According to HARVARDSHOES, the Middle Ages were not for Spain an era of calm, but rather of fruitful effervescence in the field of art. Different styles existed at the same time, or succeeded one another, some without reaching full development. In the peninsula, which for eight centuries was a contact area between East and West, the Christian-Muslim dualism gave its imprint to medieval Spanish art, in a long contact, which was not a shock.
Paleochristian art. – For the early Christian period there are clues, not yet studied well, of the contamination that Roman art underwent in Spain due to the influence of Iberian techniques and ornamental motifs, as well as oriental elements, as in the whole periphery of the Empire. The most obvious sign of this contamination is the appearance of horseshoe arches in funerary stele of the century. II, and the most decisive and oldest example is the construction discovered a few years ago in Santa Eulalia di Bóveda (Lugo, Galicia), probably a nymphaeum, with a barrel vault, with slightly horseshoe-shaped arches, with wall paintings of strong realism, certainly a monument of the century. IV. The other monuments of which we have remains (Centcelles [Catalonia] with its superb mosaic, deteriorated; the episcope of Mérida, identified by a text by Paolo Diacono, with his paintings depicting bishops and martyrs, etc.) do not present any novelty in the universal Roman art. In some cases (the underground baptistery of Gabia la Grande [Granata], exedras of the church of San Pietro d’Alcántara [Málaga], etc.) influences of the paleo-Christian architecture of northern Africa are noted. The relations of Spanish Christianity with that of Africa are also proven by ecclesiastical history and literature.
For the sculpture of this period no precise distinction was made between imported sarcophagi and those that had to be carved in Spain. For painting, the XXXVI canon of the council of Illiberri (Grenade) celebrated around the year 300, which advised against its use in churches and seems to prove that it was abused but seems to have little effect at the end of the fourth century, is memorable. or at the beginning of V Prudentius in his Dittochaeon gives a collection of epigraphs for scenes from the Old Testament represented on the walls of a church.
Visigothic art (5th – 8th centuries). – In the early years of the century. V the invasion of the barbarians begins. In 409 Swabians, Vandals and Alani burst: the first dominate in Galicia, the others – who were stronger – in Andalusia. In 416 the Visigoths arrived, more civilized because they had had greater contact with Rome, and as auxiliaries of the empire they exterminate the Vandals in Betica (417). After a century and a half, Leovigild is the first Visigothic king to mint money; his successor Recaredo abandons Arianism and with his people converts to Catholicism in 589. Another historical fact that should be kept in mind in order to understand the development of the art is the transfer of a coastal area in the east and south to Justinian ( 554), a territory that returned to the Goths in 624.
Visigothic art had a very complex evolution, without any uniformity in many of its manifestations.
The Roman organization of architecture was too strong for the Visigoths to innovate its foundations: on these they grafted popular forms, embellishing the whole with a profusion of ornaments and polychromy, taking advantage of the teachings received from Byzantium at the time. at the height of its splendor. Although the data does not abound, we are also aware of a series of monuments from the second half of the century. VI and of the whole VII which, to make use of the judgment of Torres Balbás, is “without analogies, as regards the number, originality and richness of solutions, with the contemporary monuments of Western Europe”. It is true that we do not have the most selected and sumptuous specimens, such as those built in the court or in the great cities; but those that are still preserved in humble and out-of-the-way places,
The church of San Giovanni di Baños (Palencia) was consecrated in 661: it is a basilica with a roof with sloping windows and horseshoe arches. Of the same type is also the church of St. Peter of Balsemão (Lamego, Portugal).
Of a different type is a group of buildings, among which the most notable are Santa Comba di Bande (Orense, Galicia) and Spain Pietro de la Nave (Zamora), both of a cruciform plan, with vault on the pillars of the middle, only preserved in Spain Comba. The church of Spain Pietro, with somewhat unequal arms, is singular for the sculptural decoration with figures in the frieze and bases, as well as in the capitals of the four columns of the cross, in two of which biblical scenes are seen, decoration that recalls that of Spain Maria of Quintanilla of Las Viñas (Burgos). If no one doubts the date of the Visigothic churches of Baños, Bande, etc., there are instead bitter contradictory ones for those of Nave and Quitanilla who, in order to set it back, have reached the point of violating the texts and making specious arguments; but it seems, even at Torres Balbás,
For the sculpture of the Visigothic age, the aforementioned decorations of Spain Pietro di La Nave and Quintanilla are of utmost importance, showing a strong influence of Byzantine art, but with typically Visigothic elements, both in the ornamental repertoire and in the oblique cut of the stone. The iconography of the sculptures of the church of La Nave is rich and of uncertain origin, that of Quintanilla is of Byzantine origin: figures of the Sun and the Moon supported by angels, almost deified, Christ with the cross in the act of blessing, the Virgin, two prophets or apostles. Add to these main monuments the tombs of Ecija (5th century), Cadiz and Alcaudete as well as the many rough tombs of Poza de la Sal, Briviesca and Cameno in the Burgos region, and you will have almost complete the picture of Visigothic sculpture.
It is not necessary to rectify the frequent devout tradition of the images of the Virgin prior to the Muslim invasion, venerated in many sanctuaries.
That there were painted decorations in the churches can be seen from the works of St. Isidore of Seville; but there are none left. The famous code of the Pentateuch Ashburnham (National Library of Paris), written around 600 and coming from St. Gratian of Tours, is believed to be from northern Africa or southern Spain.
The Visigoths had greater originality in the goldsmith works; they were delighted in the variety of colors as well as in the richness of the materials, and not only in the objects destined for royal treasures and in liturgical utensils – eg. the famous crosses and votive crowns found in Guarrazar (Toledo) and preserved in the museum of Cluny (Paris) – but also in the usual jewels: rings, buckles, handles, etc., which are found in large numbers in the excavations of the cemeteries. Characteristic technical expedient of the barbarian goldsmith’s art is the use of stones and glass pastes set in metal sheets in the form of alveoli.
There are also examples of Visigoth bronzes. In the metal arts as in decorative sculpture, the survival of pre-Roman motifs and procedures is noted.
Asturian art (VIII-IX centuries). – The tragic end of the Visigothic monarchy (711) and the rapid triumphal invasion of the Moorish followed closely in the north, in Asturias, by the formation of a nucleus of Christian resistance (718).
Asturian art presents itself with two different manifestations: on the one hand a series of churches (S. Giovanni di Pravia, from 780, partially preserved; Santullano di Oviedo and the “Holy Room” of the same city, destroyed in 1934, both built under Alfonso II il Casto [791-842]) which are entirely faithful to the degenerated classical tradition and related to Carolingian art, not even the horseshoe arch deriving from Visigothic art; on the other hand, the buildings of Ramiro I (842-850), brilliant works of architecture based on oriental models. In the former, the transept nave, the spurs, the buttresses and the series of arches that decorate the main chapel of Santullano are new for Spain. A common feature of the two groups is the room above the main chapel, used as a place of refuge or custody, difficult to access and which can only be entered from a high window. Ramiro’s monuments are: Spain Maria di Naranco, near Oviedo, with a rectangular plan above a crypt, with open galleries and decorated with rough medallions of figures in relief; the church of Spain Michele di Lillo (or Lino), close to the previous one, and that of Spain Cristina in Lena. They are very high buildings, with semi-cylindrical vaults on banded arches, reinforced by external buttresses, while inside the walls are lightened by a series of blind arches supported by columns. But the architect of such a robust personality had no imitators: Asturian art in Galicia rather follows the type of monuments of Alfonso II, and in Asturias only the side portico of Spain Salvador de Valdediós (893) recalls the Ramirense type, already mixed with southern influences. The organization of the Asturian churches foretells the Romanesque temples, but the lack of tranquility of that era did not allow the development of those architectural forms.
Asturian sculpture is poor and crude; in the reliefs the crooked cut typical of the Visigoths is not used. In the Ramirense type churches the decoration is more delicate and responds to models chosen, perhaps, from goldsmith’s works or from ivories. The reliefs of the door of Spain Michele di Lillo undoubtedly reproduce a consular diptych.