With my research grant from the College Alumni Association, I was able to travel to Spain to see in-person the art I have learned about in my art history seminar on the topic of baroque art during the Spanish Golden Age (approximately 1492-1651). I was able to explore the art made directly before, during, and after the Spanish Golden Age as well as during the Spanish Netherlands period in which the Spanish Habsburgs controlled territory in Spain and the Low Countries. I travelled here to begin to understand and experience how the works were displayed in Spain and the context in which paintings from outside of Spain entered Spanish culture. The only way to do this is see paintings in their original location and/or in proximity to each other.
My research was conducted by going to museums, palaces, and churches in Spain to explore art that was made in this period. This project is all about seeing the art in-person. Madrid is home to some of the most incredible museums in the world, including the Prado which has an extensive collection of art from Spain and the Low Countries. El Escorial is a Spain royal site that includes in art gallery containing works by Flemish and Spanish masters and a large collection of relics. Visiting a painting in person allows close, deep looking and is the only way to truly understand a painting’s scale, color, texture, and style of brushstrokes—images online or in books simply cannot provide this. A key point in this method is that the Prado will allow me to see these works by Spanish and Dutch artists displayed in the same place and imagine how they were displayed during the Spanish Golden Age and the reign of the Catholic monarchs—the Prado is as close to recreating this context and display as possible. I was able to see and imagine how pieces of art were displayed by the ruling class and why. The small city of Toledo is home to El Greco masterpieces including Burial of the Count of Orgaz in the Church of San Tome as well as the El Greco Museum and beautiful architecture. Here I saw a work in its original location and context which is rare in the study of western art history—that’s why going to Toledo to see this El Greco masterpiece was a unique opportunity to think about broader contexts tied to physical location. Toledo has a fascinating history of religious strife and changing demographics during the Golden Age and it was fascinating to see an El Greco on display in its original church context and explore how he deliberate chose to make these piece for this specific location. Additionally, Seville can be seen as the port that opened Spain to a Golden Age of arts and culture, as well as the birthplace of Diego Velázquez, where I visited the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville, which focuses specifically on Baroque art from Spain in put in context with Baroque movements in the rest of Europe.
What I truly realized during this trip was that art and artist in Spain are very tied to specific locations and people of power—such as Velazquez in Madrid, El Greco in Toledo, and Zurbaran in Sevilla. There is a lot of intentionality tied to the subject matter, style, and maker of a piece of art in Spain during the Golden Age monarchies.