Bigas Luna, the Spanish director considered the “discoverer” of Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, has died aged 67.

He passed away, after a long illness, at his house in Tarragona.

The Barcelona-born film-maker won the Silver Lion in Venice as best director for Jamón, Jamón (1992), which starred Cruz and Bardem in their first international hit.

Luna began his career in the 1970s shortly after the death of Spanish dictator Franco and his iconoclast films are considered a highlight of an era that represented new freedoms for the country.

Bilbao (1978), a gothic thriller about a psychopath who kidnaps a prostitute, was selected for Cannes and became his first international feature.

A master of portraying extreme passions, his films in the 1980s were characterised as disturbing thrillers with high erotic content and included Lola (1986) and Angustia (1987).

Nymphomaniac drama The Ages of Lulu (1990) gave Bardem his feature film debut. Two years later, Jamón, Jamón became one of the most iconic and popular titles of modern Spanish cinema. The film proved an international success particularly in Italy, France and Japan, where it is considered a cult classic.

The world of Bigas Luna - characterised by Mediterranean icons from olive oil and bulls to overwhelming sexuality - continued to develop as his film-making matured.

Golden Balls(1993) saw him direct Bardem again to portray the economic and construction boom in Spain whil he directed  flamenco superstar Miguel Poveda in The Tit and the Moon (1994).

Luna also found success with period films such as The Chambermaid of the Titanic (1997), a romantic story starring Olivier Martínez and Aitana Sánchez Gijón on the doomed votage.

He also directed Cruz again in Volavérunt (1999), set in the times of Goya and focussed on the Alba duchess.

Luna’s final success was My Name is Juani (2006), a homage to the beautiful female youngsters of the Spanish working class that proved a springboard to success for Verónica Echegui, who recently starred in Bruce Willis thriller The Cold Light of Day.

A popular and present figure in Spanish mainstream media, Luna was also a brave fighter against online piracy and an enthusiastic promoter of the pleasures of Mediterranean lifestyle.

At the time of his death [April 6], the director was preparing his next film, Second Origin, an ambitious production set in a post-Apocalyptic Barcelona.