Spanish Gothic


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Foreign styles influenced Spanish Gothic greatly at its outset. The earliest Gothic style was the French. Spain and France had been united from a cultural point of view throughout the Middle Ages thanks to the pilgrim routes to Santiago. Moreover, Burgundian culture entered the country through family relations in the north of the Peninsula, especially as a result of the repopulations favoured by the Leonese and Castilian monarchs. Furthermore, when the Cistercian order extended to Spain, it brought with it new aesthetic tastes. The French influence reached its high point in the 13th century. On the whole, the paintings of this period were miniatures or stained glass windows. Paintings on wood panels were scarce and the rich fresco tradition of the Spanish Romanesque was quickly forgotten. With regard to miniatures, following the Mudéjar Middle Age precedents set by the Beato of Liébana, the Cantigas of Alphonso X "the Wise" depicted customs, religious and leisure scenes. These miniatures illustrate the coexistence of Christian and Arab civilisations in the Peninsula (the Muslims were settled in the south) and the cultural exchange that took place between the two. Hence it was not surprising to see the King playing Arabian games, such as chess, or worshiping the Virgin according to Muslim custom, prostrated before her, wearing a tunic and turban. The miniatures were framed as if they were cartoons that described visually what the text was narrating. The effect was very discursive and varied. The most important stained glass windows from this period were indisputably those that adorn León Cathedral. In accordance with the purest French influence, the colouring and fragmentation of the glass achieved extremely complex scenes that give a quasi-magical sense to the interior of the sacred space. The outlines are very marked because of the lead that holds the pieces of glass in place. Nevertheless, in a desire for perfection, details on faces and clothing were achieved that were imperceptible to the faithful observing them from the floor, and therefore they are dedicated not to the human being but to Divinity. The 14th and 15th centuries witnessed the establishment of two Schools that had a very strong influence on Spanish artists. On one hand there was the Northern European school that resulted in Hispano-Flemish art, and on the other, the paintings of the Italian Gothic, that produced an Italianised Gothic in the east of Spain. Both schools were a vehicle for some of the best Spanish painters, as well as having enough international impact to attract foreign artists. In all of this the role of the Church and the monarchy was fundamental. Their commissions and foundations offered an excellent market, with refined and luxurious tastes that contributed to a brilliant pictorial future. Stylistically, a characteristic that both schools had in common was the introduction of painting on wooden boards, either in tempera or in oil, although this technique was not perfected until the Renaissance. The subject matter was predominantly religious. The backgrounds were golden, with no references to landscape or architecture. The figures were stylised, elegant and somewhat out of proportion. Despite everything, the somewhat coarse direct expressiveness of Romanesque art was surpassed to achieve a more natural representation of figures' gestures and faces. There needs to be a closer examination of the differences between Hispano-Flemish art and the Italianised Gothic of the Levant, taking into account the particular circumstances of each one. Finally, in Sevillian art there was a special mixture, oriented more towards a later international Gothic. This was because the city's status as an important port led not only to Flemish influences, but also to an influx of elegant French models, which came from the miniature, and of Sienese models, because of the chronological closeness to the Trecento.

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