The 16th and 17th centuries are often called “The Spanish Golden Age” (“El Siglo de Oro”). It was a period in Spanish history when Spain was all powerful and all conquering. As a result of the marriage of “Los Reyes Católicos”, their Habsburg (Austrian dynasty) grandson Carlos inherited the Castilian empire in America, the Aragonese Empire in the Mediterranean (including a large portion of modern Italy), as well as the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany), Franche-Comté in eastern France and Austria. After defeating Castilian rebels in “The Revolt of the Comuneros” in 1521, Carlos I of Spain became the most powerful man in Europe, his rule stretching over an empire in Europe unrivalled in extent until the Napoleonic era. It was often said during this time that it was the empire on which the sun never set.
With Spain a dominant and expanding world power, The Spanish Golden Age was a period of social peace and flourishing artistic endeavour in Spain. Vast booty flowed in from America and Spanish armies were invincible. The agenda of European politics was set by Spain, and the country helped bankroll the European wars fought by Carlos I and Felipe II as Spain formed their vast Habsburg Empire. The Habsburgs, both in Spain and Austria, were great patrons of art in their countries. “Habsburg Spain” refers to the period (1506–1700) when Spain was ruled by the major branch of the Habsburg dynasty. Under Habsburg rule, Spain reached the zenith of its influence and power and was, for well over a century, the world’s greatest power. For this reason, this period of Spanish history has also been referred to as the “Age of Expansion”. After dominating Europe politically and militarily for much of the Habsburg reign, Spain experienced a relative decline in influence in the second half of the 17th century.
Famous Spanish painters of the Spanish Golden Age included Diego Velázquez, regarded as one of the most influential painters of European history and a greatly respected artist in his own time and El Greco, another respected artist from the period who 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 was written in the Spanish Golden Age. Such composers as Tomás Luis de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero, Luis de Milán and Alonso Lobo helped shape Renaissance music and the styles of counterpoint and polychoral music, and their influence lasted far into the Baroque period. Spanish literature blossomed as well, most famously demonstrated in the work of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of “Don Quixote de la Mancha”, one of the first novels ever to be published in Europe, in 1605. It gave Cervantes a stature in the Spanish-speaking world comparable to his contemporary William Shakespeare in English. Spain’s most prolific playwright, Lope de Vega, wrote possibly as many as one thousand plays during his lifetime.
Don Quixote book photo by cdrummbks Velázquez painting photo by Datz.ro
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