“Bartolomé Bermejo: Master of the Spanish Renaissance”
"Bartolomé Bermejo: Master of the Spanish Renaissance” at the National Gallery in London brings together seven works by the 15th century Spaish master - - more than a third of his known surviving works.
Bartolomé de Cárdenas was probably born in Cordoba in the second half of the 15th century. Relatively little is known about his life. For example, it is unclear why he was called “Bermejo”, which means “redish” or “sunburned” in Spanish.
It is believed that he was probably a Jew who converted to Christianity. Some of his paintings contain Hebrew lettering. In addition, his wife was investigated by the Spanish Inquisition for her “Jewish practices” and alleged failure to know the creed. Whether this conversion was forced is unknown but it may also have had an economic incentive as artists in Spain in those days primarily created religious pictures for the church or for wealthy patrons. Bermejo was no exception.
Bermejo led an itinerant life, perhaps to avoid religious persecution. It is known that he worked in the cities of Tous, Valencia, Daroca, Zaragoza, and Barcelona, which were then under the Crown of Aragon He entered into a number of contracts with local artists of inferior ability probably in order to satisfy local guild requirements.
The exhibition brings together some of Bermejo's most important works. It includes: the National Gallery's “Saint Michael Triumphs Over the Devil,” the center panel of an altarpiece created for the parish church in Tous; the recently restored “Desplà Pietà” from Barcelona Cathedral; and Bermejo’s only other signed masterwork, the “Triptych of the Virgin of Montserrat” from the Cattedrale Nostra Signora Assunta in Acqui Terme, Alessandria (Italy). The exhibition also includes portraits of some of Bermejo's patrons.
What sets Bermejo's work apart from other Spanish painters of the period is his use of Netherlandish-style oil painting technique. At one point, it was believed that he may have learned this technique on a visit to the Netherlands but there is no documentation of such a trip. Therefore, it is believed that he probably learned the technique by studying Netherlandish paintings then in circulation in Spain. In any event, this technique allowed Bermejo to capture light, color and detail in a way that other early Spanish painters could not.
Bermejo's works have another connection to the north. Like the works of artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, his works contain demons and horrid creatures in a hellish setting. Thus, Bermejo appears to have reached out beyond Spanish artistic tradition to include elements of northern art.
Such nightmarish visions of religion may not speak to modern viewers. However, the skill of the artist is well-worth study.
Above: Bermejo's “Saint Michael Triumphs Over the Devil,”
Art review - National Gallery (London) - “Bartolomé Bermejo: Master of the Spanish Renaissance”