Andalusian art

Nowadays, flamenco is a differential cultural artefact of Andalucia, recognized and treasured throughout the world, but when we talk about the ‘arte Andaluz’ we talk about much more besides. The art of Andalucia encompasses painting, sculpture, writing, poetry, film and television, and even humour. Andalucia’s role in the world of Spanish art is fundamental, and great schools and styles of art and representation have their origin in our community.

Great names that took the art of Andalucia out into the world are Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, Diego de Velázquez, Zurbarán and Murillo, Federico García Lorca and Rafael Alberti, and the great Málaga genius, Pablo Ruiz Picasso.

But the ‘arte Andaluz’ also refers to the idiosyncrasies of its people, to their cheer, perhaps the fruit of the number of hours of sunshine in Andalucia, or the enlightening influence of the centuries when it was a zone of confluence between cultures that opened our culture to the world.

The history of art in Andalucia

Andalucia has held a role of the first order in the development of Spanish art. There are conserved cave paintings and drawings dating back to the peoples who lived here in the later Paleolithic era (Cueva de la Pileta, Málaga), perhaps 25,000 years ago. Somewhat later, in the region of Almería (Los Millares), a Neolithic culture flourished; the megalithic monuments of Andalucia (Antequera, Trigueros) are the most important in Spain.

The Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Carthaginians did not leave a particularly deep artistic footprint here. However, the Roman presence marked a decisive change in the region, as witnessed by the preserved remnants at Itálica and Carmona, and the cultural high water-mark of Roman Spain.

With the Muslim invasion of 711, a chapter of sheer splendour was opened in the history of Andaluz art, not least with the construction of the Mezquita at Cordoba. We can date the lower levels of Seville’s iconic Giralda tower to the 7th century Almohad dynasties. Later, an indigenous style of art reached its full force in the Nasrid marvels of Granada, such as the Alhambra, a creative beacon that shone throughout Spain and which begat the Mudéjar, Arabic-Spanish, form, seen best in the Alcazar at Seville. Historical circumstances left few abiding impressions of either the Romanesque or Gothic periods. In the 15th century, under the influence of the Flemish school of art, painting and sculpture in Andalucia entered a period of brilliance. From the Gothic epoch there are the three spectacular paintings in the room of the Kings at the Alhambra. The central represents three 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.

Las Meninas (‘The Maids of Honour’)- Diego de Velázquez

The Italian influence was intense in the 14th century and began in earnest in the 15th; important examples are La Coronación de la Virgen, in the iglesia de Santa María de Arcos de la Frontera, and las Vírgenes de la Antigua y de Rocamador, in Seville cathedral.

In the second half of the 15th centuy, the Italian influence was supplanted by the Flemish, notably several painters of the Sánchez line in Seville, alongside Juan Núñez, author of a dramatic Piedad, or Piéta. In Cordoba, the most important work from this era is the delicate Anunciación de la catedral (1475), signed by Pedro de Cordoba.

With the discover of the Americas, both Seville and Granada became important artistic breeding grounds; the vast riches brought back from the New World underwrote the development of an Andalucian Renaissance, in which the most outstanding figures include Diego de Siloé and Pedro Machuca, and the painters A. Fernández, P. de Campaña and F. Pacheco. During the 17th century, ‘el arte andaluz’ reached its zenith: in architecture, and in the mannerist style, outstanding figures are  A. Cano and B.S. Pineda; in sculpture, J. Martínez Montañés, A. Cano and P. de Mena; in painting, oriented towards realism, D. Velázquez, F. de Zurbarán, B.E. Murillo and J. de Valdés Leal. The painting from the 18th century was a pallid reflection of that of the Baroque in Andalucia.

The architecture of Andalucia in the 19th and 20th centuries has a marked regionalist flavour (J. de Vargas, A. González). Among the sculptors of the fin del siglo epoch, noteworthy are M. Inurria and J. Cristóbal and, later, J. Haro, A. Teno and M. Berrocal. The painting of the 19th century, which evolved from the folk ‘costumbrismo’ style into a new form of realism, includes works by J. Jiménez Aranda and Julio Romero de Torres.

Alongside the figure of Pablo Picasso, responsible for Andalucia greatest contribution to 20th century art, the most important names of contemporary Andalucian painting are, among others, Francisco Mateos, Manuel Ángeles Ortiz, Rafael Zabaleta Fuentes and Jesús Caballero. In parallel, there also appeared important artistic groups in distinct Andalucian capitals: the Indalianos, named for the ancient icon-figure of the Indalo, in Almería, at whose front appears J. de Perceval,  who sought to link artistic and aesthetic forms from ancient times in the landscape of south-east Andalucia (from the Bronze Age culture of Agar); the groups Equipo y Espacio, in Cordoba, and the group of the faculty of Bellas Artes of Sevilla, comprised by, among others, A. Gavira, I. Barriobeña, J. Romero Escassi and F. Borrás.

The centralized politics of the 19th century was fatal for art in Andalucia, as for the other regions of Spain. The greater artists abandoned their home towns to seek success in Madrid, Paris or Rome. In this way, talented artists such as Antonio Esquivel produced most of their works in the royal court, amid the prevailing artistic conventions of the day. Others, such as José Gutiérrez de la Vega, followed in the portraitist tradition of Murillo. And among those who cultivated historic painting, Seville painter Eduardo Cano is outstanding, with canvases in which the Romantic and the Neoclassical have had a hand; thus, in his declamatory Entierro de D. Álvaro de Luna, or his Colón en La Rábida (1856).

Impressionism, in its later flourishing in Andalucia, has various representatives, but particularly J. M. López Mezquita, of Granada, and Gonzalo Bilbao (1860-1938), of Seville, who united technical ease with themes of an ‘mystical nature; José Arpa y Perea, in 1860, whose landscapes are of delicate chromatic tones. Among certain people defined by the pecularity of their themes in pre-war painting, J. Romero de Torres deserves fame. Although the great figure that Andalucia gave to contemporary art is, without doubt, the Malagueño Pablo Ruiz Picasso, many other Andalucian artists currently preserve the spirit of Spanish art in various parts of the world, among them the noteworthy figure of the Huelva painter Daniel Vázquez Diaz, proponent of an energetic and lyrical post-Cubism and a leader of the major part of the younger generation of Spanish pictorial artists.

El Guernica – Pablo Ruiz Picasso.  Museum of Modern Art, New York


In effect, and although flamenco is on of the cultural expressions that function as a clear ‘image of Andalucia’, this is a reflection that defines the role of flamenco in the construction of the Andalucian identity. We are better served by another of these interpretations to clarify various frequent misunderstandings of flamenco::

1.- Flamenco isn’t an archaic expression lost in ancient civilizations, but a recent phenomenon, modern, which forms part of the current history of Andalucia. The origin of its known evolution spans the middle of the 18th century to the end of the 19th century, in which period it crystallized fully as an artistic genre.

2.- The attribution of a mysterious, occult or exclusively private character to flamenco, one that confounds its understanding or scientific analysis, and in contrast to the historic discovery and documentation of its public performance since its first appearance, or as an art accessible to any audience.

3.- The notion of interdisciplinary interaction is not really relevant as so much of flamenco cannot be defined solely in musical terms, except that we might definite it as a ‘total cultural expression’. It includes elements that are musical-oral, but also modes of interrrelation and ideology that overarch its own expression. In fact, beneath the seeming international diffusion of flamenco as accepted today, there is hidden a twist that isn’t often recognized: only some of its dimensions, basically the expressive formalism – dances, music, performance, aesthetic – and, in minor part, oral, are transferrible and consumable as commodities in the marketplace of the arts.

               Camaron and Paco de Lucía

4.- In whatever case, we can distinguish between flamenco as an artistic genre, in which can be included the importance of creative and interpretative individualization, and its popular practice, as a collective and socialized experience. In the first case, flamenco unfolds in the artistic action of the passing moment; in the second, it expresses itself across the structure of social groups and networks, the ideologies reflected in the texts, and other aspects that we consider further below.

5.- It is in its artistic dimension or popular practice that flamenco undergoes processes of continual evolution that impedes its understanding as a fixed and completed product – ‘pure’ – or as an outdated example of forms of interrelation that are nearly extinct. As much formal as socially, flamenco is being constantly redefined in a permanent manner, transforming its contents, both musical and textual, and structural, but also its forms of group interaction and celebration, the cultures of work and performativity, etc

In the defence of flamenco as a cultural heritage in Andalucia, and part of our collective identity as a people, we find the enriching combination of aspects of very different natures and possible multiple meanings in the current use of the term in its agreed definition. By flamenco we understand an artistic genre that, since its beginnings, has been incorporated into the circuits of the marketplace and the mechanisms of commerce; a group or set of material goods; a compendium of musical-oral artworks of Andalucia; flamencos are the spaces and environs that produce the known practices under that rubric, such as the rituals and forms of interrelation, social transmission, and the development of groups. And, finally, flamenco can be seen as a way of life that transcends its own art, defining experience, attitude and behaviour.

Great figures from the world of flamenco:

 José Monge Cruz, Camarón, cantaor

Sara Baras, bailaora
Paco de Lucía, guitarrista
La Macanita de Jerez, cantaora
Rosario Montoya Manzano, Farruquita, bailaora
María Rosa García García, Niña pastori, cantaora
Antonio Gómez de los Reyes, Antonio Canales, bailaor
Jesús Rafael García Hernández, Rafael Amargo, bailaor
Enrique Morente Cotelo, cantaor
José Soto Soto, José Merce, cantaor
Diego Ramón Jiménez Salazar, Diego el Cigala, cantaor

Widen information on: Andalucian centre of contemporary art.


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