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Picasso and the Medieval Tradition

Romanesque Painter - Majestas Domini with Evangelists and Saints (detail) - c. 1123 - Fresco - Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona (click photo for larger image)This wall-painting detail featured here originally came from the Church of San Clemente de Tahull in the lower Catalan Pyrenées. It was eventually transferred to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona for safekeeping. Pablo Picasso was particularly struck by the highly idiosyncratic and distinctive style of the San Clemente Master, and kept a poster of this image in his house at Mougins in Southern France. Picasso was a complex painter and his medieval sources have rarely been studied. But we do know that up until 1895 (when he made his first  visit to the Prado museum in Madrid) much of Picasso’s exposure to art took place in churches. In addition, as early as 1896, he was studying the Romanesque and Gothic elements of his local Barcelona architecture.

Pablo Picasso - La Visita (The Visitation) - 1902 - Oil on canvas - 152 x 100 cm. - Hermitage Museum, Saint PetersburgPicasso’s work La Visita (The Visitation) (1902) is seemingly simplistic in composition. The heavily outlined, elongated figures and exaggerated facial features evoke the flatness and abstraction that is characteristic of medieval art—and the period styled clothing enhances the reference. That the work was also done on panel (rather than canvas) also calls to mind the frescoes, altarpieces, and panel works of the Middle Ages. It’s worth noting that a number of works from Picasso’s “Blue Period” embody a medieval influence.

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