In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Renaissance Art and Architecture in Spain

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Treatises and Documents
  • Documents
  • Exhibition Catalogs
  • Painting and Sculpture
  • Anthologies of Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Painters and Sculptors in their Context
  • Painters
  • Sculptors
  • Architecture
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Monuments and Architects
  • El retablo (Altarpieces)
  • Decorative and Industrial Arts
  • The Sumptuary Arts at the Royal Court
  • Drawings

Art History Renaissance Art and Architecture in Spain
Pedro Antonio Galera Andreu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0168


Considering all the historical periods of art in Spain, the Renaissance may be one of the most difficult periods to be defined. This is partly due to the intrinsic difficulty of the universal concept and, especially, to its application to the Spanish context. This is why, up to recent times, European art historiography had not even considered its existence. Fortunately, this situation has changed since the mid-20th century due to the new perspectives from abroad, a profound renewal of our own historiography (more accentuated since the 1970s), and the restoration of Spanish democracy. While the traditional Spanish historiography, characterized by a positivist approach, had focused on biographical aspects and descriptive analyses of works through studies based on geographical areas, the new historiography is more interested in understanding works in their contexts, that is, to perceive them as images coordinated with the cultural, social, and political environments in which they originate. This objective has been achieved through the accelerated translation of representative books and authors proposing innovative methodologies for the history of art in Europe and the Americas since the mid-20th century and the new approaches promoted by foreign historians on the Renaissance in the Iberian Peninsula. This dual situation stimulated local historiography, resulting in a review of traditional historiography and questioning old assumptions conceived in both Spain and other countries. Although the real existence of the Renaissance in Spain has been amply discussed and denied by some experts for a long time, we cannot negate that reality. This issue should be addressed with due attention, highlighting its particularities, and avoiding any derogatory interpretation given when compared with Italy. This new perspective reflects the personality of the Spanish Renaissance and its contributory value to culture in the early modern period, especially its impact on the Americas. Although considered a “peripheral” nation when compared with the Italian “focal” point, Spain offers significant and original differences in certain aspects that are considered essential for the definition of Renaissance such as its intimate connection with humanism or the canonical observation of the language of antiquity. The Spanish Renaissance is characterized by the survival of Gothic and Moorish forms and taste, and periodization, which was adopted later than in Italy, since the classicist language did not consolidate until the cinquecento and lasted until well into the seicento. Finally, the Catholic values of the Spanish monarchy contributed to the religious influence that permeated Renaissance art.

General Overviews

The importance of the works published in Ceán Bermúdez 2001, whose author was a Spanish writer from the Enlightenment, influenced the historiography of Spanish art until the mid-20th century, showing great preference for artists’ biographies. This perspective was also followed by the first reformists of history of art, Tormo y Monzó and Gómez-Moreno Martínez (Gómez-Moreno Martínez 1941), in the Centre of Historical Studies, which was founded in 1914, and no substantial changes in the university centers were observed in the following decade. Only at the end of that decade and during the following two decades, a new historiographic panorama was disclosed as a result of the stimulating research carried out by foreign experts on architecture such as Rosenthal 1958, Bury 1976, and Tafuri 1978, works that reviewed stylistic, periodization, and positioning concepts of the Spanish Renaissance in Europe as a whole. Two good examples of this conceptual review are the work Marías Franco 1989, in which humanism in Spain, among other ideas, is questioned; and Lleó Cañal 1979, a work that is based on a specific urban context. An analysis of the state-of-the-art on the studies of Renaissance art in Spain was carried out in 1990 by the Spanish Committee of History of Art and Professor García Gainza (García Gainza 1991), and, more recently, in Rodríguez Ortega and Taín Guzmán 2015, a review of the art literature of all historical periods. On the peculiar presence of the Islamic heritage in the Spanish Renaissance, apart from the aforementioned work of Marías Franco, the essay Urquízar Herrera 2017.

  • Bury, John B. “The Stylistic Term ‘Plateresque’.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes XXXIX (1976): 199–230.

    DOI: 10.2307/751139

    Inspired by the misuses or abuses of the art terms formulated by Anthony Blunt, this work discusses the “hypertrophy” associated with the use of the term Plateresque, a style clearly associated with the first Spanish Renaissance, whose interpretation differs from the accurate definition provided by Ortiz de Zúñiga in 1677. It also tackles what has been called the “Mudejar fallacy” as another cliché: the identification of the profuse ornamentation in Plateresque architecture as a persistent influence of the Islamic past.

  • Ceán Bermúdez, Juan Agustín. Diccionario histórico de los más ilustres profesores de las Bellas Artes de España. Madrid: Akal, 2001.

    Typical work of the Enlightenment, originally published in six volumes (Madrid: Ibarra, 1800), based on different documentary sources and critical content, which set a trend for subsequent historiography. A reference book still in use.

  • García Gainza, María Concepción, ed. Special Issue: Jornadas Nacionales sobre el Renacimiento Español. Príncipe de Viana 52 (1991).

    Conference proceedings on the state-of-the-art of Renaissance studies in Spain and new proposals for lines of research in all fields of arts and architecture.

  • Gómez-Moreno Martínez, Manuel. Las águilas del Renacimiento español. Madrid: Plus Ultra, 1941.

    Work containing the biographies of the four Spanish artists educated in Italy: Siloé, Machuca, Ordóñez, and Berruguete. In his work Da pintura antiga (1548), which was translated into Spanish with the title De la pintura Antigua (1563), Francisco de Holanda considered these artists as “eagles” since they soared above everybody else. Second ed., 1983.

  • Lleó Cañal, Vicente. Nueva Roma: Mitología y humanismo en el Renacimiento sevillano. Seville, Spain: Diputación Provincial, 1979.

    A book that initiates a new way of making history of art in Spain through an interdisciplinary method in which history, literature, society, and culture, in a broad sense, intersect to tackle the art projects that make up the image of a singular and outstanding city like Seville in modern Europe. A city influenced by Nordic and Italian schools and open to the Atlantic nations.

  • Marías Franco, Fernando. El largo siglo XVI. Los usos artísticos del Renacimiento español. Madrid: Taurus, 1989.

    A long and exhaustively documented essay in which the historiography on the topic existing up to that moment (from the stylistic conceptualization to periodizations) is reviewed in an equidistant analysis of the total Italian influence and the absolute national originality.

  • Rodríguez Ortega, Nuria, and Miguel Taín Guzmán, eds. Teoría y literatura artística en España. Revisión historiográfica y estudios contemporáneos. Madrid: Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, 2015.

    This book is the result of a research and development project. It contains a collection of essays on art literature covering plastic arts and architecture from the 16th century to the present day in Spain, based on the interaction between text and image and the application of computational techniques to these studies.

  • Rosenthal, Earl. “The Image of Roman Architecture in Renaissance Spain.” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 52 (1958): 329–346.

    Interested by Diego de Siloé, who was educated in Italy, and the Cathedral of Granada, which was his main work (Rosenthal has also a monograph on this building), the author analyzes the sources of ancient architecture which were present in Spanish architecture during the first half of the century, especially ornamentation.

  • Tafuri, Manfredo. La arquitectura del humanismo. Translated by Víctor Pérez Escolano. Madrid: Xarait Ediciones, 1978.

    Translation into Spanish of the first edition (M. Tafuri, L’architettura dell’umanesimo. Bari, Italy: Laterza, 1969). This work contains a brief section dedicated to Spain in which the author values the “heterodox” attitude of Spanish architecture in que cinquecento as a fertile experimentalist interpretation of classical language.

  • Urquízar Herrera, Antonio. Admiration and Awe: Morisco Buildings and Identity Negotiations in Early Modern Spanish Historiography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198797456.001.0001

    A brilliant essay on the Christian-Muslim confrontation in the modern age through architecture. On the one hand, the continuity of use of Islamic spaces and ornaments, and the other, contemporary historiography in imposing Roman and Christian origins on the Islamic past in order to establish a national identity.

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