Conquest and Spanish Art

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The 7th and 8th centuries in Spain were marked by conquest, empires, crusades, and religions. As a vulnerable young country, Spain was captured by Muslim invaders, called Moors ( historic populations of people from Berber, Black African, and Arab descent in North Africa.) The Moors vested control of what is now present day Spain and Portugal for 800 years; present day Spain went from Roman and Germanic control to becoming controlled by Islam.

What would Spain do now?

There were some who revolted. With the initial invasion of the Muslims, only a few regions of peoples rose up and resisted. This resistance was called the Reconquista. Composed of Christian kingdoms, the Reconquista succeeded in retaking and repopulating the Iberian Peninsula throughout the 800 year Muslim reign. Charlemagne, a notable historical figure who made an impact in the Crusades of the Holy Roman Empire, was one of the recognizable leaders of the Reconquista .

Despite the resistance to Islamic rule the Muslim control held fast, and the Moorish influence reached as far as Salvador Dali’s art and previous Roman rule touched the art of Joan Miro.

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The Roman Invasion of Hispania

The Roman Empire: home of the coliseum, vicious emperors, and blood thirsty gladiators. It was under the Roman Empire and succeeding empire’s that the foundation of Spanish art was laid.

Before Spain was an independent country, Spain was territory that would be invaded and conquered repeatedly. Before the Muslim invasion, the Germanic kingdom (called the Visigoth kingdom) had control of the Peninsula. But before the Visigoths, the great Roman Empire reached the borders of present day Spain.

Roman Influence

With the period of Roman rule over the Iberian Peninsula, Rome exported art models throughout all of Europe (and parts of Africa and Asia) that provided a standard of aesthetics that still reaches to today. This art legacy left a mark even after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Roman art influences touched the areas of sculpture, architecture, mosaics, and frescoes. It was the Roman frescoes that influenced Dadaist artist Joan Miro. He studied at La Lonja School of Fine Arts in Barcelona, and in 1918 set up his first individual exhibition at the Dalmau Galleries, in the same city. His works before 1920 reflect the influence of different trends, like the pure and brilliant colors used in Fauvism, shapes taken from cubism, and influences from folkloric Catalan art and Roman frescos from the churches.

With Roman architecture came Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian columns, which displayed the functionalism and decor of Roman art; the Pantheon of Rome is a prime example of Roman art in architecture. These Roman designs are seen in Hispania’s religious architecture. Roman city designs were also found in Urban city structures of Hispania, as well as Roman engineering systems like aqueducts, ports, routes, and bridges.

The expansion of the Roman Empire affected Hispanic art and culture. Even with the Visigoths dominance in 414 Roman artistic tradition was carried on, whereas the Arab civilization (which gained mastery over the Visigoths in 711) had a unique influence on Spanish art. The Arab civilization in Spain influenced surrealist artist Salvador Dali. Dali claimed that his ancestors descended from the Moors and Dali even attributed his “love of everything gilded and excessive, his passion for luxury and love of oriental clothes to a self-styled Arab lineage.”

Before Spain was Spain it was Roman, German, and Islamic. Spanish nationality had not be established, so much of Spain’s art was conceived in Roman tradition. With the fingers of Rome wrapped around Spain what turn would the development of Spanish art take?