The transition to the Baroque
The first section deals with the most important art centres for painting and sculpture during the reign of Philip III (1598–1621)
Being strongly influenced by El Greco, the former Castilian capital of Toledo occupied a special place during this period. Juan Sánchez Cotán, however, also played an important role. Together with the Madrilenian Juan van der Hamen, he was of particular importance for the development of the still life, the bodegón, into a widespread genre.The establishment of the court in Madrid from the middle of the 16th century gave an impetus to a vigorous flourishing of the economy and strong population growth, which was a natural attraction for numerous artists. The most important painters of Madrid, Vicente Carducho and Eugenio Cajés, freed themselves gradually from the previously dominant Italian influences by combining them with elements of Spanish popular piety. The interim relocation of the court to Valladolid during the years from 1601 to 1606 met with the emergence there of an independent Castilian sculpture school, which was, however, devoted almost exclusively to religious subjects. The foremost figure of this sculpture centre was Gregorio Fernández, who may be regarded as the most accomplished Spanish sculptor of the century.As a result of the dominance of ecclesiastical patrons, art in Valencia, which was under a noticeable Italian influence, appeared to be strongly committed to the spirit of the Counter-Reformation. Francisco Ribalta and his studio developed out of this a quite independent method of representation characterised by an emotionalism that was to be influential on José de Ribera.Even in wealthy and cosmopolitan Seville, by far the largest city in Spain at that time, the church was the most important patron of artworks. However, the local artists not only furnished the numerous convents and religious foundations of the port city with their religious pictures, but they also produced export items intended for America. Francisco Pacheco and Juan de Roelas, who were active in Seville as painters, were teachers and sources of inspiration for the most important artists of the following generation: Velázquez, Zurbarán and Murillo. In addition, Seville was the second centre for Spanish sculpture. As in Valladolid, the sculptures created here were mainly used in a religious context. The most important representative of the Sevillian school of sculpture was Juan Martínez Montañés whose works combined profound realism with graceful representation. These were the fundamental characteristics that shaped Andalusian sculpture until the 18th century
The generation of the great masters
In the second section, the focus is on the artistic golden age of the Siglo de Oro and its relationship to the intentions of political and religious power elites under Philip IV (1621-1665)
During the reign of Philip IV, under the influence of his favourite, the Count-Duke de Olivares, art developed into a crucial element of political propaganda. Targeted actions had now made Madrid into a mature, cosmopolitan city and the artistic centre of Spain. The city became a playground and meeting point for a new generation of painters embodying an entire array of especially talented artists. They carried on an unusually lively exchange among themselves, and yet at the same time each of them developed a distinct artistic language. The most important representative of this period was Diego Velázquez who is not associated with any particular genre, but who made especially important contributions to portrait painting. At the same time in the capital, Diego Polo and Antonio de Pereda established a tendency towards an intense colour palette, which was to have a formative effect on the subsequent generation.During the middle of the century, the former economic powerhouse of Seville was particularly affected by armed conflicts with Portugal and by the plague. Nevertheless, it remained the most important city in Andalusia, and in the realm of the arts it still exerted the greatest charisma and power of attraction. The most important artists from the region, such as Francisco de Zurbarán and Alonso Cano, were now also working at the court in Madrid. Zurbarán developed a very special visual language for his religious representations that approached the genre studies introduced by Francisco Pacheco and Juan de Roelas. During the final stage of this period, their model was particularly ground-breaking for the art of Murillo. The versatile Cano, who returned to his native Granada during the middle of the centruy, was active as a painter and sculptor as well as an architect. In his work, the artistic goals of these media stimulated each other in a special way.Jusepe de Ribera was from the Valencia region. Although he spent most of his artistic life in Italy, his works still found their way into royal and aristocratic collections. In this way, his painting technique and its iconographic conceptions exerted great influence on Velázquez, Zurbarán and Murillo.
The artists of the High Baroque
The last section treats the concentration of artistic activities in Madrid as a consequence of demographic, economic and political developments.
Begun under Philip IV, the policy of centralisation continued to expand during the reign of his son Charles II (1661-1700). Almost all other major Spanish cities suffered a decline in population and a loss of economic power. This resulted in a significant decline of artistic patronage within the province.During this period, special attention should be paid to four artists in Madrid who enjoyed the greatest success at the court: Francisco de Herrera ‘El Mozo’ as well as Francisco Rizzi and Claudio Coello as creators of large-scale trompe l'oeil decorations using fresco techniques, and Juan Carreño de Miranda as the court portraitist of King Charles II.Two figures in particular were very influential for the Sevillian High Baroque Bartolomé E. Murillo and Juan de Valdés Leal. Significantly affected by the surrounding social reality, they followed the path marked out by Francisco Pacheco and Juan de Roelas, and later continued by Francisco de Zurbarán, with a special interest in everyday life. Their lush compositions are characterised, especially in the work of Valdés Leal, by drama and extreme naturalism. Because the patrons in Seville were largely religious, many of their works have the character of devotional images.The sculpture of this period finds its most important representative in Pedro de Mena, who along with Alonso Cano was from Granada, and was trained in Seville. Cano had greatly expanded his sphere of influence by frequent travels. On this model, Mena expanded his studio into a full-fledged company that supplied sculpture via local representatives to the entire Iberian Peninsula.