Friday, July 16, 2010

Spanish Polychrome Sculpture, Ancient and Modern

I was disappointed recently, to not be able to see an exhibition that was at both National Galleries (Washington DC and London) called "The Sacred Made Real." It featured the Spanish baroque naturalism that I love, painters such as Velazquez and Zurburan. It also had a number of examples of Spanish baroque sculptors who worked in wood. These are referred to as ‘polychrome’ meaning many colours, because as you can see, they were all painted. I was not aware of this tradition at all until I visited Granada about five years ago. The Bishop of Granada, who I was lucky enough to meet had a great interest in art. He told me that he thought Alonso Cano the greatest Baroque artist because of his polychrome sculptures. I was only able to find one of his polychrome sculptures to reproduce here, but have included a wonderful painting by him instead. (Notice how in classic baroque style, the focus is on the person of Christ and so his face is in shadow.)

Back to the sculpture; you can see the same stylistic features used by the stone sculptors of the time, even though these artists are not ‘painting in shadow’, as stone sculptors such as Bernini did (as I wrote about last week, here). For example, they display the same exaggerated angular folds in the cloth to give the form vigour. Perhaps this is because the artist who sculpted the figure, who is the one usually given the credit, did not do the painting as well. There were specialist polychrome painters who did that.

There is an artist in Spain today who is producing work in a similar vein called Dario Fernandez. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any images that I am able to reproduce here, but there are plenty on his website and he is well worth looking up.

Works shown (all from the 17th century), from top: Scourging at the Pillar, Gregorio Fernandez;John of God, Alonso Cano; The Scourging at the Pillar, Alonso Cano; Suffering Christ, Gregorio Fernandez; St Teresa of Avila, Gregorio Fernandez; Christ of Sorrows, Pedro de Mena; Crucifixion, Juan Martinez-Montanez

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