Span­ish art casts spell in his­to­rian’s jour­ney

Art of Spain: The Dark Heart 3pm, ABC1

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

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.

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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.

Ros­alie Higson

Plenty to be ex­cited about: An­drew Gra­ham-Dixon

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