Beyond orientalism: The case of Jenaro Pérez Villaamil

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Abstract / Description of output

Nineteenth-century Spanish imagery relating to Al-Andalus is an ideal subject for exploring Orientalism. Focusing on the landscape painter Jenaro Pérez Villaamil, this article reveals the special situation of Spanish artists as both object and subject of Orientalism: their culture is orientalised by foreigners, but Spanish artists are also capable of orientalising parts of their own culture and other cultures. Existing scholarship on Villaamil has focused on his assimilation of British art and his status as one of Spain’s first ‘Orientalist’ painters. This essay widens the perspective by foregrounding Spanish attitudes to the Islamic past. Looking beyond the orthodox label of Orientalism, what were the motivations, codes and values by which Villaamil translated Spain’s Islamic past into two-dimensional images and how might they have been understood at the time? On the one hand, Villaamil’s landscapes were a way to match the British school of painting and create a name for himself and Spanish painting. On the other hand, his work has to be situated within the broader Spanish intellectual discourse on Al Andalus. It is argued that Villaamil’s work reveals a desire to resist the foreign orientalising gaze, and instruct the viewer in the ‘character’ of the Spanish nation. His print albums, the España Artística y Monumental (which have never been analysed in depth) and his later paintings for Isabela II are discussed as meditations on Spain’s history, which are not necessarily based on the concept of alterity.
Key words: Orientalism, Jenaro Pérez Villaamil, nineteenth-century Spanish art, Arabism, national identity, Anglo-Hispanic cultural relations
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)384-408
JournalHispanic Research Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Orientalism
  • Nineteenth-century Spanish art
  • national identity
  • cultural translation


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