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What Is The Spanish Golden Age History Essay

Info: 2274 words (9 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in History

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The Spanish Golden Age, El Siglo de Oro, was a period of flourishing in the arts and literature in Spain. Advancements that were made in literature, painting, and architecture, coincided with the rise and decline of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty. Ferdinand and Isabella were very dedicated to the arts. The Spanish Habsburg commitment to the arts, in addition to Spanish society’s desire to address events such as the Reformation and the Inquisition contributed to the rise of the Spanish Golden Age.

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Prior to the reigns of the Spanish Habsburgs, the Spanish had viewed painting as a craft. Fortunately for painters, royal patronage allowed them to achieve higher status in 16th century Spain. As Spanish monarchs, such as Ferdinand and Isabella, developed connections to painters, painting began to be viewed as an art. As painting gained more respect throughout Spain, painters could develop works that would have greater influence on Spanish culture and society.

Diego Velazquez (1599- 1660) is an example of a painter who benefited from royal patronage. Born in Seville, Velázquez Velazquez was a court painter for King Philip IV (1621-1665). Following the death of Philip’s favorite court painter, Rodrigo de Villandrando, in 1622 Velázquez was ordered to the King’s court. Philip’s chief minister, Count-Duke of Olivares, whom Velazquez would later develop a strong relationship with, commissioned Velazquez to paint a portrait of the king. On August 16th, 1623 King Philip sat for the portrait. Both Philip and Olivares were pleased with the work and as result of that, the painter was ordered to move to Madrid to become the official painter in the king’s court.

When Velazquez began his career at Philip’s court, he had already earned a reputation as a talented Baroque artist. Baroque, which was a style that emerged as a result of the Reformation, was connected to the idea that the “arts should communicate religious themes in direct and emotional involvement”. [1] The style was characterized by rich, deep colors and intense light and dark shadows.

Philip and other Habsburg rulers were great supporters of Baroque because display of such artwork was a means through which a ruler could impress visitors to the court. “had a deep love of the art of painting and the resources to indulge it on a grand scale” “Phillip IV had a deep love of the art of painting and the resources to indulge it on a grand scale”. [2] By allowing for a great Baroque presence in his court, Philip was also able to display power and wealth.

For more than thirty years, Velázquez alternated between living in Italy and Spain. When he returned to Spain in 1451, Philip’s court faced many harsh realities. _____ writes,

“The later years of the reign of Philip IV were an unhappy time for the

Spanish monarchy. By 1640, it had become clear that the ambitious reforms

initiated by Olivares had failed to restore either the reputation or the finances

of the crown…Yet somehow these financial and military disasters did not a

discernible impact on the painters of Madrid. During this period, the foundations

were laid for a remarkable efflorescence of the art that occurred in the second

half of the century”. [3] 

It was during this time that Velazquez created one of his most renowned pieces, Las Meninas (1656), which displayed various characteristics of baroque art. AVelazquez’s usage of the baroque style is displayed in his painting, Las Meninas (1656). This painting, which is one of Velazquez’s most renowned pieces, is set is in the palace of Philip IV. In this painting, Velazquez portrays the king, queen, and Princess Margarita, in addition to other members of the household court. The artist’s presence in the company of the Habsburg royals reveals that indeed painters were claiming a higher status. “In a society that equated access to the king with high rank and favor, the significance of this visitation would have been blatant”. [4] 

“Philip’s reign was equally notable for the accomplishments of the painters of Madrid” 111

“The nobility of painting had become a major issue in the seventeenth century” 180

“In Las Meninas, the painter no longer resorts to subterfuge. The king and queen appear in person, if discreetly reflected in a mirror, and bestow their approval of Velázquez and his art, as does the infanta Margarita.” 184

El Greco was one such painter who benefited from royal patronage. El Greco (1541-1614), who was originally from Crete, brought the Italian Renaissance to Spain after he settled in Toledo in 1577. El Greco’s paintings expressed sentiments of the Counter-Reformation.

The Reformation began in 1517 after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses of the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the doors of the Castle Church located in Wittenburg, Germany. [5] Facing the wrath of Protestants, the Catholic Church sought to reform its practices and reinforce belief in Catholic doctrine. Toledo, which was the seat of the archbishop, played an active role in the Protestant Reformation. [6] At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which was a major part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the importance of religious art was recognized.

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Many of El Greco’s paintings represented themes that were associated with religion. His paintings contained powerful images of sacraments, the Virgin Mary, etc; The Burial of Count Orgaz (1586) is one such painting. The theme of this painting is inspired from the legend of the pious Don Gonzalo Ruiz, who was known as the Count of Orgaz. Following his death, the Count left money to be put towards enlarging and adorning the church of Santo Tomé, which was El Greco’s parish church. Legend has it that after the Count of Orgaz died, Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine descended from heaven before the awed citizens of Toledo and buried the man.

El Escorial is a great royal monastery that was built by King Philip II. The building also functions as a royal palace, museum, and school. It is located in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, which is about 45 kilometers northwest of Madrid. The building is made up of two architectural complexes, El Real Monasterio de El Escorial and La Granjilla de La Fresneda. While El Real Monasterio de El Escorial serves as the monastery, La Granjilla de La Fresneda, serves as a royal hunting lodge and monastic retreat. El Escorial is an important symbol of Catholicism.

As painters used their art to display views and commentary of the time, literature also took a prominent role in addressing events such as the Reformation. As the Catholic Church launched the Counter-Reformation in response to the Reformation which harshly criticized practices of the Church, members of religious orders took part in reform efforts. [7] During the 16th century Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) and Saint Teresa of Avila emerged as two major figures of the Counter-Reformation. Each was responsible for various developments in Spanish literature.

Saint John, born Juan de Yepes Alvarez in Old Castile in the year 1542, was a Carmelite friar and priest. In the wake of the Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, San Juan reformed the Catholic Carmelite order.

In addition to being a Catholic reformer, John was also a Spanish mystic. In 1577, John was imprisoned in Toledo by his Carmelite superiors who opposed his reforms and believed that they threatened the well-being of their order. [8] While John was in prison, he spent a great deal of time contemplating life and his relationship with God. It was during this period of imprisonment, that John wrote many of his most renowned and exquisite poetry, including the famous Dark Night of the Soul (La noche oscura del alma).

Dark Night of the Soul, a renowned, somberly-toned work of Spanish mystic literature, is a poem that describes the process of becoming in union with God. In the poem, John characterizes the process of maturing spiritually and becoming in union with God as a lonely and painful journey. In the work, John describes his soul’s journey from leaving its home in his body to entering into union with God in heaven. Many Catholic Spaniards embraced the beliefs of Spanish mystics.

One of John’s greatest supporters was St. Teresa Avila, another Spanish mystic. Oxford University Professor of Divinity, Rowan Williams, describes Teresa as “one of the most accessible and attractive of all the great writers in the Christian mystical tradition”. [9] Born in 1515, Teresa became a Carmelite nun in 1536. [10] However like John, she too was a reformer of the Carmelite Order. In conjunction with John, Teresa founded the Discalced Carmelites (Barefooted Carmelites).

Teresa’s writings related to meditation and devotion to God.

“The experiences she identifies are of ‘supsension’, displacement, and a measure of confusion: there is the awareness of love and longing for God, an absence of any impressions in the memory, and an experience in the understanding that might be described as an overloading of the circuits…Teresa distinguishes this very carefully from the sense of warm devotion that can be generated by a good meditation; she…sees it is a co-operation between effort and grace” 55

Teresa’s work, The Interior Castle (El Castillo Interior) which was published in 1577, is known as “one of the most celebrated books on mystical theologly”. [11] In this text, Teresa “exhorts and inspires her readers to participate in the search” for “spiritual perfection”, “this ultimate spiritual reality” which was “the source of her own joy”. [12] 

Teresa’s work advised Catholics with regards to how find “spiritual perfection”. In the wake of the Reformation it was clear that the Catholic Chruch was not perfect; however, Teresa’s work revealed the validity of Catholic doctrine. Becoming closer to the Catholic god was possible; to get there one needed to assume entrance into each of the seven mansions that made up the Interior Castle. By participating in acts such as meditation (the first mansion) and contemplative prayer (mansions four through seven), one could become closer to God.

The works of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila were praised and embraced by Catholics throughout the world, especially those in their home country of Spain. The success of the works and the strength of the points presented in the text, revealed that religious literature in Spain was flourishing. In addition, the works were noted for advancing language used in religious literature. Marked for achieving the high baroque style of Spanish, the works of these Spanish mystics who working to reform the Church, improved the status of literature in Spanish society.

One of the greatest works of fiction ever published Don Quixote is a social & religious commentary on life in early 17th century Spain. Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) was a Castalian novelist, poet, and playwright. Cervantes his known for his magnum opus (“great work”), Don Quixote, which is considered to be the first modern novel. The publishing of Don Quixote, one of the greatest works of fiction ever published, led to the Spanish language being known as la lengua de Cervantes (“the language of Cervantes”). The satirical nature of Don Quixote led to Cervantes earning the title of El Principe de los Ingenios (“The Prince of Wits”).

Don Quixote tells the story of a retired country gentleman nearing 50 years of age, who lives in an unnamed section of La Mancha (central Spain) with his niece and a housekeeper. Quixote has become obsessed with books of chivalry, and believes their every word to be true, despite the fact that many of the events in them are clearly impossible.


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