The Arts in Spain

Category: Articles

One of Madrid´s most famous sites is the Museo Nacional del Prado, or the Prado. The masterpieces in this gallery include works by Spain´s greatest artists, which Spanish royal families collected throughout history. The Prado is not the only place to find art in Spain. Many other galleries can be found throughout Spain. Magnificent paintings and sculptures add to the beauty of tiny rural churches scattered across the land. Impressive statues stand in village plazas, and elaborate tile patterns decorate the walls of houses.

Religious Art

In the 1500s, the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella ordered Spanish artists to produce paintings and sculptures with religious themes only. Most subjects in the paintings were shown in a natural, realistic way. The religious paintings of the artist El Greco (1541-1614) were different. El Greco was born on the Greek island of Crete, but did most of his work in Spain. His real name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos, but people in Spain called him El Greco, which means “The Greek”. He painted people with long bodies who were often in distorted positions, making them seem tense and dramatic. El Greco was also known for painting landscapes, which were not common in Spain at the time.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Another Spanish artist who painted religious scenes was Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682). Murillo also painted scenes of everyday life, such as the young, homeless boys who begged on the streets of Seville, where he lived.

Art of the Court

Kings and queens throughout Spain´s history paid artists to paint portraits of the royal family. When Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) was only 24 years old, he became Painter to the King. For the rest of his career, he painted realistic portraits of the royal family and other members of the King´s court. He was one of the first artists to depict the dwarfs who worked in the court as entertainers with respect and sympathy.

Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya (1746-1828) worked in King Charles III´s court, painting portraits of Spanish nobility and historical events. His early paintings show people enjoying outdoor activities, such as picnics. In 1792, Goya caught a mysterious illness that left him deaf. After that, his work became more negative, with thick, bold strokes of dark color. His portraits of the royal family made them look unattractive, and he painted the horrors of battle in works such as Disasters of War, a series of 80 paintings. In the 1820s, after the death of his wife and son, Goya´s work became even gloomier. He painted black murals on the walls of his home. Some of these paintings showed scenes of witchcraft or shocking events from Greek mythology. These Black Paintings were eventually moved to the Prado.

Cubism and Picasso

In the 1890s, a new style of painting called “cubism” became popular. An object in a cubist painting looks like it has been broken into small pieces and stuck together again. One of the inventors of cubism was painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Picasso was born in Málaga, in the south of Spain. Many people think he was the most important artist of the 20th century, and that his painting Guernica is one of the most significant works of art. Picasso created Guernica in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, for a fair in Paris, France. It is a disturbing mural of a town bombed during the war.

Surrealism and Dalí

Pablo Picasso also painted in a style known as “surrealism”. Surrealist paintings are based on dreams and other parts of the unconscious, which is the area of the mind that a person is not usually aware of. Surrealists sometimes show the unreal quality of dreams by painting everyday objects in unexpected ways. For example, one of the most famous paintings of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), Persistence of Memory, shows large clocks melting in the desert. Other paintings created by Dalí, such as Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach, appear to change depending a viewer is focusing on.

Dalí considered himself to be a genius, and he loved fame. He spent much of his later life designing a museum for himself in Figueres, in northeastern Spain, where he was born. Dalí is burried under the center stage of this extraordinary building, which is covered in huge eggs.

Joan Miró

Joan Miró (1893-1989) was another famous surrealist painter. Born in Barcelona, his paintings were based on fantasy and dreams. Much of his work was humorous, with distorted animals and playful shapes and lines in vivid colors. In some of his paintings, such as Birth of the World, Miró applied paint wherever he wanted, then saw what shapes were created after gravity forced the paint downward. These shapes inspired him to add details to the painting, depending on how they made him feel and what they made him think of. Miró also designed ceramic murals for the walls of several important public buildings, such as Harvard University in Boston.

Antoni Tápies

Surrealism has inspired one of Spain´s most famous modern artists, Antoni Tápies (1923-). He creates paintings and posters, as well as sculptures made from materials such as metal and concrete. One of his most famous sculptures is called Clouds and Chair. It is made of wire, and sits on the roof of a building in Barcelona. Originally a factory, this building is now a gallery called the Fundació Antoni Tápies, or the Antoni Tápies Foundation, which displays many of Tápies works.

Crafts across Spain

People in different regions of Spain specialize in making different crafts. Andalusia, in the south, is famous for its guitars, while fiddles are made in Cantabria, in the north. Leather shoes and bags are produced on the Balearic Islands, off the east coast. Wicker and baskets are crafted from cane in the south of Spain, and lace is made in Catalonia, in northeastern Spain.

Damascene Ware

In the area around Toledo, steel or bronze objects, such as plates, boxers, knives, and specially swords and jewelry, are decorated with fine silver and gold threads. This craft is known as damascening. The Moors brought damascening to Spain. The word “damascene” comes from Damascus, an Arab city in the country of Syria, famous for this kind of work.


Artists in Spain make beautiful clay pottery and ceramic tiles that are decorated with Moorish designs. These designs are inspired by plants and flowers, geometric shapes, and beautiful writing. The Moors, who were Muslims, did not show people or animals in their artwork. Like other Muslims, they believed that only Allah can create living things.