Catalan School

Catalan School

 

the most progressive branch of 14th-and 15th-century Spanish painting. The distinctive historical development of Catalonia, its local artistic traditions, and its close commercial contacts with France, Italy, and the Low Countries lay behind the flourishing of the Catalan school of painting. The school had its origins in the unrefined but vitally expressive Romanesque frescoes of the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. The founder of the Catalan school was Ferrer Bassa. He uniquely combined Romanesque traditions with elements of Sienese and Florentine painting in his frescoes in the chapel of San Miguel at the monastery of Pedralbes near Barcelona (1346).

Catalan painters were principally involved in the decoration of retablos. Elements anticipating the Renaissance were combined with firmly established principles of late Gothic art. The Catalan masters never painted with oils. Figures were painted in tempera; the saints’ halos (represented as concentric circles), various parts of their drapery, and their attributes, as well as the decorative background, were made out of gilded stucco. This form of flat relief served as a natural transition from the planar representation of the fresco to the statuary and other sculptural elements on the retablo. Painting was organically included in the total decorative architectural composition.

The painting of the Catalan school reflected the medieval attitude toward a painted surface as an important element in and of itself. Catalan artists were able to combine this attitude with a vivid sense of the realness of their paintings. They sought to create images that were individualistic and close to life and to represent the environment in which their heroes lived. Catalan artists tended to depict colorful and cheerful narratives. Daily scenes of contemporary Catholic society were represented within the framework of Christian legend.

In the 14th and early 15th centuries, the Catalan school was influenced by Italian painting. This influence was reflected in the art of the Serra brothers, L. Borrasá, and B. Martorell, who attempted to give their figures three-dimensionality and to impart a sense of spatial depth, retaining a general planarity of composition. In the mid-15th century, the influence of Dutch painting was particularly strong. J. Huguet organically transformed Dutch traditions, endowing them with depth of feeling and intense passion. In his portraits of saints, Huguet attained poignancy and reality of expression in his figures.

The unification of Spain in 1479 undermined the independence of Catalonia and impeded further development of the Catalan school of painting, which, at that time, stood on the threshold of the Renaissance. The distinctive features of the Catalan school eventually became common properties of Spanish art.

REFERENCES

Sanpere y Miquel, S. Los cuatrocentistas catalanes, vol. 1. Barcelona, 1906.
Gudiol Ricart, J. Historia de la pintura en Cataluña. Madrid [195—].
Folchi Torres, J. L’artcatalá. Barcelona, 1957.
Durliat, M. L’art catalán. Paris-Grenoble, 1963.

T. P. KAPTEREVA

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