Spanish art casts spell in historian’s journey
Art of Spain: The Dark Heart 3pm, ABC1
MOST Australian visitors to Spain fall a little bit in love with the place. The easy lifestyle, the flamenco, the nightlife, the hilltop castles, the rustic tavernas and the slightly smelly but enchanting city streets, full of life.
British art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon certainly seems to have fallen under the country’s spell as he investigates Spain’s golden age of art in the 16th and 17th centuries.
With his bright, rumpled shirts and silly little car, he is very much the Englishman abroad ( unlike the ones on the Costa del Sol): educated, erudite, curious and enthusiastic.
The Dark Heart is the second hourlong episode of this three-part series, covering 1000 years of Spanish history. ABC2 has also been showing the series on Sunday nights.
Graham-Dixon finds plenty to be excited about in his seventh series for the BBC. His thesis is that Spain, rather than Italy, is the place where the art and religions of East and West met and where the nature of European culture and civilisation was decided. Take that, Michelangelo.
In the first episode he travelled from Cordoba to Granada, looking at Moorish art and its profound influence on art, architecture, food and music. Here he drives from Toledo to Madrid, tracing the rise and fall of the mighty Spanish Empire, examining the works of its premier artist, El Greco, and a few others who are lesser known but pretty impressive in a weird-souls-rising-to-heaven-after-abloody-beheading kind of way.
Spanish art at the time was all intense religion and royalty, and it was considered a good thing for artists to combine the two.
Anyone who didn’t paint according to those dictates could expect to make a quick exit to Rome, where many artists found a respite oppressive homeland.
Graham-Dixon is good on the confounding mix of religion and madness that was the Inquisition. He guides us through monasteries ( from the austere to the cor blimey) and into the Museo del Prado to see Las Meninas , painted by Diego Velazquez in 1656 and still one of the world’s most fascinating artworks.
Contrast that with the weirdly ornate reliquary holding St Theresa of Avila’s heart, a fascinating byway in Spanish art.
There are bits of that poor woman scattered all over Spain. Spooky.
Art of Spain has striking landscape photography and Graham-Dixon takes every opportunity have a chat to camera with wonderful scenery at his back. Some kind of darkened lens gives a brooding edge to the blue skies and adds to the sense of drama inherent in most of the artworks.
In the final episode Graham-Dixon visits the mystical north, looking at Francesco Goya, Antoni Gaudi, Pablo Picasso. And a wonderful winery.
Plenty to be excited about: Andrew Graham-Dixon