El Greco to Velazquez – A Review

The Spanish court, specifically under the reign of Phillip IIIspain, is a period in art history where the mature El Greco and the young Velazquez flourished.The court of Phillip III “ushered in a time of elaborate celebrations and religious festivals, a major expansion in new building, and an unprecedented rage for art collecting in the Spanish court. Spain’s art became more naturalistic and expressive; the royal portraits are masterpieces of detailed elegance, and the religious figures have reality and solidity new to the genre,” according to the School Library Journal.

Scholarly Essays

In conjunction with the lavish world of Spanish court portraiture, Bass juxtaposes her rich subject matter with scholarly essays written by some of the nation’s leading art historians. Baer (senior curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and Schroth (senior curator, Nash Museum, Duke Univ.) lend their extensive knowledge on Spanish portraiture to the catalog with their thought-provoking and well-written essays on the subject. In addition to the inclusion of better-known names such as El Greco and Velazquez, Bass and her contributors also include lesser known artists who lived and worked in the court of Phillip III.

Foundation of the Spanish Style

Through the essays, the reader sees how the naturalistic and dramatic style of paitning would slowly come to define Spanish court portraiture under Phillip III and would go on to lend to the new innovations that would come in the future after El Greco and Velazquez. The history is rich and deep in the Spanish mindset and lends to the reader a fascinating journey of the evolution of court portraiture under each new reign.

Imagery

Bass includes over 170 color plates that are so well-lit and reproduced that the exhibition catalog without the essays would serve as a great way to understand the art of the court of Phillip III with just the imagery alone.

Crucial Artistic Development

As editor Ronni Baer notes in the description of the catalog, Phillip III “actually presided over an era of crucial artistic development in Spain. His reign was a time of cultural and political vitality for the Spanish monarchy, as the king and his court, having successfully maintained a peaceful foreign policy in Europe (the “Pax Hispanica”), ushered in a style of grandeur where fabulous gala celebrations, building campaigns, picture collecting, recreation and travel were the order of the day.

Accordingly, the art of this period flourished, witnessing the birth of a naturalistic style that was variously reflected in a new attention to detail and spatiality in court portraiture, the thriving of still life, the humanizing of saints and the development of polychrome sculpture.” Such a description only teases the reader as to what will unfold while reading Bass’ catalog.

El Greco to Velazquez by Laura Bass is available for purchase through MFA Publications with ISBN 0878467262.

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