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Spanish Renaissance - Comparative Analysis

( Originally Published 1921 )

A. Plans.—In churches, wide naves are usual, and a general largeness of scale is prevalent in the later rectangular churches, which are some-times without aisles. A " cimborio " (lantern or dome) is common at the crossing (p. 68i B) ; transepts and apsidal chancels are usually shallow, and the ritual choir remains west of the transepts, as in many Spanish churches of the Gothic period. The " patio " (pp. 679 B, 68o A), or Spanish version of the Roman atrium and Italian cortile, is universal in houses, and is given even greater seclusion, doubtless due to Moorish influence ; thus in Toledo only occasional glimpses of the " patio " can be obtained through doorways in jealously enclosing walls. Staircases, like that in the transepts of Burgos Cathedral, are often on a grand scale. The spacious " patio " and broad staircase in the Casa Infanta, Saragossa, and the Alcazar, Toledo, make as picturesque and fanciful a group as any in Spain.

B. Walls. Walls were usually of stone ; granite was employed for the Escurial and in Madrid, while brickwork bonded with stone was used in the Moorish districts of Saragossa and Toledo. The arabesque parapets, as in the Palacio de Monterey, Salamanca, and the projecting timber cornices of the Saragossa palaces are both equally characteristic. The typical walls are plain below, with few openings, except the elaborate doorways, probably due to Moorish precedent, while the upper windows are accentuated by a wealth of ornament. The top storey is frequently designed as a continuous arcade (p. 675 B), which with its deep shadow gives an impressive finish to the building. This served as an evening resort, much as did the flat parapeted roofs of the East. The internal walls of the great saloons of the early palaces are of plain stonework, ten or more feet in height, hung with tapestry. The steeples attached to the Cathedrals of Santiago, Granada (p. 685 A), Jaen (p. 685 c), Malaga, Saragossa, and Carmona, are some of the many varieties of this feature to be found throughout Spain.

C. Openings.—Arcades were treated with lavish decoration, especially in the " patios," as at Avila (p. 679 B) and at Burgos (p. 68o A), where they give special character to this central space. Doorways were important features, and, following Moorish tradition, were designed on a grand scale, as at Toledo and elsewhere (pp. 675, 676, 679 A, 686 A), probably due to the prominence given to gateways in Oriental countries. Windows are framed in richly carved stonework, and are flanked by small columns on corbels, and finished by a highly ornamental head (p. 686 D). Ground-floor windows are frequently protected by those beautiful iron grilles for which Spanish craftsmen are renowned (p. 675).

D. Roofs.—As in all hot countries, roofs with wide-spreading eaves are flat or of low pitch, and gables are rare (p. 675). Domes, both circular and octagonal, were used for churches (p. 682 c), and towers are frequently topped with domes or spires of fanciful design, such as the angle towers of the Escurial (p. 681). The large saloons in palaces sometimes have an internal upper gallery round the walls, carried on a projecting timber cornice of fanciful design, and suggestive of Moorish influence, as in the Audiencia, Valencia.

E. Columns. Columns derived from the Roman " Orders were of varied types, with elaborate shafts, especially in the Plateresque style (pp. 676, 679). They were often either twisted or of baluster shape, frequently with wide-stretching bracket capitals, which acted as corbels to support the architrave, and were suggestive of forms used in timber work (pp. 94 C, 68o A). Later, owing to the influence of Herrera, columns of Classical correctness prevailed (pp. 68o B, C, 682 A, B, 685 B), until replaced by the fanciful forms of the Baroque style.

F. Mouldings. Throughout the earlier period mouldings reflect the Gothic tradition ; they are small and refined, owing to the influence of the silversmiths' craft, and Moorish plasterwork, with its fineness of detail, seems to have served as a model for mouldings. Great richness was often produced by bringing the mouldings forward over the capitals, and this fluttering effect of many mitres gives great liveliness (p. 686).

G. Ornament (p. 686).-Ornament derives its special character from the mingling of Gothic, Moorish, and Renaissance elements in elaborate craftsmanship. " Retablos " in alabaster, wood, or stone, peopled with life-size figures in architectural frames, are without doubt the finest decorative adjuncts to church interiors, where they often fill the width of the choir and rise to a great height, as at Burgos and elsewhere (pp. 524 n, 682 B, 685 B) . The tombs of Spanish grandees, rich with heraldic devices and protrait busts, offered opportunities for the display of the national love of ostentation. Choir stalls are ornate, with carved misericords, baluster-shafts, elbow-rests, and canopies, as at S. Marcos, Leon, and Valladolid. The wrought-iron " rejas " of churches (p. 686 B) and grilles of palace windows (pp. 6'75, 686 D) are among the most beautiful productions of Spanish craftsmanship, and everywhere show the influence of architectural forms, such as those in Seville Cathedral. The iron pulpit in Avila Cathedral in the Plateresque style, dating from A.D. 1525, of which the upper portion is wood plated with iron and gilded, is an instance of the importance attained by the metalworkers' craft, which also produced the elaborate armour of the period (p. 686 E). Sculpture varied much in quality, and was sometimes coarse in execution, but the work of Berruguete, the Spanish Donatello, is refined, though it often fails to become an integral part of the building (pp. 682 A, 685 A) . Stained glass, influenced by Flemish work, was often heavy in colour, but the tile-work of southern Spain has the charm of its Moorish origin. Spanish churches are veritable museums for treasures of art, which have not, as often in other countries, been removed to public museums. Reliquaries, monstrances, bishops' crooks, candelabra, altar busts, and book-covers provided an opportunity for the worker in metal to exercise that meticulous treatment which even extended to architectural design to such an extent as to have suggested the transference of the appellation of Plateresque from the ornament to the architecture.

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