THE EVOLUTION OF SPANISH NEOCLASSICAL ARTISTS & PAINTINGS


IN THIS CLASS,
we will take a look at the visual evolution of the Neoclassical style of painting in Spain from the mid 18th to early 19th century. Explored will be the most important painters of the era and their defining works. Also, explained will be the elements that characterize the Spanish neoclassical as an academic standard that would prevail until the modern era. 

 INTRODUCTION by Karla Darocas, Hons. B.A. Fine Arts

Carlos III (1716-1788) became King of Spain in 1759. He developed an impressive taste for great classical art, which evolved from his years of living a decadent life in Naples and being surrounded by Roman and Renaissance influences. This King also married a cultured Austrian princess, Maria Amalia of Saxony(1724-1760).

When he came to his new Spanish kingdom capital, he found Madrid to be a "a town of shacks and convents", without cobblestones, without lighting, without urban planning. He personally decided to promote the reform of the capital, hoping that the example would spread to the rest of the country. He brought together a large group of architects who remodeled the city in the French Neoclassical style.

Painting was the last of the arts to be incorporated into the neoclassical aesthetics. Neoclassicism adopted the hierarchy of painting that was established by the French Royal Academy of the Arts in 1669. History painting, which included subjects from the Bible, classical mythology, and history, was ranked as the top category, followed by portraiture, genre painting, landscapes, and still life.

Carlos III brought to Madrid his favorite painter, Antonio Rafael Mengs (1728-1779), to control and organize the teaching of painting through an academic system. The academy in Madrid was named the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts and was of vital importance. The founding of academies and factories were dependent directly on the king who intended to regulate and control artists and their works. This tyrannical system directly contradicted the creativity and originality of the artists and this supremacy would eventually backlash. 

However, at this time, the Academies functioned as mechanisms of renewal and advancement. Mengs was the first Neoclassicism star before the Neapolitan invasion and then José de Madrazo y Agudo (1781-1859) would be the rising star of Neoclassicism during the restoration of the Spanish crown.

Mengs modelled his classical style from the high renaissance Italian artists: Correggio (1494-1534) and Raphael (1483-1520). Both painters known for their highly idealized depictions of the forms and compositions, carefully conceived in uncontrived and effortless drawings.

Mengs was trained as a theoretician, his intellectual weight and his drawing rigor made him a fundamental piece towards the renewal of a new classicism in court painting. However, his sterile style together with his extremely unfriendly personality made him unpopular at Court, hence his renewal only reached the circle closest to the king. 

In spite of this, he managed to purify the unsavory and boastful elements of the past that weighed on Spanish painting. He established a new official portrait comprised of a three-quarters stance, without any psychological penetration and without the apparatus or “pomp” and drama like that of Baroque and Rococo. His style was maintained under Carlos IV and gained some followers, of which Mariano Salvador Maella (1739-1819) and Vicente López Portaña (1772-1850) stand out. 

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) gladly transitioned into neoclassicism and enjoyed his fame within the enlightened circle of intellectuals that grouped around certain noble houses, such as Osuna, Chinchón and Alba, under the indisputable leadership of Jovellanos. 

They were years of hope and renewal, in which Goya's painting was filled with examples of neoclassical portraits, of his enlightened, intimate, family, close friends, while practicing a fierce social criticism of his environment full of  superstition, ignorance, and ecclesiastical arrogance.

The Napoleonic invasion crushed the foundations of the Enlightenment movement and neoclassical painting suffered a severe blow. Goya himself radically changed his style during and after the war, at which point he transitioned to Romanticism.

The Restoration marked the beginning of a second Spanish Neoclassicism movement but under the incompetent, despotic, and short-sighted King Fernando VII who promoted a eclectic style of painting to reflect his own values.

The best exponent of this painting was José de Madrazo y Agudo (1781-1859), the initiator of a dynasty of official painters who had great power in Madrid and its artistic school. 

Madrazo transformed the Cabinet of Natural History into the Prado Museum, in whose operation the Tesoro del Delfín, a  treasure made of gold and semi-precious stones, was installed as an artistic work and not as a natural curiosity.

In this second neoclassical moment, Goya was doing his own thing, while other Spanish artists were influenced by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), a preeminent French Neoclassical painter of the era, who decided that a history painting genre would harmonized with the climate of the final years.

José Aparicio e Inglada (1773-1838) and Juan Juan Antonio de Ribera (1779-1860), who studied and introduced David’s style to the Spanish Court, followed certain rules applied to the pictorial scene. These rules included 3 measures - a unit of action, a unit of time and a unit of space. 

These rules resulted in a grandiloquent and submissive art to the regime, appropriate to the ego of Fernando VII, who was now very frightened by Goya's creative and revolutionary ideas. As head court painter, Goya was replaced with the elderly and stagnant Vicente López. 

Spain kept up the neoclassical genre until 1830, when the tides were to change again. *end*