Interior Decoration in Spain During the 18th Century
( Originally Published 1919 )
THE eighteenth century so far as Spanish invention in architecture or decorative art was concerned was a singularly barren period. Spain had nothing to contribute beyond a few evidences of national interpretation of ,styles she had borrowed, mainly from France, but to some extent from England and Italy also.
It is scarcely too much to say that the well of Spanish invention, which had contributed so handsomely and so generously to the common international sum of decorative art in former centuries, was now pumped dry and that a period of creative stagnation followed. The Rococo and Neo-Classic phases of Spanish decoration were but reflections of what was going on in France, in Italy and in England.
Style development simply followed the procession and added only a few local touches in the matter of unimportant details. In the east of Spain and in the Balearic Islands, regions most in contact with active trade relations, the craftsmen added certain delicate elaborations to patterns that came from other sources, but, considered by and large, Spain had nothing new of great consequence to give.
Architectural Background and Fixed Decoration.—Spanish conservatism held on to precedents that had prevailed in former centuries and the architectural backgrounds, influenced by this tenacity of usage, presented much the same features as mentioned in the previous chapter, Tastes remained the same ; the mode of expression only was modified to meet the sway of current fashion.
Plain walls (Plate 25) with their applied fabric decorations or hangings continued. The love of vivid colour was unchanged and the facility for compounding striking contrasts, without falling into the snare of garishness, was little abated. Stamped and poly-chromed leather for wall embellishment passed out of use and this was a loss to be deplored.
Fireplaces and chimney-pieces suffered the same subduing process they underwent in other countries. During the Rococo period, mirrors as a factor in wall decoration came into play for panelling and for incorporation as overmantel features.
Doors were still decorated in a somewhat distinctive manner and the plastered ceilings were painted and gilt without the same success of restraint as similar decorations usually exhibited in France. In many of these exotic features, which the Spaniards had borrowed, they showed an unfortunate tendency to exaggeration. They were not dealing with things akin to their genius and they made frequent mistakes in consequence.
The flooring materials were the same as in the fore-going centuries, except that the various-coloured woods from the Spanish colonies came more and more into use and that wood was preferred to the sterner materials for flooring purposes.
Furniture and Decorations.—Practically every phase of furniture known in England, France or Italy during the eighteenth century was represented by an analogous Spanish type (Plate 25 and illustrations in Part III). The items in use and the amount of equipment employed virtually corresponded to what would be found in any well-appointed establishment in other countries.
The general design of the individual pieces of furniture was the same as elsewhere, but there was a distinct tendency to enlarge the proportions and make the structure heavier and even, at times, a bit stodgy. Bulk, therefore, did create a minor point of difference.
Also, the fashion happily persisted of covering chests and other similar receptacles with strained fabric and using thereon somewhat ample and elaborated mounts. The elaboration and diversity of mounts, however, never equalled the mark set by Spanish cabinet-makers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries nor the performance of contemporary French de-signers.
Other Decorative Accessories and Movable Decorations.—An inventory of these items would tally almost precisely with the items of a similar inventory prepared in France, England or Italy, and as most of the articles of vertu were now imported, or if made by native craftsmen, were copied from foreign models, there is little that was distinctive to point to, with a few trifling exceptions, such as the Bilboa mirrors with the marbleised gesso frames.
Materials and Colours.—Precisely similar conditions of decorative stagnation obtained with reference to materials and colours, except that Spanish colonial possessions supplied the mother country with some exceptionally fine decorative woods, which the cabinet-makers fortunately availed themselves, of now and again.
As to all else, the Spanish taste of the time is to be gauged merely by what it selected; and as, in many cases, the Spaniard was working with materials and colours not germane to his peculiar national genius, he often failed to make the happiest choice or effect the most felicitous, combinations.
Arrangement.—Spanish decoration of the earlier period was distinguished for its wholesome reticence in the number of articles used and by the really strategic manner in which they were disposed to compass the greatest effect.
Eighteenth century ideals of arrangement, being borrowed along with all the material properties, failed to exhibit that erstwhile happy trait and Spanish rooms unfortunately often fell into an unedifying condition of tawdry formality.