The Andalusian architecture

We can talk, above all in certain epochs, of a typical artistic style that is Andalucian; its most important characteristic being an eclecticism based in its people’s great ability for absorption, transformation and synthesis, which it has gained from the passing waves of invaders. In this way, along with a certain ethnic mindset, diverse artistic currents, arriving from either West or East, have been transformed in the Andalucian crucible and acquired a particular character, in which the contrast between the exaltation of decorative forms and the structural simplicity is its principal characteristic.

From the middle ages up to the present day, the architecture of Andalucia has gone through key moments in which its school has been the cradle of civilizations and structures in which the factors that make it suitable for religious buildings are just as valid for secular ones. Thus, the Caliphal arches that we can see in the Mezquita of Cordoba form parts of the houses and palaces of the era, and the windows that fill the towers and mezquitas are also built into houses and doorways.

History of architecture in Andalucia

Sarcofagos fenicios. Arquitectura Andaluza. AndaluciaNo noteworthy buildings from the peoples and times of the Tartessians, Carthaginians and Phoenicians have survived into the present day, but from this epoch there are towns and villages in which the Andalucian structural style of the period has come to dominate in the settlements of the post-Conquest.

There are numerous remains in cities such as Cádiz, in whose museum you can see the oldest known Phoenician sarcophagus in Europe, from the 3rd century BCE, or the Treasure of Carambolo from the lost city of Tartessos, about the 5th-3rd century BCE, that you can visit in the Aljarafe district of Seville, a gold artefact of particular richness, and an impressive example of gold working unknown in its era.

The Romans left great settlements which have survived into the modern day, such as Italica and Baelo Claudia, to highlight just two, and where you can see the typical architecture of the period, with great temples and well-defined streetplans, as well as  houses and imposing mosaics covering the floors of the mansions of the patriarchs.

Roman amphitheatre of Itálica. Seville

The Visigothic domination perpetuated, in minor key, the greatness of Roman art in the region. Notable from the 6th century are the remains of a church with a baptismal chapel in San Pedro de Alcántara (Málaga), of great archeological interest and related to other monuments in north Africa. One of the most important displays of gold craft from this era is the Treasure of Torredonjimeno.

Mosque of Córdoba

During the Muslim presence, Andalucia reached one of its most fortunate artistic moments, a moment that endures and resonates in popular architecture in Andalucia in the modern day. Cordoba was transformed into one of the cities richest in monuments during the 9th and 10th centuries, dominated by the Mezquita. If this is the master work from the Caliphal period, the Giralda of Seville is its partner from the Almohad era, and the Alhambra of Granada its equal from the Nasrid period. Away from these grand monuments, testimony to the past achievements of the Muslim architects can be seen in the mezquitas of Seville and Almería, the palaces of Medina-Azahara outside Cordoba, the alcazabas (forts) of Granada, Málaga and Almería, and the red walls of the historic and artistic centre of Niebla. Along with these, ivories, textiles, jewellery, ceramics and glassworks help us reconstruct the Islamic past of Andalucia.

Alhambra de Granada

The conquest of Andalucia by the Castilians supposes a leap between the splendour of Arabic culture and until the Romanesque priod in this region, a time and place of repeated wars that precluded much secular and religious architecture.

On the contrary, the Gothic had a great preponderance during the 14th and 15th centuries. One of the ways it combined the Mudéjar and other styles appears in its pristine purity, such as in the cathedral of Seville (1402), one of the greatest religious structures in Christianity, built over the foundations of an older Almohad mezquita and constructed by Norwegian masterbuilders, who made in it one of the greatest European buildings from the Spanish Gothic era. From the end of that century comes the ultimate cardinal example of the Gothic of the Reyes Católicos, the ‘christian monarchs’ Isabel and Ferdinand: the Capilla Real, royal chapel, of Granada. Among the multitude of Gothic palaces conserved in Andalucia, the most remarkable are the reconstructions of the alcazabas, forts, of Seville and Cordoba, where – especially in the former – a radical form of Mudéjar style triumphs. In the Gothic sculpture of Andalucia, the middle 15th century in Seville is an epoch of splendour, its principal artist, the Breton Lorenzo Afercadente.

The most important paintings conserved in Andalucia from the international Gothic style are those of the profane topic that adorn the three ceiling vaults of the rooms of the Reyes (monarchs) in the Alhambra.The central represents various Nasrid rulers; from this we situate the image in the year 1400 or so; but even more beautiful are the side paintings, with scenes of ‘amor caballeresco’, which might translate as courtly love.

Jardines de Carlos V. GranadaThe Renaissance, which began and continued during the early years of the 16th century in the newly conquered kingdom of Granada, converted the mezquitas into churches, a project which attracted many architects to the region. Among these the most outstanding are Machuca and Siloé. Pedro Machuca was responsible for the palace of Carlos V in the Alhambra, with the most monumental facade in Renaissance Spain, and the circular patio, which is simultaneously the most sober and grandiose of all the works of mannerist architecture.

But when Diego de Siloé, from Burgos, was founding the most important architectural school in Andalucia, coinciding with the construction of Granada cathedral, fame was certain to endure. The cathedrals of Málaga and Guadix, along with other edifices such as the cabecera, or body, of the church of Santa Maria de Ronda, closely following the structures of the Granada cathedral. In close contact with the style of the Burgos architect, these formed the Jaén ‘school’, whose most acclaimed exponent was Andrés de Vandelvira, who designed the cathedral of Jaén, the church of el Salvador and the Hospital de Santiago in Úbeda.

In Seville, outweighed by the splendour achieved thanks to the commerce with the Indies, no such genuine architectural school appeared. Without doubt, there appeared at this time a group of buildings, beautiful and heterogeneous, in Renaissance form. The greater number of these were the works of architects from outside Andalucia. Thus, the Valladolid-born Diego de Riaño built the Ayuntamiento building, directing it constructions for a short while, a responsibility then continued by the Basque Martín de Gainza, to who also fell the responsibility for the decorative works, which make this building one of the one sumptuous of the Plateresque style. He was also responsible for the Capilla Real (royal chapel) of the Cathedral. Seville’s Renaissance was culminated by the building of La Lonja, today the Archivo de Indias (which houses the papers from the expeditions to the Americas), in which the rigid style set out by Juan De Herrera was enriched in its facade with a combination of brick and ashlar stone. Contrastingly, in some Seville palaces such as the Palacio de las Dueñas and the Casa de Pilatos, Renaissance style is combined with a delicious Mudéjarism, where columns and capitals of Genoa marble support arches in the Muslim tradition and skirting fittings in which patterned Triana glazed tiles recur along the walls, while the coffered ceilings are in the morisco style, named after the arts of those Muslims allowed to remain in Spain after the Reconquest. Possibly later in the century, designed by an unknown hand, came the busy oval-shaped chapter room of the Cathedral.

In Cordoba, the same as in Granada, the architectural school was homogeneous, formed by the Hernán Ruiz family, also originally from Burgos. Hernán Ruiz the first (d. 1547) is even a Gothic-influenced architect and his master work is the Cathedral (1523) constructed in the middle of the Mezquita; the Renaissances forms became exuberant in these, in contrast to the simplicity of the Muslim buldings. The great achievement of Hernán Ruiz the second (d. 1569) is the church of the Hospital de la Sangre (blood) in Seville; but the pinnacle is quite literally the delicious belltower, which was topped off in 1586 with the ancient Almohad minaret, a construction best known by the weathervane-like revolving statue of Faith at its top, as La Giralda. The last artist of the Hernán Ruiz line reshaped the minaret of the Mezquita at Cordoba, causing it to collapse; in this tower we perceive strong influences of the style that informs El Escorial outside Madrid and with that the final stage of the Renaissance, since, in 1604, at the death of Hernán Ruiz the third, the Baroque began to rise in Spain.

The primary sculptural works of the Renaissance to appear in Andalucia were the product of Italian importation. The principal artist to send the largest number of sculptures and funerary monuments to the Peninsula, and in a style special to Andalucia, was Domenico A. Fancelli de Settignano, who designed the sepulchre of archbishop Hurtado de Mendoze in Seville cathedral and the luxurious sepulchre of the Reyes Católicos in Granada cathedral. Other sculptors who sent their works to Andalucia were Gazini and Aprili, sculptures for various sepulchres, carved in Genoa and sent to Seville by sea; among the most beautiful are those of the parents of the first Marqués de Tarifa, now conserved in the church at the University; they are signed by Pace Gazini and Antonio María Aprili of Carona. A famous Florentine sculptor and fellow student of Michaelangelo, Pietro Torrigiano, was responsible for extremely important sculptures in Seville, such as the Virgen con el Niño and that of San Jerónimo, made of baked clay. In Granada, the leading sculptor was Jacopo Florentino, ‘El Indaco’, whose best known work is the Santo Entierro of the Museo Provincial. Italian sculptors were not only drawn to Andalucia; the French sculptor Miguel Perrin worked in Seville during the middle 16th century, and he was responsible for the Entrada de Jesús en Jerusalén, as well as the statues that frame the relieves in the western entrances of the Cathedral, and which following the Seville tradition were also constructed with baked clay; these works date from 1519; much later they would be translated to León and Santiago de Compostela.

By contrast, Roque Balduque was Flemish, and his Virgenes con el Niño are works full of a special charm, creating a defined type; prominent among these is that of Seville’s Hospital de la Misericordia (1558); in the Colegiata of Osuna there are Balduque works that stand out from a small and delicious altarpiece. One of the lesser Spanish artists who formed a school in Andalucia during the 16th century was the Castilian Bautista Vázquez (d. 1589), responsible for the classicist relieves of the chapter room of  Seville Cathedral  (1581-86); there are also works from this style in Granada, most notably the grand altarpiece of San Jerónimo, credited to diverse artists. With Vázquez we see the beginning of an authentically Andalucian school of  sculpture which would reach fruition in the following century. Among these paladins of Andalucian mannerism  the most famous is Pablo de Rojas, whose principal work is the aforementioned altarpiece and whose amanuensis was Martínez Montañés.

Sepulchre de Cristóbal Colon. The grandiose tomb, made for the cathedral at Havana at the end of the 19th century, was transported to Seville Cathedral after the declaration of independence of Cuba.

The Baroque, which in its earliest moments conserved a classicist sensibility in Andalucia, came to take its own forms in this region that would themselves inform the 17th century. In Granada, Alonso Cano, who worked in the three arts, was the first to create an important school, the Granada School, whose influences extended into nearby regions, becoming decisive in the development of Baroque architecture in Andalucia. The second phase of the style began in Seville towards the end of the 17th century, with the works of the fecund Leonardo de Figueroa, whos artistic personality culminated in the creation of the Colegio de San Telmo de 1722; Antonio Matías de Figueroa was responsible for the beautiful church of la Palma del Condado, where the mouldings curve inwards with the characteristic Baroque rhythm; with these the Seville buildings were clad in plaster work, white stone and glazed brickwork, returning to the Muslim two-colour ‘bícroma’ tradition; these artists were influenced by a decisive mode in the architecture of lower Andalucia, which even in modern times is still constructed in the cities and towns below the line they mark. In 1729 in Cádiz, at that time the principal maritime port in the trade with the Americas, Vicent Acero began work on the last great Spanish cathedral. In Cordoba and Granada, Hurtado Izquierdo and his disciples were responsible for important projects, among which stand out the Sagrario de la Cartuja in Granada, and the sacristy, where they achieved original effects to apply to the Baroque the techniques of Muslim yeseria, plaster work.

The master who initiated the peak period of Seville sculpture was Juan Martínez Montañés; his classicist and resposeful art influenced not only the sculptors but also the painters of the era. His most important disciples was Juan de Mesa. José de Arce, whose evangelical office of the Colegiata de Jerez made the Baroque most patent, inaugurated another new phase. However, with him the movement reached a level of paroxysm, and that of the gesture  is reached with Pedro Roldán. In Granada, Alonso Cano was the initiator of a sculptural school whose stars were Pedro de Mena and José de Mora, who with their family members Diego and Bernardo realized a form of sculpture more vibrant than any by Cano, although at times lacking tehnique, but which was the precendent for the works that Duque and Cornejo produced in the 18th century, here and in Cordoba.

More information: Enciclopedia GER, Tesoro de Carambolo.

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