Spanish Romanticism

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Romanticism was many things at the same time. On one hand it was a philosophical movement (closer to German Romanticisim); a popular sentiment (similar to the feelings unleashed during French Romanticism immediately after the French Revolution); a literary trend (as can be observed in English Romanticism); and an artistic style. From country to country it varied greatly. The appearance of Romanticism in Spain was determined by foreign and national factors. Among the foreign factors was the rise of the middle class with the importance they gave to the individual and subjective, a result of the fact that it was a self-made class in contrast to the control of the aristocracy. The middle classes had their own ideology, Liberalism, as well as a particular political sentiment, Nationalism. Romanticism is therefore generally defined as a bourgeois art, dependent on the individual, subjective, and directed at national values which were found in the past. We will now consider the national factors that made up Spanish Romanticism. In Spain there was a popular Romanticism that was more a sentiment that an ideological system. This was determined by the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. The Spanish War of Independence was the first romantic war in history, carried out by the people who formed spontaneous guerrilla groups to drive out the foreign invaders. Interestingly, this desire to defend one's country against foreign intruders was an idea inspired by the enemy: France, the Enlightenment and Napoleon himself, who initially used this principle to boost his own strength but by transmitting it to the conquered territories laid the future foundations of rebellion. This popular Romanticism took place early on and was idealistic, liberal and produced the first Spanish Constitution passed in Cadiz in 1812. The best portraitist of the period and its intentions was Goya, the first Spanish Romantic painter. On the other hand there was also a historic romanticism that was a defining intellectual movement of the second third of the 19th century. It was directed at exalting national values which were to be sought in the past, specifically in the Spanish Golden Age, the zenith of Spanish culture and genius. To these, the values taken from Spanish Neoclassicism were added, which in turn had taken directly from the French Enlightenment and included the importance of education and popular culture. Finally, in historic romanticism there was an echo of European Liberalism, which at that time represented the avant-garde of progress in contrast to the attempts to reconstruct the Ancien Régime, apparent in the restoration of Ferdinand VII to the Spanish throne after Joseph Bonaparte was expelled. Regarding painting there were three important centres for Romanticism in Spain: Andalusia, Madrid and Catalonia. In Andalusia there had long been an important commercial and cosmopolitan tradition because of its Atlantic ports. In Seville and Cadiz a large foreign colony settled, especially British diplomats and their families, which affected artistic production significantly. It produced the intimism characteristic of the English Romantic portrait. When foreign families wanted their portrait painted in Spain they did so wearing traditional Spanish costumes or with important monuments in the background such as the Giralda or the Alhambra... This influenced the rise of the picture-souvenir, which was almost mass-produced, poor-quality and dedicated to folkloric themes such as pilgrimages, bandits, gypsies and so on. The style ended up stagnating and artists with cultural interests had to migrate to Madrid as in the case of the Bécquer brothers: Gustavo Adolfo, the famous romantic poet and his brother, Valeriano, an artist. In Madrid, the second centre of Romantic painting, the predominance of the Academy set the style, such as in Gutiérrez de la Vega or Esquivel, with the official panorama being totally dominated by the figure of Federico de Madrazo. Painting in Madrid was also closely linked to literature and group portraits, depicting painters and writers who met in the houses of wealthy upper-middle class individuals for artistic gatherings, were not uncommon (for example Meeting of Poets). The only escape route from this strict establishment art was genre painting, which focused on the daily habits of the Madrilenians. Leonardo Alenza cultivated genre painting in a Goyaesque fashion, deliberately imitating his style, although with a gruesomeness and a shortage of resources that meant that there was no comparison with the Aragonese master. Eugenio Lucas, on the other hand, practised a more decorative genre style that was appropriate for display in a bourgeois house. Regarding landscape painting, there were also two trends, the imaginative tendency which recreated fantastic landscapes like those by Pérez Villaamil, and the documentary landscape, with a scientific intention that meant it had similarities to English Neoclassical landscape painting. Catalonia was the other centre of Romanticism. It was a flourishing region, full of wealthy traders and industrialists who wanted their lives and family values depicted. Here the private portrait reached a splendour that was unequalled in the rest of Spain. The Lonja School in Catalonia is also notable. It was a community experiment of a group of painters who aimed to recover the purity of drawing and subject matter in the style of the Nazarenes of German Romanticism.


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