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In Andalusia the dawn of art actually began 25,000 years ago when prehistoric man decorated caves in the province, painting in charcoal, blood red, and a goldlike ocher. For a look at this prehistoric art, visit Cueva de la Pileta near Ronda or Cueva de Nerja in Nerja.

On October 25, 1881, in the port city of Málaga along Andalusia's southern coast, an artist was born. Pablo Picasso went on to become the greatest master of 20th-century art. Andalusia's many museums and churches overflow with treasures dating from Spain's Golden Age of art, a period when Seville stood at the center of an explosion of painting and sculpture.

Romanesque (10th-13th c.)

When the Moors subdued Andalusia back in the 8th century, they naturally came to dominate art in the province. As the Koran forbade them to create graven images (human figures, for example), they turned instead to decorative arts. Geometric designs and exaggerated Kufic inscriptions appeared on painted tiles -- called azulejos -- in stucco plasterwork and in various woodcarvings. Other rich and varied artifacts from this Muslim era include wood strap work in geometric designs, weapons, small ivory chests, and brocades.

Gothic (13th-16th c.)

The schools of Catalonia (Barcelona) and France were the stars of this era in painting. Artists often worked on polyptychs and altarpieces, some reaching a height of 15m (50 ft.). Although influenced by the Italian, French, and Flemish schools, Gothic painting in Spain was distinctive in its interpretation. Colors such as deep red and lustrous golds were varied and vivid. Breaking from Romanesque, compositions became more complex. A sense of motion entered painting, as opposed to the more rigid forms of Romanesque.

The most notable of the Andalusian artists of this period was Bartolomé Bermejo (ca. 1440 -- sometime after 1495), who was heavily influenced by van Eyck. The first Spanish painter to use oils, he became the leader of the Italianate Valencian school. He is believed to have been born in Córdoba. He wasn't influenced by the art of his native province at the time -- nothing in the art in that period can explain the origin of Bermejo's style or his artistic technique. His paintings are characterized by a profound gravity, evoking Flanders where he once studied. His best work is in Madrid's Prado.

Pedro Berruguete (1450-1504) straddled the line between Gothic and the Renaissance during a transitional period. Berruguete became the forerunner of the 17th-century Spanish portraitists. At the Museo Provincial in Jaén, you can see his paintings such as Christ at the Column.

The Renaissance & Baroque (16th-17th c.)

By the 16th century, the Siglo de Oro (Golden Age) of art finally arrived in Spain. The Renaissance was a long time in coming. When it eventually began to replace Gothic works, the style, which had originated in Florence, had already mutated into the baroque in Spain. Some of the world's greatest artists emerged from Andalusia during this period. Seville saw the rise of three great artists -- Diego Velázquez, El Greco, and Francisco Goya -- still hailed as among the greatest who ever lived.

In the Golden Age, naturalism came into bloom. A technique called chiaroscuro, evocative of that used by Italy's Caravaggio, contrasted light and shadow. Stern realism was often depicted. Portraiture and still life (bodegón) flourished.

The late Renaissance and baroque paintings became more theatrical, colorful, and decorative. Patrons, often with money they'd made from the New World, demanded paintings that were dynamic with realistic figures. No longer was the church, and its draconian dictates, the main patron of art. Rich merchants demanded their own likenesses be captured on canvas, and also flattering images of their families, regardless of what they actually looked like.

The most important painter to emerge from this era was Diego Velázquez (1599-1660), the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV. Born in Seville, he did not achieve his greatest fame until long after his death. In time, his works such as Las Meninas, painted in 1656, would influence Picasso himself and even Salvador Dalí. It's hard to find many works by Velázquez in Andalusia. A notable exception is Receiving the Chasuble (ca. 1623), displayed at the Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes in Seville, although this painting is not among the artist's best work. Go to the Prado in Madrid to see Velázquez in all his glory.

While still young, Francisco Zurbarán (1598-1662) was sent to study art at the School of Juan de Roelas in Seville. He became the Spanish equivalent of Michelangelo da Caravaggio. He excelled in a forcible, realistic style and painted directly from nature. Most of his paintings focused on ascetic, religious motifs. His color is often bluish to excess. The light seems to come from within the subject of his paintings rather than from an external source. The Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes de Sevilla contains several of his works.

Painting tender, intimate, even mystical scenes, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-82) was a leading rival of Zurbarán. The darling of Counter-Reformation art collectors, he is showcased at Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes in Seville, and, of course, at El Prado in Madrid. At the age of 26, Murillo went to Madrid, where he studied under Velázquez, but he returned to Seville in 1645. He excelled in the painting of flowers, water, light clouds, drapery, and in the use of color such as in his 1670 work, The Little Fruit Seller. Some critics dismiss Murillo as "tenderly sentimental -- even saccharine."

The greatest Spanish sculptor of the 17th century, Juan Martínez Montañés (1568-1649) became hailed as el dios de la madera (the god of wood). For most of his life, he worked in Seville, whose cathedral holds his masterpiece, Christ of Clemency (1603-06). In this polychromed wooden statue, he brought a new naturalism to church carving, tempering his "baroque emotionalism" with a classical sense of dignity. His polychrome wooden sculptures appealed to the Andalusian sense of drama and pathos. Martínez Montañés spread his carving style through a workshop he founded, teaching Cano among others. Oddly enough, Martínez Montañés is remembered today not for his own work but for a famous painting that Velázquez did of him, now in Madrid's Prado.

Architect, painter, and sculptor Alonso Cano (1601-67) was often called the Spanish Michelangelo because of the diversity of his talents. In spite of his violent temper (he is rumored to have murdered his wife), his paintings for the most part are serene, even sweet. He was hired by Philip IV to restore paintings in his royal collection in Madrid. Here, Cano came under the influence of Venetian masters of the 16th century and used many of their techniques in his later works. He is celebrated for designing the facade of the cathedral in Granada, one of the grandest and boldest statements in Spanish baroque architecture. Today the cathedral owns several of Cano's paintings and sculptures, including a polychrome wooden statue of the Immaculate Conception from 1655 that is hailed as his masterpiece.

Another painter born in Seville was Juan de Valdés Leal (1622-90), who also worked in Córdoba. Along with Murillo, he founded an academy of painting in Seville in 1660. When Murillo died in 1682, Valdés Leal became the leading painter of Seville. Valdés Leal was mostly a religious painter, although he took a radically different approach from Murillo, specializing in the macabre, even the grotesque. He sought with his vivid colors, dramatic light effects, and powerful realism to challenge "earthly vanities."

Bourbon Rococo & Neoclassical (18th-19th c.)

With the coming of Bourbon rule to Spain, the monarchs set out to attract some of Europe's greatest painters to their court in Madrid. Painting came under the dictates of the Academy of San Fernando founded in 1752. Francisco Goya (1746-1828) dominated this lusty period in Spanish art, but Andalusia had its own homegrown stars.

The singular Julio Romero de Torres was born in Córdoba in 1874. The son of a painter, Rafael Romero de Torres, Julio studied art from the age of 10. In time he became famous for his paintings of Andalusian beauties, which were regarded as provocative at the time. His most celebrated work, on display at the Museo de Julio Romero de Torres at Córdoba is Naranjas y Limones (Oranges and Lemons). The dark-haired beauty in the portrait is bare breasted and holding oranges.

20th Century

After a period of "romantic decline" in the latter 19th century, Spain rose again in the art world at the turn of the 20th century, as Spanish artists helped develop cubism and surrealism. A host of Spanish artists -- not only Picasso -- rose to excite the world. These included the great surrealist Joan Miró (1893-1983); Juan Gris (1887-1927), the purest of the cubists; and the outrageous Salvador Dalí (1904-89).

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), of course, is known as one of the 20th century's greatest modern artists and the most famous founder of cubism (along with Georges Braque). His body of work changed radically over the years, his most famous being the Blue Period in which he depicted harlequins, beggars, artists, and prostitutes among others. Although he experienced financial difficulties early in his life, his paintings now sell for millions. Dora Maar au Chat (Dora Maar with Cat) fetched $95.2 million in 2006. Modern art lovers flock to Málaga, the town of his birth, to see the Picasso Museum.

After producing some of Spain's greatest artists during the Golden Age, Andalusia became a backwater in art for most of the 1900s. Nonetheless, Rafael Zabaleta (1907-60) rose from this obscurity to become known for his bucolic depictions of rural life. Born in Jaén province to a family of rich landowners, he made his Andalusian village of Quesada the subject of most of his work, which is still popular on the market today.

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