The Sacred Made Real: Exhibition of Spanish Paintings and Sculpture from between 1600-1700

I recently got to see the exhibit “The Sacred Made Real” in the National Gallery of Art up in D.C. 

In the 17th century Spain began to produce artwork of ‘intense kind of realism’  focused around the renewing of the Catholic Church and the counter reformation.  These artists, which included well known painters Diego Velazquez and Francisco de Zurbaran and lesser known sculptors Juan Martines Montanes and Pedro de Mena, attempted to make images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints as convincing and acessible as possible. 

The realism that they strived for was and is considered ‘starkly austere, emotionally gripping, and even gory, intend[ing] to shock the senses and stir the soul.’

While this collection of paintings and sculpture was facinating, it is hard for one to seperate the artistic qualities of each piece from the Religious and faith inspired feel of the room. 

When viewed through the lense of a Catholic, or anyone who is focused on the Religious and Faith based affects of this art, the starkness and presentation was awe inspiring. 

The wing of the National Gallery was set up to inspire a Religious and emotional response.  The room was dark, the lights were dimmed, bringing the focus onto the paintings and polychrome sculptures that stood in the spotlight. 

From an artistic view, the lighting was horrid.  When one shines a spotlight on an oil painting, the glare of said light forces the viewer to see the painting in only one direction.  With such amazing paintings as these, my heart broke because one could not see them fully, because the exibition was focusing more on the Religious experience. 

In one of the first paintings of the exibition, Francisco de Zurbaran’s Saint Luke Contemplating the Crucifixion, I noted something that I probably never would have seen if I had never been tought the finer side of critiquing art by Professor K. and Dr. Korb at Anderson Univeristy. 

In this painting, a painter (identified as Luke the Evangelist, the patron saint of painters) stands before Christ on the cross.  The painting is painted with a delicate touch, worked to perfection.  The brushstrokes fade into the background, but then again, something stands out. 

Clashing against the realism of the rest of the piece, the painter holds a palette and some brushes in his hand.  This palette and brush seems to be added after the fact, a rough addition that scars the rest of the painting. 

For those who were not born and raised Catholics, one might be lost at the meaning behind each Saint and painting, for each one has a deeper and richer history than what appears on the surface of the canvas.  Even for one who has grown up in the Catholic Church, it took some explaining of an Uncle in the Deaconate program to rediscover the faith value of St. Francis (Pedro de Mena’s Saint Francis Standing in Ecstasy or Francisco de Zubaran’s Saint Francis Kneeling in Meditation) or the story behind St. Bernard (Francisco Ribalta’s Christ Embracing Saint Bernard of Clairvaux). 

For anyone who does not have a basic knowledge of the stories and miricles surrounding the Saints displayed in this exibit,it is extremely difficult to see the spiritual side of these paintings, and even more frustrating to see and appreciate the artistic merit of these works. 

Each painting was perfect.  The skin smothed out.  The brushstroke falling exactly in the right place.  They are said to be graphic and gory.

I did not see the gory side of these paintings.  They were too perfect.  Too beautiful.  Too elegant.  Anything but Gory. 

The Spanish painters prided themselves at being the most realistic painters of the time.  Yes, they could capture life, but they couldnt capture the suffering or the agony of death.  Maybe it was there deep reverance for their faith that prevented them from showing the torture and pain that Christ and these Saints went through. 

Christ was flogged and beaten, a crown of thorns was thrust onto and into his head, piercing his skin (John 19:1-3) but yet in every crucifixion (save one or two) his flesh is unblimished, perfect, except for one or two minor scratches.  There is no blood flowing from his wounds. 

If the Spanish want to claim the right to say they are the most realistic painters, they might want to take a lesson from the Germans.

While I enjoyed the exhibit, I wish they had shown the pieces of art in the proper light.  Show art as art.  Like one’s personal faith, it speaks more powerfully when you dont hide it behind shadows and bright lights. 

God Bless and PEACE

1 Comment »

  1. cearPiery Said:

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Christian,Earn Free Vouchers / Cash

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