Thursday, June 18, 2009

Painting and Sculpture

Pedro de Mena (1628–1688)
Christ as the Man of Sorrows, 1673
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Gregorio Fernández (about 1576–1636)
The Dead Christ, 1625–30
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Juan Martínez Montañés (1568–1649)
Saint Francis Borgia, 1624

In seventeenth century Spain, there flourished an artistic phenomenon: painted wooden statuary. It had flourished in other areas but had generally been rendered obsolete during the Italian Renaissance. The painted wooden statue continued to be a major form in Spanish art well into the 18th century and is still popular in folk art today

In October 2009, the National Gallery in London will host an exhibition entitled: “The Sacred Made Real Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600 – 1700” 21 October 2009 – 24 January 2010

The exhibition will bring together paintings and painted wooden sculptures by the great Spanish realists of the 17th century. And it will provide a reappraisal of the crucial role of these hyper-realist sculptures in the development of Spanish art.

Providing a unique experience, sculpture and painting will be displayed side-by-side.

This will be the first major exhibition to explore this relationship.

Most Spanish sculptures from this time were dedicated to key Christian themes. ‘The Sacred Made Real’ will explore how painters and sculptors combined their skills to create arrestingly life-like depictions of the saints, the Immaculate Conception and the Passion of Christ.

The aim was to produce greater realism and appeal directly to the emotions: Baroque emotionalism.

Not every painter was allowed to colour sculptures. Only those painters who had passed the examinations of the polychromers` guild were allowed to do this work. Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644) was one of the painters who did such work. He was the author of the Arte de la pintura, published posthumously after his death. In Spanish painting he was influential in his time. Today he is perhaps better known as the master and father-in-law of Diego Velázquez.

In such work, painters and sculptors needed to cooperate. However it was not all plain sailing. Disputes arose as to status and money.

Francisco Pacheco wrote a paper on the comparative merits of painting and sculpture. As you might expect he came down on the side of painters.

The occasion of the paper was a law suit which arose between Juan Martinez Montañés (1568–1649), the sculptor (known as “el dios de la madera” or “The God of Wood” on account of his ability), and certain painters on the question of the division of profits.

Montañés carved a retablo for the high altar of the Nuns of Santa Clara and received 6,000 ducats for the completed work.

He paid the artist who painted it and gilded it only 1,500 ducats, a sum which appeared to the artist and his confreres less than what he was due.

Pacheco censured the conduct of the carvers who coloured their own works as an infringement of the rights of artists.

Pacheco`s position has always appeared absurd especially in a city (Seville) where both arts were frequently and lawfully practised by the same master.

In his Arte de la pintura (1649), he further extolled the role of the painter in society and over the status of that of the sculptor. In this he was continuing the debate of Paragone (Italian: paragone, meaning comparison). This was a debate from the Italian Renaissance in which one form of art (architecture, sculpture or painting) was championed as superior to all others.

Leonardo da Vinci's treatise on painting, Trattato, noted the difficulty of painting and supremacy of sight and preferred painting over sculpture. It is perhaps not surprising that in Arte de la pintura, Pacheco makes frequent reference to the Trattato.

Despite the erudite arguments advanced on both sides about which art form was supreme, one really does get the impression that the underlying reasons for the dispute were: status and money.

Hopefully the exhibition will show that rather than argument, cooperation between painting and sculpture was the desirable option.