Spanish art is treasured worldwide for its continental European and Mediterranean flavours, but as we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Here are our picks of eight of the most beautiful Spanish artworks of all time, along with a brief description of their inspiration and creation, and the artistic geniuses who devised them.
Paintings: Salvador Dali’s the Persistence of Memory
Dali’s ‘droopy clocks’ painting is one of the most iconic artworks ever created – not only in Spain, but anywhere in the world.
The surrealist’s 1931 creation has been linked with concepts of the malleability of spacetime under relativistic effects but, according to Dali himself, was simply inspired by the sight of Camembert that had melted in the heat of the day.
It is just one example of this enigmatic artist’s trademark style but, thanks to its instantly recognisable and enduringly iconic characteristics, is among the most widely known paintings ever to be created, and undoubtedly one of the most famous Spanish paintings of all time.
Musical compositions: Isaac Albeniz’s Spanish Suite
Isaac Albeniz’s Spanish Suite is an eight-piece piano composition that draws on the character of eight different Spanish cities: Aragon, Asturias, Cadiz, Castilla, Cataluna, Cuba, Granada and Sevilla.
Each is an elegant composition in its own right, capturing a sense of the city that serves as its inspiration, while together this 1886-87 work offers a musical glimpse into the heart of a proud and historical nation.
Given the nature of modern-day Spanish music, it is perhaps little surprise – and, if anything, a considerable honour – that Albeniz’s suite has found new popularity not on its original piano as the composer intended, but as adapted compositions for guitar.
Music festivals: Festimad
Since 1994, Festimad has existed alongside the Festival Internacional de Benicassim as an alt-rock and cultural festival, taking place each year in early summer in Spain’s capital, Madrid.
As a ‘macrofestival’, the itinerary typically includes not just music, but also alternative artforms such as graffiti and street performance art, along with music performances by artists including Rammstein, Metallica, Marilyn Manson and The Prodigy.
With roughly 40,000 people attending over the two days of the event each year, it is a shining example of modern-day European culture, and of how Spain’s citizens are willing to embrace alternative forms of art in the 21st century – just as they have been for generations previously.
Literature: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote
If you are passionate about reading, Spanish literature has plenty to offer. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, remains one of its most celebrated works, despite dating back to 1605.
Popular interpretations of the storyline range from tragedy to comedy, and everything in between, so if you are reading a translation, remember that the interpreter’s opinion may have had an effect on their choice of words.
Alternatively, if you are a fluent Spanish speaker, reading the original text could give you more of an insight into this 400-year-old masterpiece, and let you draw your own conclusions about the author’s intentions behind his text.
This is a tale that ranks alongside any other on the global stage as one of the most revered and influential pieces of literature, and is well worth studying either in its original language, or translated into English.
Photography: Ojanguren Indalecio Arrillaga
Ojanguren Indalecio Arrillaga was a Spanish mountaineer and photographer known to many as the Eagle Photographer, who lived from 1887 until 1972 and was famed for his landscape shots.
As a freelance photographer, he sold his work to a large number of different Spanish publications, helping to expose his photographs to a widespread audience.
While his mountain and village scenes are the work he is famed for, his portfolio also included certain images with specific cultural relevance.
For example, in 1937, he photographed a machine gun nest in Bilbao – a glimpse at the impact of the Spanish Civil War that took place in 1936-39.
Architecture: Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia
The Sagrada Familia – or, to use its full name, the Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia – is Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, a large and unfinished Roman Catholic church in Barcelona that many people mistakenly think of as a cathedral.
In fact, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, Barcelona’s actual cathedral, is an architectural marvel in its own right, built mainly in the 14th century.
Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia did not appear on the city’s skyline until the late 19th century, and was only a quarter of the way to completion when the architect died in 1926.
Since then, work has continued – albeit controversially – and is expected to be completed in around 2026, in time for the centenary of Gaudi’s death.
Sculpture: Pieta (Unknown Artist)
Spain has its fair share of sculptors, but one of its most beautiful works now resides in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in a city whose full name is itself Spanish for “The City of the Queen of the Angels”.
Entitled simply Pieta, the sculpture depicts a common scene in Christianity-inspired artworks, that of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead figure of Jesus Christ.
In this artwork, dating from around 1725, plaster, linen and other fabrics, wood, papier mache, glass and other materials are combined to create a lifelike piece which, unlike many other Pieta sculptures, is in colour.
Although the artist’s name is unknown and the sculpture has since journeyed across the Atlantic to California, it remains a moving and expertly executed masterpiece well worthy of its place in this shortlist.
Theatre: Almagro International Festival of Classical Theatre
The Almagro International Festival of Classical Theatre, or Festival de Almagro in Spanish, is a celebration of theatrical performances that lasts for the most part of a month each summer.
It is held in Almagro at venues including the local hospital and university, the cloister of the National Theatre Museum, outdoors at the Plaza de Santo Domingo square, and the Corral de Comedias Theatre.
The last of these is the main venue for events, and offers a stage that has remained unchanged during the course of a 400-year history of performances.
Performances are accompanied by an itinerary of other events, including workshops for children, craft fairs, exhibitions and street theatre, making this a true celebration of Spanish culture for residents and tourists of all ages.