The Spanish Siglo de Oro, or ‘Golden Age’, is one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of Western art. Just when the most powerful nation in 17th-century Europe was rapidly losing its hegemony and went into political decline, Spanish art experienced its greatest flourishing. It was the era of masters like El Greco (1541–1614), Diego Velázquez (1599–1660), Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664) or Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682).
Decline of Power – Flourishing of the Arts
Around 1600, Spain was the most powerful country in the world. Its vast territory spanned all five continents. During the 17th century, however, sovereign defaults, doomed wars and the plague all took a heavy toll on the position of the Spanish Habsburgs and their empire. Yet despite this political downturn, the arts were blooming: the King and the Church formed a close union in employing artists for a common cause. They used artworks as a means of propaganda, signalizing strength and stability in times of crisis.
Palaces, churches and monasteries received opulent decorations. Painters in service of the court showcased royal power with grandiose history paintings and portraits. The Catholic Church used paintings and sculptures to underline its Counter-Reformation endeavours: Religious depictions were designed to guide the populace towards the true faith. A key strategy was to overwhelm the viewer. To this day, the polychrome sculptures of this era in particular are so lifelike that their appeal cannot be eluded. The juxtaposition of realism and theatricality, the profane and the sacred makes Spanish art of this period so exceptional.
Kings and Artists
The exhibition offers a surprisingly multifaceted survey of the Siglo de Oro, on a scale previously unseen outside of Spain. It places the artistic creation of the great masters that occurred during the reigns of Philip III (1598–1621), Philip IV (1621–1665) and Charles II (1665–1700) in a historical context. Apart from the world famous masters, this is an opportunity to discover less familiar painters like Francisco Pacheco (1564–1664), Juan van der Hamen (1596–1631) or Alonso Cano (1601–1667). And for the first time in Germany, preeminent sculptors like Gregorio Fernández (1576–1636), Juan Martínez Montañés (1568–1649) and Luisa Ignacia Roldán (1652–1706) can be discovered.
Around one hundred masterpieces from international collections will be on display, including loans from Madrid’s Museo del Prado, the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris.
The exhibition is being held under the joint auspices of His Majesty Felipe VI of Spain and Federal President Joachim Gauck.
An exhibition cooperation with the Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.