Visionary Experience in the Golden Age of Spanish Art (Essays in Art and Culture Series)

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9780948462757: Visionary Experience in the Golden Age of Spanish Art (Essays in Art and Culture Series)

In this original and lucid account of how Spanish painters of the 16th and 17th centuries dealt with mystic visions in their art, and of how they attempted to "represent the unrepresentable", Victor Stoichita aims to establish a theory of visionary imagery in Western art in general, and one for the Spanish Counter-Reformation in particular. He reveals how the spirituality of the Counter-Reformation was characterized by a rediscovery of the role of the imagination in the exercise of faith. This had important consequences for painters such as Velazquez, Zurbaran and El Greco, leading to the development of ingenious solutions for visual depictions of mystical experience. This was to crystallize into an overtly meditative and didactic pictorial language.

That Spanish painting is both cerebral and passionate is due to the particular historical forces which shaped it. Stoichita's account will be of crucial interest not just to scholars of Spanish art but to anyone interested in how art responds to ideological pressures.

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From the Back Cover:

One of the most significant features of the religious spirit of the Counter-Reformation was Spanish mysticism, a vital aspect of which was visionary experience. In this exploration of the relationship between the ecstatic experience of the Sacred and the art of painting in the Golden Age, Victor I. Stoichita starts from the premise that visionary experience is in fact the apprehension of an image, for a vision implies the manifestation of the Divinity itself. Although painters in Spain before the late sixteenth century had shown little interest in depicting visions, in the seventeenth it was a crucial topos: at this time a number of artists sought to include in their paintings both the vision itself and the visionary saint at the moment of ecstasy. Further, they explored ways of implicating the beholder of the work as a privileged witness to the 'reality' of the event represented, and also of means to make the work itself serve as a vision-inducing agent. The challenges that beset artists were considerable. How, for example, was one to portray the unrepresentable, or develop a readable figurative code of ecstatic gesture? Further, Spanish visionary literature included criticisms of the employment of paintings in the exercise of religious devotion, while writings on religious art and Christian iconography were also often at odds. The author's insights into the ways that painters responded to the celebrated visions of popular saints, and of how the role of the beholder of works of art - works often bewildering in their multiple 'realities' - was manipulated, insistently demonstrate that the art of devotion in the Golden Age continued throughout as cerebral as it was impassioned.

About the Author:

Victor I. Stoichita is Professor of the History of Art at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He is author of A Short History of the Shadow (Reaktion, 1997) and co-author of Goya (Reaktion, 1999).

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