Mythmakers and Myth-busters: The Black Legend of Spain’s Golden Age
Tracing the construction of the ‘black legend’ through Spain’s artistic and cultural heritage, this session offers a lens through which to examine the complex reception of Spanish art abroad.
Following the closure of King Louis-Philippe’s Galerie Espagnole at the Louvre (1838–48) and the subsequent sale of Spanish paintings at Christie’s in 1853, the British travel writer Richard Ford declared: ‘Neither size nor subject [of these works] suit our creed, our climate, or our castles’. In 1914, the political writer Julián Juderías coined the term ‘black legend’ to describe the ‘fantastical tales’ that had emerged about the supposedly violent culture of Spain since the sixteenth century. Despite efforts by historians to dispel this myth, early modern Spain is still subject to being stereotyped as a dark and disturbing society. Yet there is a curious tension between the production and reception of the arts in Spain, as if Spanish artists themselves propagated their own mythology. Picasso once exclaimed to the French novelist and theorist André Malraux: ‘The life of the Spanish consists of Mass in the morning, the bullfight in the afternoon, and the whorehouse at night. What element do they have in common? Sadness.’
Tracing the construction of the ‘black legend’ through Spain’s artistic and cultural heritage, this session offers a lens through which to examine the complex reception of Spanish art abroad. How can we account for the emergence of artists as divergent as Ribera – renowned among contemporaries for his images of religious martyrdom, and transformed into the exemplary artist-executioner by the French Romantics – and Murillo, with his paintings of sweet Madonnas and children, so popular with collectors at home and abroad? How are we to reconcile the suppressed violence in the work of Velázquez with the overt brutality in the art of Goya, especially as together they tower over all other Spaniards in surveys both national and foreign? And what impact did the ‘black legend’ have on the artistic production in Spanish territories such as Naples, a city tainted by Napoli-phobia from the early modern period onwards? This session will address the intersections between making, meaning and reception in light of the ‘rediscovery’ of early modern Spanish art in nineteenth-century Europe.
Black Alba, the Captain of Folly, Richard Tilbury (Birkbeck)
'Rascally black Spanish things, Riberas and Zubbarans': The Black Legend in Britain, Edward Payne (Durham)
Violence and Desire: The Visual Legacy of Imperial Spain in the Mid-19C, Andrew Ginger (Birmingham)
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