Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Art In Spain

One of the main reasons I wanted to come to Spain over the summer was to get my "Artistic Experience" AOI taken care of. As a result, the course I am taking at the University of Nebrija is called "Art in Spain". In this class, we are learning about and analyzing the paintings of five of Spain's most famous painters: El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, Picasso, and Dali.

So far in class, we have covered El Greco and Velazquez (I actually have a midterm about them tomorrow), and I'm starting to acquire a greater appreciation for art. Growing up, I couldn’t grasp the underlying meanings behind most works, and as a result I had very little interest. I viewed it as a discipline where meaning solely lies in the eyes of the beholder. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. I didn’t get it.

Many of the works by El Greco and Velazquez portrayed religious scenes from the Bible. Initially looking at the paintings, I am able to appreciate them more than I was before, because over the past few years, I have been able to come to grasp with what my savior has done for me. Both painters use various colors and symbols to portray different meaning, which I have found very interesting! Let me show you how…

“The Resurrection” by El Greco

  •  El Greco was commissioned by Maria De Aragon (she was the maid of honor of King Philip IV’s wife) to do a series of paintings titled “The Crucifiction”. She thought by doing this, she would be able to obtain a better place in heaven. It seems as if she didn’t understand much about Christianity (or in Spain Catholicism for that matter), because the Bible clearly states that man is saved by faith and not good works (Ephisians 2:8-9).
  • El Greco was notorious for painting his subjects with extreme body elongation. A normal person usually has a head height : body height ratio of 1:7, but El Greco used a ratio of 1:13.
  • Jesus has a diamond shaped Halo, an aspect El Greco added due to Byzantine tradition
  • The white flag doubles as a cloth of purity (a common aspect found in almost all of his paintings of Jesus) and a flag of victory (contrary to today’s association of a white flag with surrender). I love this, if Christ isn’t risen, we aren’t victorious
  • In almost all paintings, light appears from the top left hand corner, but in this painting light is radiating from Jesus himself. John 8:12!
  • The people below Jesus are Roman Soldiers, who are having all types of possible reactions: falling out of shock, being blinded by the light, sleeping, and the one wearing a blue robe is lifting his hands in acceptance, realizing that Jesus is the one, true savior. The men have been painted in a circle is a typical aspect found in many paintings from the Renaissance period.
  • Painters at this time were obsessed with the depiction of human anatomy, so you can see the muscles of Jesus are drawn with much detail (especially the arms)
  • This is probably my favorite painting by El Greco. I appreciated it even more when I was able to see it up close at the Prado Museum last week.  Its absolutely massive, about 12 ft x 6 ft. Seeing the immense detail up-close makes me appreciate the skill he had!

“The Forge of Vulcan”

  • This painting by Velazquez shows the realistic and natural depiction of humans – it looks real. The people in it almost look like they were photographed and pasted in the rest of the painting. Velazquez does not distort those in his painting like El Greco.
  • This is a Costumbrist-Mythological painting – it portrays everyday life and a mythological story at same time. The Greek god Apollo is the main in the orange robe, and Vulcan, the god of fire is standing to the right of Apollo. The story goes that Apollo wanted to have an affair with Vulcan’s wife, Venus, but she declined because she was already having an affair with Mars, the Greek god of war. To get back at her, he showed up in Vulcan’s Forge to tell him of the news, and as you can see by the expression on his face, he was shocked.
  • In the mythological story, Vulcan’s assistants were Cyclops (men having only one eye), and Velazquez is able to portray an everyday life scene by only painting the profile view of the men, so you can only see one eye.
  • It’s ironic in the picture that the men are preparing new armor for Mars (lower right hand corner)
  • If you look closely, you can see two vertical lines coming down the side of the paintings. These are called side repentances, and were added by Velazquez after the initial draft of his painting was complete in order to finish it. Without them, the picture would appear to be “zoomed in” too much and appear slightly awkward. A fascinating fact is that Velazquez never sketched out design before painting – he dove right in with color.

Tomorrow I have my mid-term exam in this class, and will have to explain the relevance and meaning behind paintings from El Greco and Velazquez. Also, on Monday I will have to analyze and present a painting by Surrealist Salvador Dali to the class. Dali’s work has always interested me, and I can’t wait to dive into it further. The painting I’m presenting is “The Portrait of Luis Bunel”

In regards to Maria De Aragon, who thought she could earn, or even get her way to heaven through good works is one of the biggest misconceptions about the gospel. In a book I just finished reading last night, “Thriving at College”, Alex Chediak illustrates a common misconception between the true and false gospels in relation to good works.

False Gospel

Faith + Good Works  Salvation

True Gospel

Faith  Salvation + Good Works

In Christ,


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