in the wet part of Spain. What comes as a complete surprise is its perfect integration into its surroundings, where the damp climate has enabled vegetation to grow on rocks, creating an intimate relationship between its architectural and vegetal features. Water plays a vital role, appearing in basins or fountains or trickling through the garden. The most attractive part, with its two ponds, is hidden behind a parterre. A delightful bridge, with benches enabling visitors to enjoy this enchanting spot, separates the two sections, overcoming the difference in height between them. The lower pond contains the pazo ’s most representative and famous feature: the stone boat, with its two petrified sailors, planted with hydrangeas.
The combination of both climate and vegetation gives the site an unquestionably romantic air.
Jardín Botánico de Marimurtra (20C), Blanes, Girona
Carlos Faust, the German impresario who settled on the Costa Brava, created this botanical garden in 1921 for research purposes to enable scientists to carry out studies on flora, and to catalogue and preserve plants threatened with extinction. It is situated in a delightful spot between the sea and the mountains and offers visitors magnificent views of the coast.
Marimurtra is a fine example of a contemporary Mediterranean garden, although a number of exotic species from every continent have also adapted perfectly here. It contains an interesting cactus garden, an impressive aquatic garden, as well as a collection of medicinal, toxic and aromatic plants. The scientific aims of the garden have not interfered in any way with the aesthetic direction it has taken. The only architectural feature with a purely decorative function is the small temple built at the end of the steps running down to the sea.
At present, 5ha/12 acres of Marimurtra is open to the public.
Errant knights, Don Juan characters, mystics and highwaymen occupy a hallowed place in Spanish letters. Spanish literature reached its peak during the Golden Age of the 16C and 17C, and has enjoyed a renewed period of acclaim since the beginning of the 20C, through the works of a new generation of writers from within Spain and across the Spanish-speaking world.
Roman Spain produced great Latin authors such as Seneca the Elder or the Rhetorician, his son Seneca the Younger or the Philosopher, Quintilian the Rhetorician, and the epic poet Lucan . In the 8C, the monk Beatus wrote the Commentary on the Apocalypse, which gave rise to a series of outstanding illuminated manuscripts known as Beatus. Arab writers won renown during the same period. Works written in Castilian began to emerge only in the Middle Ages.
The Middle Ages
The first milestone of Spanish literature appeared in the 12C in the form of El Cantar del Mío Cid , an anonymous Castilian poem inspired by the adventures of El Cid. In the 13C, the monk Gonzalo de Berceo , drawing on religious themes, won renown through his works of Mester de Clerecía , the learned poetry of clerics and scholars. Alfonso X the Wise , an erudite king who wrote poetry in Galician, decreed that in his kingdom, Latin should be replaced as the official language by Castilian, an act subsequently followed throughout Spain except in Catalunya where Catalan remained the written language.
In the 14C, Don Juan Manuel introduced the use of narrative prose in his moral tales while Juan Ruiz , Archpriest of Hita , wrote a brilliant satirical verse work titled El Libro de Buen Amor , which later influenced the picaresque novel.
In the 15C, lyric poetry flourished under Italian influence with poets such as Jorge Manrique and the Marquis of Santillana . Romanceros , collections of ballads in an epic or popular vein, perpetuated the medieval style until the 16C when Amadís de Gaula (1508) set the model for a great many romances or tales of chivalry. In 1499, La Celestina , a novel of passion in dialogue form by Fernando de Rojas , anticipated modern drama in a subtle, well-observed tragicomic intrigue.
The Golden Age (Siglo de Oro)
Spain enjoyed its greatest literary flowering under the Habsburgs (1516–1700), with great lyric poets such as Garcilaso de la Vega , disciple of Italian verse forms, Fray Luis de León and above all Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561–1627) whose obscure, precious style won fame under the name of Gongorism. Pastoral novels became popular with works by Cervantes and Lope de Vega. The picaresque novel, however, was the genre favoured by Spanish writers at the time. The first to appear in 1554 was Lazarillo de Torme s, an anonymous autobiographical work in which the hero, an astute rogue ( pícaro in Castilian), casts a mischievous and impartial eye on society and its woes. There followed Mateo Alemán ’s Guzmán de Alfarache with its brisk style and colourful vocabulary, and La Vida del Buscón , an example of the varied talents of Francisco de Quevedo (1580–1645), essayist, poet and satirist. The genius of the Golden Age, however, was Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), with his masterpiece, the universal Don Quixote (1605). Lope de Rueda paved the way for comedia , which emerged at the end of the 16C. Dramatists proliferated, among them the master Lope de Vega (1562–1635), who perfected and enriched the art form. This “phoenix of the mind” wrote more than 1 000 plays on the most diverse subjects. His successor, Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–81), wrote historical and philosophical plays ( La vida es sueño or Life’s a Dream and El alcalde de Zalamea or The Mayor of Zalamea ) in which he brilliantly reflects the mood of Spain in the 17C. Tirso de Molina (1579–1648) left his interpretation of Don Juan for posterity while Guillén de Castro wrote Las Mocedades del Cid (Youthful Adventures of the Cid) . Mention should also be made of works on the conquest of America by Cortés and Bartolomé de las Casas among others. Finally, the moralist Fray Luis de Granada and the mystics Santa Teresa de Ávila (1515–82) and San Juan de la Cruz (St John of the Cross) (1542–91) wrote theological works.
18C and 19C
The critical mode found expression in the works of essayists such as Benito Jerónimo Feijoo and Jovellanos , while elegance dominated the plays of Moratín . The great romantic poet of the 19C was Bécquer (1836–70) from Sevilla, while Larra was a social satirist, Menéndez Pelayo a literary critic and Ángel Ganivet a political and moral analyst. Realism was introduced to the Spanish novel by Alarcón (The Three-Cornered Hat) and Pereda (Peñas arriba) who concentrated on regional themes. By the end of the 19C, the best realist was Pérez Galdós whose prolific, lively work (National Episodes) is stamped with a great sense of human sympathy.
A group of intellectuals known as the Generation of ‘98, saddened by Spain’s loss of colonies like Cuba, pondered over the future and character of their country and, more generally, the problems of human destiny. The atmosphere was reflected in the work of essayists such as Miguel de Unamuno (1864–1936) who wrote El Sentimiento trágico de la vida (The Tragic Sense of Life) , and Azorín , as well as the philologist Menéndez Pidal , the novelist Pío Baroja and the aesthete Valle Inclán , who created an elegant poetic prose style. Among their contemporaries were Jacinto Benavente (winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize for literature), who developed a new dramatic style, and the novelist Vicente Blasco Ibáñez . Henceforth Spain opened up to literary contributions from abroad. Some great poets began to emerge, including Juan Ramón Jiménez (Nobel Prize 1956), who expressed his feelings through simple unadorned prose poems (Platero y Yo) , Antonio Machado (1875–1939), the bard of Castilla, and Rafael Alberti . Federico García Lorca (1898–1936) equally great as both poet and dramatist (Bodas de Sangre) , was Andalucían through and through. His work was, perhaps, the most fascinating reflection of a Spain whose mystery José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955), essayist and philosopher, spent his life trying to fathom.
Several years after the Civil War, writing rose from its ashes with works by essayists (Américo Castro) , playwrights (Alfonso Sastre) and, above all, novelists such as Miguel Delibes , Camilo José Cela (La Familia de Pascual Duarte) who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1989, Juan Goytisolo , Ramón Sender and Antonio Ferres , all preoccupied with social issues.
Among contemporary authors, mention should be made of novelists Juan Benet , Juan Marsé , Manuel Vázquez Montalbán , Terenci Moix , Javier Marías and Eduardo Mendoza , and playwrights Antonio Gala , Fernando Arrabal and Francisco Nieva .
Cinema and music
Over the centuries, Spain has produced countless musicians and thespians of world renown. In more recent times, the genius of film directors such as Luis Buñuel , Juan Antonio Bardem and Pedro Almodóvar , composers such as Manuel de Falla , and classical guitarists such as Antonio Segovia , have thrilled audiences the world over.
Spanish cinema dates back to a short film in 1897 which shows people leaving the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragoza after Mass. Studios for silent movies were later set up in Barcelona.
In the 1920s, several Surrealists tried their hand at the new art form. Among them were Dalí and above all Luis Buñuel , a master of Spanish cinema, who made Un chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) in 1928 and Âge d’Or (The Golden Age) in 1930. When talking films appeared in the 1930s, Spain was in the throes of a political and economic crisis and so her studios lacked the means to procure the necessary equipment.
At the end of the 1930s, when films like Sor Angélica (Sister Angelica) by Francisco Gargallo tended to address religious themes, Juan Piqueras launched a magazine called Nuestro Cinema ,which was strongly influenced by Russian ideas, and gave star billing to films such as Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread ) by Buñuel in 1932, depicting poverty in a remote part of Spain.
During the Civil War and the ensuing Franco era, films were heavily censored and the cinema became one of the major vehicles for the ideology of the time, with historical and religious themes glorifying death and the spirit of sacrifice. One such success was Marcelino Pan y Vino (The Miracle of Marcelino) by Ladislao Vajda in 1955. Change came with works by Juan Antonio Bardem like Muerte de un Ciclista (Death of a Cyclist) and with Berlanga’s Bienvenido Mister Marshall ( Welcome Mr Marshall , 1953) and El Verdugo ( The Executioner , 1963).
The 1960s enjoyed a period of renewal with directors like Carlos Saura , whose first film, Los Golfos (The Delinquents) , came out in 1960. More than ever before, the 1970s saw a new wave in Spanish cinema with outstanding directors and films. These were mainly concerned with the problems of childhood and youth marked by the Franco régime. Saura’s Cría Cuervos ( Raise Ravens , 1976) shows two orphans reflecting on the death of their parents personify the all-powerful hold of the army and religion during the Franco era. Mention should also be made of Saura’s Ana y los Lobos ( Anna and the Wolves , 1973); El Espíritu de la colmena ( The Spirit of the Beehive , 1973) and El Sur ( The South , 1983) both by Víctor Erice ; La Colmena ( The Beehive , 1982) by Mario Camus , and films by Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón such as Demonios en el jardín ( Demons in the Garden , 1982) and La Mitad del cielo ( Half of Heaven , 1986) which illustrate the economic changes between Spain under Franco and Spain as a democracy. Pedro Almodóvar breaks with this serious, nostalgic type of cinema so critical of the Franco era. His films are of a completely different, modern Spain is shown in a comic light, but not without an edgy criticism, as in Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios ( Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown , 1988), Carne trémula ( Live Flesh , 1997) and Hable con ella ( Talk to Her; 2002).
Four Spanish films have won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film: Volver a empezar ( To Begin Again , 1982), directed by José Luis Garci ; Fernando Trueba’s Belle epoque ( The Age of Beauty ,1992); Todo sobre mi madre ( All About My Mother , 1999), by Pedro Almodóvar ; and Mar adentro ( The Sea Inside , 2004) by Alejandro Amenábar .
There has been a resurgence in Spanish cinema in recent years with directors such as Bigas Luna ( Jamón, Jamón , 1992), Alejandro Amenábar ( Tesis , 1996 and Abre los ojos , 1997), Julio Medem ( Los Amantes del Círculo Polar , 1998; Tierra , 1996), Icíar Bollaín ( Te doy mis ojos , 2003) and Isabel Coixet ( La Vida secreta de las Palabras , 2005). This development has resulted in huge box office triumphs, such as El Perro del hortelano ( The Dog in the Manger , 1996) by the late Pilar Miró , and Secretos del Corazón ( Secrets of the Heart , 1997) by Montxo Armendáriz . Other successful films of recent years include Barrio (1998) by Fernando León de Aranoa , Solas ( Alone , 1999) by Benito Zambrano , El Laberinto del Fauno ( Pan’s Labyrinth , 2006) by the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, and La Soledad ( Solitary Fragments , 2007) by Jaime Rosales .
Alongside its folk music, Spain has developed an extraordinarily rich musical repertory since the Middle Ages, marked by a large number of influences including Visigothic, Arabic, Mozarabic and French. Polyphonic chants were studied in the 11C and the oldest known piece for three voices, the Codex calixtinus , was composed at Santiago de Compostela c. 1140. During the Reconquest, the church encouraged great musical creativity in the form of liturgical chants, plays (autos) like the Elche Mystery which is still performed today, and poetry like the 13C Cantigas de Santa María by Alfonso the Wise .
At the end of the 15C, the dramatist Juan de la Encina composed secular songs, thus proving that he was also an excellent musician. Music, like the other arts, however, reached its climax in the second half of the 16C, under the protection of the early Habsburgs. Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548–1611) was one of the most famous composers of polyphonic devotional pieces, while among his contemporaries, Francisco de Salinas and Fernando de las Infantas were learned musicologists and Cristóbal de Morales and Francisco Guerrero were accomplished religious composers. As for instruments, the organ became the invariable accompaniment to sacred music, while a favourite for profane airs was the vihuela , a sort of guitar with six double strings, which was soon replaced by the lute and eventually by the five-string Spanish guitar. In 1629, Lope de Vega wrote the text for the first Spanish opera. Pedro Calderón de la Barca is credited with creating the zarzuela , a musical play with spoken passages, songs and dances, which, since the 19C, has based its plot and music on popular themes. The major composer of religious and secular music in the 18C was Padre Antonio Soler , a great harpsichord player.
In the 19C, the Catalan Felipe Pedrell brought Spanish music onto a higher plane. He opened the way for a new generation of musicians and was the first to combine traditional tunes with classical genres. At the beginning of the century, while works by French composers (Ravel’s Bolero , Bizet’s Carmen , Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole and Chabrier’s España ) bore a pronounced Hispanic stamp, Spanish composers turned to national folklore and traditional themes: Isaac Albéniz (1860–1909) wrote Iberia , Enrique Granados (1867–1916) became famous for his Goyescas and Joaquín Turina (1882–1949) for his Sevilla Symphony . This popular vein culminated in works by Manuel de Falla (1876–1946) including Nights in the Gardens of Spain , El Amor Brujo and The Three-Cornered Hat .
Among the best-known contemporary classical guitar players are Andrés Segovia (1893–1987), Joaquín Rodrigo (1901–99), famous for his Concierto de Aranjuez , and Narciso Yepes (1927–97), have shown that this most Spanish of instruments can interpret a wide variety of music. Another Spaniard, Pablo Casals (1876–1973), was possibly the greatest cellist of all time. Spain holds a leading position in the world of opera with singers such as Victoria de los Ángeles (1923–2005), Montserrat Caballé , Plácido Domingo , Alfredo Kraus (1927–99), José Carreras and Teresa Berganza .