Bartolomé Bermejo

The painter Bartolomé Bermejo (active 1474-1498), beginning under Flemish influence, was among the first Spanish artists to change to the Italian Renaissance manner.

The real name of Bartolomé Bermejo was probably Bartolomé de Cárdenas. Bermejo, meaning reddish, is thought to have been a nickname, but he did sign one of his works that way. He was born in Cordova, and some scholars believe he was Jewish because of a Hebrew inscription in his Christ Seated on His Tomb and also because of the physical types in many of his paintings.

Bermejo worked in Catalonia, Aragon, and Valencia and may have traveled to Flanders, France, and Italy since these countries are a trinity of influences discernible in his art. However, pervading his works is a character all his own: a poetic blend of melancholy, serenity, and grandeur.

Bermejo's first documented work is the altarpiece he executed for the church of S. Domingo de Silos in Daroca (1474-1477). The central panel, St. Dominic of Silos (now in the Prado Museum), combines Spanish realism and Flemish miniaturist detail. To the naturalism of the saint's physiognomy is added an expression of enigmatic introspection. The impressive monumentality of the figure subordinates the array of incredibly lavish and refined detail.

St. Engracia (ca. 1480) is stylistically distinguishable from St. Dominic of Silos. Although both saints are enthroned and fail to occupy their thrones convincingly, the form of St. Engracia, unlike the corporally weighted figure of St. Dominic, responds to the ascending linear scheme of a slender, reversed S curve. Paradoxically, her weightless form is enveloped in heavy, voluminous garments through which she seems to rise like a visual metaphor of the transcendence of the soul. Her face is impersonal, lovely, and remote. Her throne is simplified, lacking Flemish minutiae of ornament.

Although Bermejo's early art was strongly influenced by the Flemish in its drapery rhythms, luxuriant ornateness, and minute details, in his portraits of actual persons the facial chiaroscuro (light and dark values) is softly graded and, combined with the depth of feeling in the expressions, lends an emotional profundity that is distinctly Spanish. An example of this combination of attributes is the donor in St. Michael (ca. 1472).

Bermejo signed the Pietà with St. Jerome and the Canon Lluis Desplà (1490) "Opus Bartholomei Vermeio Cordubensis" (Work of Bartolomé Bermejo, Cordovan). The style of this work argues strongly that he was conversant with the art of Giovanni Bellini and of the Venetian school in general. The scene is pervaded by a palpable atmosphere that softens all it envelops in an Italianate idealism. The foreground, middle ground, and background are interlocked in a tremendous and unified recession in space. Other works by Bermejo are St. Catalina (ca. 1478), with a Flemish landscape and city scene; the Virgin and Child with Donor (ca. 1485), with a Bellinesque background; and St. Veronica (1498).

It is believed that Bermejo died about 1500. He had two followers, Martin Bernat and Miguel Jiménez, and his art influenced a number of artists in Valencia and Aragon.

Further Reading on Bartolomé Bermejo

An informative source on Bermejo in English is Chandler R. Post, A History of Spanish Painting (14 vols., 1930-1966). The best sources are in Spanish.

Additional Biography Sources

Young, Eric, Bartolome Bermejo: the great Hispano-Flemish master, London: Elek, 1975.

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