Spanish Golden Age

:"This article is about the Spanish Golden Age of the 15th-17th centuries.":"For the earlier Golden Age of Islamic culture and Jewish culture in Spain, see Al-Andalus."

The Spanish Golden Age (in Spanish, Siglo de Oro) was a period of flourishing in arts and literature in Spain, coinciding with the political rise and decline of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty. This term does not generally imply any great precision about dates, but it begins no earlier than 1492, with the completion of the "reconquista" and the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the New World, and politically ends no later than the Treaty of the Pyrenees between France and Habsburg Spain in 1659. The last great writer of the period, Pedro Calderon de la Barca, died in 1681 and his death is usually considered as the end of the Spanish Golden "Century" in the arts and literature.

The Habsburgs, both in Spain and Austria, were great patrons of art in their countries. "El Escorial", the great royal monastery built by King Philip II of Spain, invited the attention of some of Europe's greatest architects and painters. Diego Velázquez, regarded as one of the most influential painters of European history and a greatly respected artist in his own time, cultivated a relationship with King Philip IV and his chief minister, the Count-Duke of Olivares, leaving us several portraits that demonstrate his style and skill. El Greco, another respected artist from the period, infused Spanish art with the styles of the Italian renaissance and helped create a uniquely Spanish style of painting. Some of Spain's greatest music is regarded as having been written in the period. Such composers as Tomás Luis de Victoria, Luis de Milán and Alonso Lobo helped to shape Renaissance music and the styles of counterpoint and polychoral music, and their influence lasted far into the Baroque period which resulted in a revolution of music. Spanish literature blossomed as well, most famously demonstrated in the work of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of "Don Quixote de la Mancha". Spain's most prolific playwright, Lope de Vega, wrote possibly as many as one thousand plays during his lifetime, of which over four hundred survive to the present day.


Spain, in the time of the Italian Renaissance, had seen few great artists come to its shores. The Italian holdings and relationships made by Queen Isabella's husband and later Spain's sole monarch, Ferdinand of Aragon, launched a steady traffic of intellectuals across the Mediterranean between Valencia, Seville, and Florence. Luis de Morales, one of the leading exponents of Spanish mannerist painting, retained a distinctly Spanish style in his work, reminiscent of medieval art. Spanish art, particularly that of Morales, contained a strong mark of mysticism and religion that was encouraged by the counter-reformation and the patronage of Spain's strongly Catholic monarchs and aristocracy.

El Greco

Widely regardedweasel-inline as having the greatest impact in bringing the Italian Renaissance to Spain, El Greco, as his name implies (it means The Greek), was not Spanish at all, but was born Domenikos Theotokopoulos in Crete. He studied the great Italian masters of his time - Titian, Tintoretto, and Michaelangelo - when he lived in Italy from 1568 to 1577. According to legend [] , after asserting that he would paint a mural as good as one of Michaelangelo's if they demolished one of the Italian artist's, El Greco quickly fell out of favor in Italy, and soon found a new home in the city of Toledo in southern Spain. He was influential in creating a style based on impressions and emotion, with elongated fingers and vibrant color and brushwork. His paintings of the city of Toledo became models for a new European tradition in landscapes, influencing the work of the later Dutch masters.

Diego Velázquez

He was born in June 6, 1599, in Seville. Both parents were from the minor nobility. He was the oldest of six children. Diego Velázquez is widely regarded as one of Spain's most important and influential artists. He was a court painter for King Philip IV and found increasingly high demand for his portraits from statesmen, aristocrats, and clergymen across Europe. His portraits of the King, his chief minister, the Count-duke of Olivares, and the Pope himself demonstrated a belief in artistic realism and a style comparable to many of the Dutch masters. In the wake of the Thirty Years' War, Velázquez met the Marqués de Spinola and painted his famous "Surrender of Breda" celebrating Spinola's earlier victory. Spinola was struckFact|date=February 2007 by his ability to express emotion through realism in both his portraits and landscapes; his work in the latter, in which he launched one of European art's first experiments in outdoor lighting, became another lasting influence on Western painting. Velázquez's friendship with Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, a leading Spanish painter of the next generation, ensured the enduring influence of his artistic approach.

Velazquez's most famous painting, however, is the celebrated "Las Meninas", in which the artist includes himself as one of the subjects.

Francisco de Zurbarán

The religious element in Spanish art, in many circles, grew in importance with the counter-reformation. The austere, ascetic, and severe work of Francisco de Zurbarán exemplified this thread in Spanish art, along with the work of composer Tomás Luis de Victoria. Philip IV actively patronized artists who agreed with his views on the counter-reformation and religion. The mysticism of Zurbarán's work - influenced by Saint Theresa of Avila - became a hallmark of Spanish art in later generations. Influenced by Caravaggio and the Italian masters, Zurbarán devoted himself to an artistic expression of religion and faith. His paintings of St. Francis of Assisi, the immaculate conception, and the crucifixion of Christ reflected a third facet of Spanish culture in the seventeenth century, against the backdrop of religious pie war across Europe. Zurbarán broke from Velázquez's sharp realist interpretation of art and looked, to some extent, to the emotive content of El Greco and the earlier mannerist painters for inspiration and technique, though Zurbarán respected and maintained the lighting and physical nuance of Velázquez.

Other significant painters

*Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
*Luis de Morales
*José de Ribera
*Juan Sánchez Cotán
*Juan van der Hamen
*Francisco Ribalta
*Juan de Valdés Leal
*Juan Carreño de Miranda
*Claudio Coello


Tomás Luis de Victoria

Tomás Luis de Victoria, a Spanish composer of the sixteenth century, mainly of choral music, is widely regarded as one of the greatest Spanish classical composers. He joined the cause of Ignatius of Loyola in the fight against the Reformation and in 1575 became a priest. He lived for a short time in Italy, where he became acquainted with the polyphonic work of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Like Zurbaran, Victoria mixed the technical qualities of Italian art with the religion and culture of his native Spain. He invigorated his work with emotional appeal and experimental, mystical rhythm and choruses. He broke from the dominant tendency among his contemporaries by avoiding complex counterpoint, preferring longer, simpler, less technical and more mysterious melodies, employing dissonance in ways that the Italian members of the Roman School shunned. He demonstrated considerable invention in musical thought by connecting the tone and emotion of his music to those of his lyrics, particularly in his motets. Like Velázquez, Victoria was employed by the monarch - in Victoria's case, in the service of the queen. The requiem he wrote upon her death in 1603 is regarded as one of his most enduring and mature works.

Alonso Lobo

Victoria's work was complemented by Alonso Lobo - a man Victoria respected as his equal. Lobo's work - also choral and religious in its content - stressed the austere, minimalist nature of religious music. Lobo sought out a medium between the emotional intensity of Victoria and the technical ability of Palestrina; the solution he found became the foundation of the baroque musical style in Spain.

Other significant musicians

*Antonio de Cabezón
*Francisco Correa de Arauxo
*Juan Cabanilles
*Luis Milán
*Enríquez de Valderrábano
*Diego Pisador
*Alonso Mudarra
*Pablo Bruna


The Spanish Golden Age was a time of great flourishing in poetry, prose and drama.

Cervantes and "Don Quixote"

Regarded by many as one of the finest works in any language, "El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha" by Miguel de Cervantes was one of the first novels published in Europe; it gave Cervantes a stature in the Spanish-speaking world comparable to his contemporary William Shakespeare in English. The novel, like Spain itself, was caught between the Middle Ages and the modern world. A veteran of the Battle of Lepanto (1571), Cervantes had fallen on hard times in the late 1590s and was imprisoned for debt in 1597, and some believe that during these years he began work on his best-remembered novel. The first part of the novel was published in 1605; the second in 1615, a year before the author's death. "Don Quixote" resembled both the medieval, chivalric romances of an earlier time and the novels of the early modern world. It parodied classical morality and chivalry, found comedy in knighthood, and criticized social structures and the perceived madness of Spain's rigid society. The work has endured to the present day as a landmark in world literary history, and it was an immediate international hit in its own time, interpreted variously as a satirical comedy, social commentary and forbearer of self-referential literature.

Lope de Vega and Spanish drama

A contemporary of Cervantes, Lope de Vega consolidated the essential genres and structures which would characterize the Spanish commercial drama, also known as the "Comedia", throughout the 17th century. While Lope de Vega wrote prose and poetry as well, he is best remembered for his plays, particularly those grounded in Spanish history. Like Cervantes, Lope de Vega served with the Spanish army and was fascinated with the Spanish nobility. In the hundreds of plays he wrote, with settings ranging from the Biblical times to legendary Spanish history to classical mythology to his own time, Lope de Vega frequently took a comical approach just as Cervantes did, taking a conventional moral play and dressing it up in good humor and cynicism. His stated goal was to entertain the public, much as Cervantes's was. In bringing morality, comedy, drama, and popular wit together, Lope de Vega is often compared to his English contemporary Shakespeare. Some have argued that as a social critic, Lope de Vega attacked, like Cervantes, many of the ancient institutions of his country - aristocracy, chivalry, and rigid morality, among others. The Lope de Vega and Cervantes represented an alternative artistic perspective to the religious asceticism of Francisco Zurbarán. Lope de Vega's "cloak-and-sword" plays, which mingled intrigue, romance, and comedy together were carried on by his literary successor, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, in the later seventeenth century. Other well-known playwrights of the period include: Tirso de Molina; Agustín Moreto; Juan Pérez de Montalbán; Juan Ruiz de Alarcón; Guillén de Castro and Antonio Mira de Amescua.


This period also produced some of the most important Spanish works of poetry. Mystical literature in Spanish reached its summit with the works of San Juan de la Cruz and Teresa of Ávila.Baroque poetry was dominated by the contrasting styles of Francisco de Quevedo and Luis de Góngora; both had a lasting influence on subsequent writers, and even on the Spanish language itself [Dámaso Alonso, La lengua poética de Góngora (Madrid: Revista de Filología Española, 1950), 112.] .

Other significant authors

The picaresque genre flourished in this era, describing the life of "pícaros", living by their wits in a decadent society. Distinguished examples are "El buscón", by Francisco de Quevedo, "Guzmán de Alfarache" by Mateo Alemán, and "Estebanillo González".
*Alonso de Ercilla wrote the epic poem, "La Araucana", about the Spanish conquest of Chile.
*Gil Vicente was Portuguese but his influence on Spanish playwriting was so wide that he is often considered part of the Spanish Golden Era.

See also

* Al-Andalus (Golden Age of Islamic culture in Spain)
* Golden Age of Jewish culture in Spain (during the earlier Islamic domination)
* Spanish Renaissance
* History of Spain
* School of Salamanca
* Spanish Empire


*Dámaso Alonso, La lengua poética de Góngora (Madrid: Revista de Filología Española, 1950), 112.

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