Week 5 From El Greco to Goya by Janis Tomlinson


Yes, another book about art in Spain, more assigned reading for the docent program.  This one is focused on painting, and covers only the time period from 1561 to 1828.  Tomlinson makes a distinction between “painting in Spain” and  “any fixed notion of Spanish painting.”  For instance, she asks, should the Italian artists who decorated the royal palace and monastery of the Escorial be considered Spanish?  Probably not, but they are crucial to the development of painting in Spain.  Also, later, the first Bourbon monarchs in Spain favored non-native artists.  She believes those artists should not be excluded from the discussion of painting in Spain.

In addition to useful map of Spain, this book includes a Timeline from 1481-1833 with the categories of 1) Politics and Religion, 2) Literature, 3) Painting, and 4) Architecture, Sculpture and Graphic Arts.  Americans recognize 1492 as it relates to Christopher Columbus, but it was also the year that Pope Alexander VI granted the title of Catholic king and queen to Ferdinand and Isabella; the year the Muslim kingdom of Granada fell to the combined forces of Castille and Aragon; the year of the expulsion of the Jews by Ferdinand and Isabella; and the publication of the first Grammar of the Spanish language.

I’ve been taking note of bits of information that I think people on museum tours might find interesting.  One of them involves the importance of the inclusion of accepted iconography in commissioned religious paintings.  El Greco painted “The Disrobing of Christ” in 1577-79.  There were disagreements with his patrons over price and iconography. “In accordance with the custom of the country, El Greco had painted on contract without a set price.  Once the work was finished in 1579, representatives of the artist and of the cathedral met to hammer out an agreement…El Greco’s party valued the work at 900 ducats; the cathedral at 228…specific improprieties [included] the heads of the supporting cast were placed above that of Christ, and the Three Marys included in the lower corner were nowhere mentioned in the Gospel.”  350 ducats was settled on, after two years of debate.  I never would have imagined such a thing!

(In addition to this book, I also read last week an assigned chapter in the book “What Are You Looking At?  The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art” by Will Gompertz.  The chapter is “Surrealism:  Living the Dream  1924-45.”  The museum will be opening an exhibition of Surrealist paintings by Salvador Dali in the fall, so docents are going to be studying the Surrealist movement.  Based on this chapter, I think this book will be a fun read.)

4 comments on “Week 5 From El Greco to Goya by Janis Tomlinson”

  1. Hi Teri- I am intrigued by your excursion into Spanish painting. When I was in high school… many moons ago… I went on a trip to Spain. Day one we visited the Prado in Madrid- and I was spell-bound by Velazquez’s painting, Las Meninas. Later, as an art major in college, I wrote my art history research paper on the painting, and filled at least ten pages.

    I also noted your mention of Louis Kahn in your last post, and several years ago, I discovered Kahn through the documentary, “My Architect” – an amazing movie made by his son- I highly recommend it. Anyway, you have inspired me to pull my book of Kahn’s “Essential Texts” down from my shelf and into a prominent spot on my reading list! We live a short drive from Yale- and I regularly visit the Yale Art Gallery- of course to see current exhibits, but also just to walk through the building Kahn designed, his stairwell is one of my favorite sacred spaces..

    Wishing I could be a visitor on one of your docent tours!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Las Meninas! So glad to know you have that connection to the painting. That painting will be studied for as long as paintings are studied. I would love to read your paper. Have you read “The Vanishing Velazquez: A 19th Century Bookseller’s Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece” by Laura Cumming? I enjoyed it.

      I loved “My Architect,” too. I did not know that Kahn had “Essential Texts.” Must check them out. We are fortunate to have the Kimbell Art Museum, one of his masterpieces, in our backyard. I was quite concerned when plans to expand were announced, but Renzo Piano did an excellent job, creating a separate building which faces and totally respects the original which wasn’t touched. I envy your proximity to the Yale Art Gallery.

      I see on the schedule for our training that we new folks won’t be foisted on the public until late October, and then in a properly limited way. Looks like it will be only one stop on a regular tour–after we’ve done a project to study it. I’m relieved about that.

      Liked by 1 person

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