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Siglo de Oro: Art’s gloomy forecast

Through efforts from King Felipe VI of Spain and President Joachim Gauck, the exhibition El Siglo de Oro brings the biggest show of Spanish art outside Spain to Berlin. Check out Spanish Golden Age at the Gemäldegalerie through Oct 30.

Image for Siglo de Oro: Art’s gloomy forecast
The Velázquez Era. Photo by Achim Kleuker

Never has a show of so much Spanish Golden Age art been shown outside its country, but with the support of His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain and German Federal President Joachim Gauck, El Siglo de Oro has brought hundreds of pieces by Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Francisco de Zurbarán and more to Berlin.

Spanish Golden Age art, which spanned roughly 150 years following the Spanish Renaissance, was funded by new-found American gold, and primarily commissioned by wealthy patrons, royalty and the church. Regal portraits and biblical scenes abound, depicting status, beauty and tragedy. But the nobility seem pale, misshapen and strange. Everywhere, shadows creep in at the edges, enveloping each scene in a fearful coldness, despite warm hues.

Regardless of the propagandistic aspirations of these commissioned artworks of the pious and powerful, the curators point out that there seems to be some foreshadowing of the Spanish Empire’s impending demise in the deep blackness of the paint, the brutality of Christ’s suffering, and the glass tears on the wood sculpted face of the “Mother of Sorrows” by Pedro Roldan (photo). But it’s the 1605 first edition of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote that provides the most overt scepticism and disregard towards the old glory that was slipping away.

Despite the endless religious and noble themes, El Siglo de Oro presents fascinating examples of art’s historically significant way of relaying the nuances of the world in which it’s created. Beyond that, the exhibition teaches a great deal about Spanish history, of shifting global powers and uncertain futures, one that shares a stark resemblance to our own.

EL SIGLO DE ORO – THE AGE OF VELÁZQUEZ, Through October 30 | Gemäldegalerie, Matthäikirchplatz, Tiergarten, S+U-Bhf Potsdamer Platz, Tue-Wed, Fri 10-18, Thu 10-20, Sat-Sun 11-18