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Spanish Gothic - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )[an error occurred while processing this directive]

I. Geographical.—The geographical position of Spain in the south-west of Europe is unique ; it is only separated from France on the north by the chain of the Pyrenees Mountains and from Africa on the south by the narrow Straits of Gibraltar ; thus, apart from the Pyrenees and its frontier on Portugal, it is entirely surrounded by sea, and hence Spain is known as " The Peninsula.” The country is thrown into natural divisions by mountain chains and sierras or low rocky hills, which run like bastions across it from west to east, and, with the barren steppes, made natural boundaries for rival races and kingdoms, while an uncultivated stretch of land together with four river courses divide Spain and Portugal. There was French influence in the north and Moorish influence in the south. The kingdom of Granada, the most fertile plain in the country, where the Moors held out until the close of the Gothic period, was entirely surrounded by mountains.

II. Geological.—" Rocky Spain " is a short and graphic description of the geological conditions which prevail throughout the Peninsula, which is itself a great massif of rock, including the Sierras of Castile in the north, the mountains of Toledo in the middle, and the Sierra Morena in the south. Thus there is granite, especially in the north ; limestone in the south and the basin of the Ebro ; red sandstone in the Pyrenees and Andalusia, and eruptive rock everywhere, while semi-marbles are scattered throughout the country. Architecture is therefore naturally carried out in these various sorts of stone, while eruptive rock served for the rubble walling with brick bonding courses and quoins which was used under Moorish influence with much success, as in the towers and gates of the city of Toledo ; while in Valladolid bricks of Roman character are laid in thick mortar beds. There are few forests in Spain, and the conspicuous absence of timber suitable for building accentuates still further the predominance of stone in architecture.

III. Climatic.—The climatic variations are as marked as geographical and as different as geological conditions ; but there are four chief varieties of climate. In the provinces along the north and north-west sea-coast, the climate is mild, equable, and rainy, with the greatest rainfall at Santiago da Compostela in the west. The most marked variety of climate is that of the great central table-land and the basin of the Ebro, with great extremes of temperature, as in Madrid and Burgos ; while the plains of Castile are snow-covered in winter and dust-laden in summer. The middle climate along the Mediterranean is moderate and the southern in Andalusia is sub-tropical like Africa, with the greatest heat in Granada. The term " sun-burnt Spain " indicates the nature of the climate which influenced the architecture of the Peninsula with its small windows and thick walls. Many large Gothic church windows, derived from France, were indeed often blocked up with stone in after years to keep out the scorching sun.

IV. Religious.—The constant warfare waged against the Moors, which was religious even more than racial, gave a certain unity to the Roman Catholic States in the Peninsula. It has also always been characteristic of Spain to be united in allegiance to the papacy, and the great church of Santiago da Compostela in the west was a pilgrimage centre of even more than national importance. Spain is well styled the most Catholic country in the world, with her ten archbishoprics, forty-five bishoprics, and ubiquitous monastic establishments, both for. men and women. It is therefore not surprising that in " priest-ridden Spain " the paramount power of the priestly hierarchy should have instituted the church ceremonials and elaborate ritual, which determined the planning of cathedrals and churches with their great sanctuaries and enormous chapels of the Spanish grandees. The Mahometan religion, introduced by the Moors in the Peninsula, forbade the human figure in sculpture and decoration and encouraged geometrical ornament, and the result of this ordinance is seen in the extreme richness and intricacy of surface decoration, even in Christian churches, on which craftsmen trained in Moorish traditions were employed. The establishment of the Spanish Inquisition (A.D. 1480) in Castile and later in other provinces was designed to bring about national unity by first securing religious unity. This inquisitorial scheme resulted in the expulsion from Spain both of Jews and Mahometans, who were valuable assets in commercial and industrial life, and Spain was thus materially weakened by their departure.

V. Social.—The Christian states of Castile, Leon, Navarre, Aragon, and Portugal were growing up simultaneously, and gradually driving the Mahometans into Andalusia. After many intermittent successes, such as the capture of Toledo (A.D. 1084), Tarragona (A.D. 1089), Saragossa (A.D. 1118), and Lerida (A.D. 1149), the battle of Tolosa (A.D. 1212) was the final turning-point of the decline of Mahometan influence. Ferdinand III (A.D. 1217–52) united Castile and Leon, and won back Seville and Cordova from the Moors. As a result of the exultation over the conquest of the Mahometans, Gothic art in this district, aided too by the plunder taken from the infidel, received a great impetus. James (A.D. 1213-76), King of Aragon, advanced into the east of Spain until the kingdom of Granada was the only portion left to the Mahometans. As to general social conditions in Spain there was a great gulf fixed between the grandee and the common people, and an equally strongly marked dividing line between town folk and country folk. In the eastern districts, where the feudal system was strong, class distinctions were further accentuated, and only a. small proportion of the population, including citizens of chartered towns, were free ; while under the system of land tenure the majority were practically slaves throughout the Middle Ages, a condition which produced the peasants' revolt of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. From some of the internal dangers the country was delivered by Ferdinand and Isabella (A.D. 1474–1504), the Catholic sovereigns, who arrogated to themselves supreme power. They made use of Church, nobles, and cities as instruments of their government, established police against brigandage, annexed the power and money of the military orders, and enforced military service from the nobles. They even reduced the Cortes to a money-granting machine and gradually crippled commerce and industry through the control of officials and the imposition of excise duties, and thus established an inquisition in commerce as well as in religion. Social life in Spain is always associated in our minds with the " Spanish grandee " and the Catholic priest, and indeed churches and monasteries are the chief architectural monuments, while in domestic architecture there is little of importance except the houses of the nobility.

VI. Historical.—The outstanding feature of Spanish history during this period is the astonishing connection of Spain, not only with France, her near neighbour, but also with England through royal marriages ; with Italy through papal supervision and the quarrels with the Angevins in Naples and Sicily, and with the Moors from Africa ; and all this, as we shall see, affected in varying degrees the architecture of the Peninsula. After the Romans left Spain the Vandals and Visigoths took possession, and in A.D. 710–13 the country was invaded by the Moors from North Africa, whose influence was continuous for 800 years (p. 835). The evidence of this is seen in the south in curious construction and exuberant detail, and occasionally also in the north owing to the demand there for Moorish craftsmen with their superior ability, for although Toledo was captured by the Christians in A.D. 1085, the Spanish conquests were only gradual. King Peter of Aragon (A.D. 1196–1213) came in contact with Italy, for he was crowned in Rome and as a prince of France died there in the defence of the Albigenses, and these connections were not without influence on Spanish architecture. From the death of James the Conqueror in A.D. 1276 to the death of Martin I in AM. 1410, the kings of Aragon were at war with the Angevin party in Naples and Sicily, and this may have contributed to the introduction of certain Saracenic and other architectural features from those countries. The final expulsion of the Moors did not take place till the fall of Granada in A.D. 1492, and so great was the interest which this decisive event roused in all Christendom that a thanks-giving service was held by order of Henry VII in old S. Paul's Cathedral, London. Thus were laid the foundations of a united Spain which then prepared to expand abroad.



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