IN THIS LECTURE we will look at the visual development of the neoclassical style of painting in Spain from the mid-18th to the early 19th century. We will look at the most important painters of this period and their defining works. We will also examine the elements that characterise Spanish Neoclassicism as an academic standard that would prevail into 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 decadent life in Naples, where he was surrounded by Roman and Renaissance influences. This king also married a cultured Austrian princess, Maria Amalia of Saxony (1724-1760).

When he arrived in the capital of his new Spanish kingdom, he found Madrid to be "a city of huts and convents", with no cobblestones, no lighting and no town 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 redesigned the city in the style of French neoclassicism.

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

Carlos III brought his favourite painter, Antonio Rafael Mengs (1728-1779), to Madrid to control and organise the teaching of painting through an academic system. The academy in Madrid was named the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando and was of crucial importance. The establishment of academies and factories was directly dependent on the king, who wanted to regulate and control artists and their works. This tyrannical system was in direct opposition to the creativity and originality of the artists and this domination would eventually backfire 

At this time, however, the academies functioned as mechanisms of renewal and progress. Mengs was the first star of neoclassicism before the Neapolitan invasion and José de Madrazo y Agudo (1781-1859) was the rising star of neoclassicism during the restoration of the Spanish crown.

Mengs based his classical style on the Italian artists of the High Renaissance: Correggio (1494-1534) and Raphael (1483-1520). Both painters were known for their highly idealised depictions of forms and compositions, carefully and effortlessly drawn.

Mengs was trained as a theoretician, and his intellectual weight and rigour of drawing made him a fundamental contributor to the renewal of a new classicism in court painting. However, his sterile style and extremely unfriendly personality made him unpopular at court, so that his renewal only reached the circle closest to the king.

Nevertheless, he succeeded in eliminating the unsavoury and boastful elements of the past that weighed on Spanish painting. He created a new official portrait consisting of a three-quarter pose, without psychological penetration and without the apparatus or "pomp" and drama as in the Baroque and Rococo. His style was maintained under Carlos IV and gained some followers, among whom Mariano Salvador Maella (1739-1819) and Vicente López Portaña (1772-1850) stood out.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) gladly went over to neoclassicism and enjoyed its fame within the enlightened circle of intellectuals grouped around certain noble houses such as Osuna, Chinchón and Alba, under the unquestioned leadership of Jovellanos.

These were years of hope and renewal, when Goya's painting was filled with examples of neoclassical portraits of his enlightened, intimate family and close friends, while at the same time he sharply criticised his surroundings, full of superstition, ignorance and ecclesiastical arrogance.

The Napoleonic invasion destroyed the foundations of the Enlightenment movement and neoclassical painting suffered a severe blow. Goya himself radically changed his style during and after the war and turned to the imaginative style of the sublime, later called Romanticism.

The Restoration marked the beginning of a second Spanish neoclassical movement, but under the incompetent, despotic and short-sighted King Ferdinand VII, who promoted an eclectic style of painting that reflected his own values.

The best representative of this painting style was José de Madrazo y Agudo (1781-1859), the initiator of a dynasty of official painters who held great power in Madrid and his school of art. 

Madrazo transformed the Natural History Cabinet into the Prado Museum, in the operation of which the Tesoro del Delfín, a treasure of gold and semi-precious stones, was placed as a work of art rather than 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), an outstanding French neoclassical painter of the period, who decided that a genre of history painting would harmonise with the climate of recent years.

José Aparicio e Inglada (1773-1838) and Juan Antonio de Ribera (1779-1860), who studied David's style and introduced it to the Spanish court, followed certain rules that were 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 led to a pompous and subservient art to the regime, which suited the ego of Ferdinand VII, who was now very frightened by Goya's creative and revolutionary ideas. Thus, the supreme court painter Goya was replaced by the older and stagnant Vicente López.

Spain retained the neoclassical genre until 1830, when the tide turned again. 

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Resource Books written by
Karla Ingleton Darocas 
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