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Poetic Interpretation of Spanish Art: A Cultural Commentary

by Naomi Stewart
Poetic Interpretation of Spanish Art: A Cultural Commentary | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Granada, Spain

I wrote this poem after my trip to the Granada Museum of Fine Arts, which sits atop the hill in The Palace of Charles V.

There is a fine collection of 16th century to 19th century art that depicts Granada’s unique history and culture. I noticed a progression, seen throughout western art history in Europe. The Gothic and Medieval work included the depiction of Christianity through the lens of Catholicism. I first saw wood-work and paintings of Madonna and Child, Christ’s crucifixion, narratives of the life of Christ on Earth.   

Looking for the resurrection of Christ, I did not find it. Instead, the gallery led me to the beginnings of the recognition of Saints, which did not surprise me. Huge, wooden, polychrome statues of monks and saints; and paintings of their accomplishments. Leading me then to the 17th century works, away from the Bible, away from “piety,” and to an exhibition of still-lifes.

For so long, in my experience with art history, I never fully understood the point of still-life paintings until today. For some reason it clicked in my mind why paintings of food and silver dishes on a table played a role in western art outside of it being just “something to paint.”

What these seemingly mundane portraits of pomegranates and onions, “bread and wine stains,” and meat hanging in butcher shops showed me, was a symbolic preservation of not only Spanish gastronomy, but what the people of this country continue to hold dear to. What was depicted in these still-lifes is still a facet of the Spanish lifestyle today. Selling silver was the trade of my Spanish mom, she cooks with most if not all the ingredients depicted in the paintings, and the pomegranate continues to be the symbol of Granada.

What baffles me most is how hundreds of years of influence from the Arabs, from the Romans, from the Greeks, and from the Phoenicians is so clearly seen today in Spain. I’ve yet to experience that in the United States and probably won’t in the same way I have here in Spain.

The following poem is an expression of my take on the Catholic influence in the art and history of Spain. It was clearly a vehicle for the expulsion of dissenting beliefs, the conquest of the Americas, and the rise of Spanish rule in the 15th and 16th centuries. Being a Protestant, I have felt inclined to comment on the representation of Jesus Christ in the art I viewed.

This post was contributed by Naomi Stewart, an AIFS Alumni Ambassador who spent a semester abroad with AIFS in Granada, Spain.

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