August 21, 2020
By Géranne Darbouze
Religion is a driving force in culture, and this is especially evident in Spain. From Ancient Egyptian cults to the pagan rituals that helped fuel the Roman empire, to the Islamic traditions of the Ottoman Turks, to the animistic beliefs of West and Central Africa, religions have developed methods for understanding the world and determining not only why, but also how certain things have come to be. When religious understandings influence politics, beliefs that were once fluid become firmly rooted in society. Thus fortified, such beliefs often migrate into other cultural institutions, and the influence of religious iconography on society is further reinforced. In the art of Spain, religion and the creative process exhibit a unique degree of intimacy that has helped shape Spain’s cultural identity. Throughout history, Spanish institutions have cultivated a system of interdependency—art depends on religion, and religion on art. As a result, Spanish artists were constantly striving to create the most innovative and galvanizing depictions of religious subjects. In this series of blogposts, I will discuss how Mannerists such as El Greco, and Baroque artists such as Luisa Roldán, Juan de Valdés Leal, and Francisco de Zurbarán created dynamic and thought-provoking images that reshaped the very essence of Catholic devotion—both pictorially and in practice. Ultimately, these artists’ images are tremendously effective in sending audiences a message: That we are all religious masters in our own right, and that we hold the power to determine what our religious devotion looks like.
This blogpost series is inspired by my NYU class Art in Spain from El Greco to Goya, taught by Edward Sullivan in spring 2020. It expands on the ideas I put forth in my final paper, further delving into my interest in relationships between religion and fine art, especially from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. I’d like to thank Professor Sullivan for his wonderful teaching, which has shaped my thoughts in innumerable ways and ultimately made this series possible.
Géranne Darbouze is an undergraduate intern at the Grey Art Gallery who is majoring in Film and Television Production and minoring in Art History and Religious Studies. She expects to receive her BFA in January 2021.