Foreign waves of influence break, recede, and leave their impress
A 114.story of Spanish Architecture. By Bernard Bevan, M.A. Illustrated. (Batsford, 21s.) Reviewed by PETER F. ANSON
C PAIN is no country for the archi*el tectural purist. As the author of this fascinating book points out, "a history of Spanish architecture consists largely of tracing foreign influences and recording the :dory of their
Hon,' " and he reminds us of Lamperez's definition that "the art of Spain is alluvial," by which is meant that " foreign waves of influence break upon the shore, recede, and leave their impress."
We ere reminded that throughout the Middle Ages Spain was a land of two religions, a hybrid population, and several politiesl states. and we learn that in the thirteenth century no less than nine architectural styles existed side by side—all of thorn of foreign origin. Yet in spite of this eclecticism, Spain has always remained one of the most conservative countries in Europe in matters of art, for the Spanish temperament, is profoundly conservative.
In contrast to this conservatism is the extreme originality in adaptation manifested by the Spaniards in every age, so bold that at times it seems to revel in the incongruous. ' Much of Spanish architecture, like the landscape and the national temperament, is exaggerated," writes Mr Bevan, who goes on to explain that it tends to travesty in the way of excessive austerity just as much as in a sensational use of ornament.
NOW at last English readers have the chance to obtain a comprehensive idea of Spanish architecture, thanks to this most complete work. Hitherto there has been no means available unless one had access to expensive tomes in foreign languages—the names of which can be found in the seven page bibliography at the end of this volume. The publishers inform us that it is nearly ninety years since the last general survey of Spanish architecture appeared in English—a :sufficient proof of how we have neglected this subject. They deserve to he congratulated on having produced such a superb volume at the ridiculously low price of one guinea.
Mr Bevan, as one can see from every page of this book, has an Intimate knowledge of Spain, and his descriptions are obviously first hand and not based on the impressions of others. This Is probably the reason why they are so vivid and convincing.
It is difficult to know what sections
to praise most highly, or to select any particular passages for quotation to give an idea of the style in which the book is written—but here is one chosen at random : " The grey granite Escorial, which is not dwarfed by the mountains that tower behind it is a gigantic protest against Lutheranism and an expression of the majesty of the Church. Just as the florid Baroque expressed the emotional side of the Faith—and both Baroque and the Escorial were evolved as counterblasts to the Reformation—so the Escorial emphasised its solemnity."
Listen to this description of the later phases of Spanish Baroque as found in the work of Churriguera and his followers--" We find arched entablatures, miniature broken pediments, pilasters with three capitals and a fourth inverted, oval tribolated lunettes in the spandrels or arches doing their best to took like ogee. There are also inverted pyramids, pots of flowers, shrubbery, curtains festooned with fruit, columns fluted in ivavy lines exuberantly decorated with flowers, grapes, and medallions." It is good to know that Mr Bevan shares our " debased " tastes and regards "this anarchy of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth. centuries one of the most pleasing phrases of Spanish art."
How strange to our northern ears is the news that the famous Transparente in Toledo Cathedral, which represents the Gift. of the Blessed Sacrament to mankind, was "dedicated in the midst of fertstings and a bull-fight "1
WHEN one reads the descriptions of the Mexican churches and looks at the photographs one regrets that the latter are not in colour, for how can cold black and white do justice to those stupendous fegadee, encrusted with glazed tiles of the most vivid hue, contrasted with wedding-cake-like ornamentation in white stucco? Or the
Continued at foot of next column. multi-coloured domes—there are said to be 1,900 domes in Mexico—pink, white, blue, and orange; or the dim, dark interiors whose walls are encrusted with gold and silver decoration in the most riotous of Baroque, and whose enormous retablos are miracles of painted and gilded stucco?
Has Christian art ever manifested itself in a more bizarre fashion than in Mexico? In European Gothic the soul is lifted up to Heaven—in Mexican Baroque God dwells with Man.
This book will also do good service in reminding us of the Christian civilisation and culture of Spain and Mexico which are still in danger of extinction, and which have endured such fierce persecution during recent years.