Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spanish Baroque (pt. 1)

You have to remember that Europe was split at this time.  The Dutch north had converted to Protestantism while the south remained Catholic.  The art of Italy, Flanders, and Spain reflected the agenda of the Catholic church, while new developments in art were being produced in the north, in Holland.  This climate ensued and created the Baroque style of art.  Naturally, there were two typed of Baroque art, representative of the two sects dominating Europe at this time: the Catholic Spanish/Italian and the Protestant Dutch Baroque.  Spanish artists painted saints, crucifixes, and martyrdoms to glorify the lessons and lifestyle of the church in effort to bring as many people over to the Catholic side as was possible.
Diego Velàzquez came from a noble family in Seville and moved to Madrid to develop his artistic skills.  Eventually, King Philip IV requested he paint a portrait of him.  After Velàzquez did this, the king would not allow any other painter make portraits of him, so impressed was he with this new artist's prodigious talent.  Velàzquez painted Philip 34 times.
The largest of Velàzquez's paintings stands over 10 ft. by 12 ft. and is the famous historical painting of The Surrender of Breda.
A strategic piece of propaganda that celebrated Spanish victory over the Dutch city of Breda, the painting captures the moment where the Spanish army receives the keys to the city from the Dutch.  On the side of Breda (the left), the commander bows humbly.  The troops behind him appear clumsy and un-orderly at having lost the battle, while the troops on the right, those of the Spanish army, hold straight, erect spears in numerous sequence, implying the order and superiority that also demonstrates why they won the battle.  The Spanish receive the keys to the city and gesture in gratitude, the idealistic image of gentlemanly, chivalrous conduct.  It is indeed a decidedly friendly scene considering the city of Breda is smoldering in the background.  What is formulaically intriguing about the painting is its structural layout which is designed to bring the viewer right into the scene.  Two men, one soldier from each army and standing on either side of the painting, look out and make eye contact with the viewer, engaging the viewer and bringing him/her into the scene.  The placement of these figures on both sides causes the viewer to look back and forth between both armies and projects emphasis on the center of the painting which houses the action.  The two commanders are the main characters of the scene, and the significance of the event is made clear by the frame around the key.

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