Spanish Art & Culture
Posted by Dreamer
An introduction to Spanish art and culture – past and present – including architecture, dance, fashion, film, literature, music, painting, and sculpture.
Long influenced by Europe, North Africa, and the wider world, as well as drawing upon Spain’s own layers of tradition and deep regional roots, Spanish culture has been one of Spain’s greatest sources of pride – and one of its greatest exports.
From tall Gothic spires to the unmistakable sounds of flamenco-rock, Spain and its cadre of artists, writers, and architects have long been both cosmopolitan and inward-looking, able to live in the world and apart from it, often managing to combine both at the same time – all in the name of Spanish culture.
The Romans left their mark on Spain, leaving behind the aqueducts, bridges, and theatres that we can still see today. The same is true of Spain’s other rulers: Visigothic churches with horseshoe arches, pre-Romanesque churches from isolated Christian rulers in northern Spain, and fine Islamic architecture built under Moorish rule that made extensive use of arches, tiles, geometric patterns, and courtyards, the zenith of which can be found in Granada’s Alhambra palace.
The struggle between Christian and Moorish Spain brought about a cross-pollination of techniques and styles, bringing Mozarabic, Mudéjar, and Romanesque architecture to light. These styles are most evident in the churches that litter the Spanish countryside. Spain’s Gothic and Renaissance architecture is also best remembered for its religious manifestations: the towering cathedrals of Burgos, León, Toledo, Sevilla, and Granada, as well as a great number of churches.
In the 20th century, Modernisme (known as Art Noveau in other countries) left its mark mostly on Barcelona, of which Antoni Gaudí’s efforts are the best known. This was followed by Art Deco in Madrid, mainly concentrated along Gran Vía, and then a later, sober Francoist style.
Today architect Santiago Calatrava’s white City of Arts and Sciences complex in Valencia and (American) Frank Gehry’s undulating titanium of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao best exemplify contemporary architecture in Spain.
Regional popular dance has traditionally been a staple of dance in Spain, which includes the intense, highly-acclaimed flamenco from Andalucía; sevillanas, also from Andalucía, with dancers paired into couples but still bearing many similarities to flamenco; sardana from Cataluña, a group dance performed in a circle; and muñeira from Galicia and Asturias, accompanied by percussion instruments. The jota, danced with castanets, can be found all over Spain, though there are many regional variations to the dance.
Today Spain’s dance panorama is best celebrated in the theatre and is dominated by contemporary “Spanish dance” – a fusion of Spanish styles as exemplified by the Spanish National Ballet (Ballet Nacional de España). Other excellent and not-to-be missed styles include modern flamenco, flamenco-ballet, and contemporary dance.
Using a lot of black, Spanish fashion was preeminent in Europe during the Golden Age (the middle of the 16th century to the middle of the 17th century), but then later lost out to French fashion as the model to emulate. In the 20th century, influential fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga – one of the grands couturiers along with Christian Dior and Coco Chanel – continued the Spanish tradition by using a lot of black in his creations.
These days the epitome of Spanish fashion can be found twice a year at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Madrid, previously known as Pasarela Cibeles and Cibeles Madrid Fashion Week. This is Spanish fashion’s international showcase of the latest styles from Spanish designers like Victorio & Lucchino, Maya Hansen and Devota & Lomba. As is often the case with high fashion, Madrid's Fashion Week tends to offer up more art and luxury than accessible, wearable clothing, leaving the high street chains to provide the bulk of everyday fashions for the Spanish populace with Spanish stores like Mango, Springfield, Pull and Bear, Zara, and Desigual prevailing.
Apart from the strong tradition of historical films, the Spanish film canon is largely an absurdist delight. Though Spanish filmmaking began at the end of the 19th century, modern Spanish cinema could be said to have begun with Luis Buñuel, a surrealist filmmaker, whose first film, Un chien andalou, was a collaboration with surrealist painter Salvador Dalí. He went on to make classic films in Spain, Mexico, and France. Spanish cinema’s current leading figure is filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, whose first film was the strange, early Movida-fuelled Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón. His subsequent films have been heralded as contemporary pop classics.