The Golden Ages: Spain (1/?)

When studying various topics historians come up with a wide range of terms to describe a specific period-‘Middle Ages’, ‘Classical Antiquity’, ‘Enlightenment’, ‘Modern’, ‘Renaissance’ and ‘Golden Age’. This series of posts will attempt to discuss and to explore a wide range of ‘Golden ages’, whilst keeping the content entertaining and informative as usual. We’re starting off with the Spanish one and then will be travelling around the globe to see whether any of them have any similarities. Enjoy!

Think like a Historian:

Why do you think historians come up with various names to describe a specific historical period?

What is a ‘Golden age’?

The ‘Golden Age’ is a term that is usually employed by historians to describe a period of cultural flourishing which manifests itself in prospering of the arts, such as painting and architecture. Depending on the conditions in which a specific ‘Golden Age’ arises there is a strong economy, but such cases are rare.

This a short introductory video to the Spanish ‘Golden Age’. It covers the core concepts extremely well.

Spanish ‘Golden Age’: A brief introduction

When historians discuss the Spanish ‘Golden Age’ they usually refer to the reign of Philip II, during which Spain experienced a rapid development of the arts and culture. The foundations to this phenomena were mostly laid by his predecessors, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand as they established a strong political and religious unity within their kingdom after a period of civil unrest. Although the methods that were employed by them were cruel, they were effective. The consequent pacification led to political and cultural stability within Spain, which, in turn, was essential for Spain’s flourishing of arts under Philip II.

SOURCE TIME: This is a dual portrait of Isabella and Ferdinand. The date and the author of this piece are unknown. Your main task is to think how the two monarchs are depicted and whether the artist is trying to achieve anything. If yes, what do you think is the artist’s or the rulers’ aims is?

Nevertheless, the ‘Golden Age’ would not have occurred without Isabella and Ferdinand’s successors, mainly Charles V and Philip II himself contributing to its creation. Charles built on the pre-established foundations in order to strengthen the conciliar system of the Spanish government and thus exert an even greater degree of control over the Spanish Empire than his predecessors.

SOURCE TIME: This is the portrait of Charles V when he was already quite old and was in charge of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. It was painted by a famous contemporary European artist Titian. Your task is to compare how Isabella and Ferdinand were depicted in the painting above and the way Charles V is depicted. What stylistic differences can you see? Do you think that these differences can point to a ‘Golden Age’ creeping in? Why do you think so?

Philip II too contributed to the creation of the ‘Golden Age’. He exploited the pre-existing governmental system efficiently, thus allowing him to exert some control over the foreign policy. Due to this, Philip was able to expand his empire further, thus allowing him to focus on patronage and developments of the arts within Spain.

SOURCE TIME: This is a portrait of young Philip II. Which was painted in 1551, shortly before he married Queen Mary I of England. The artist is Titian (yes, the same one that painted his father, Charles V). What can you tell about Philip II from this painting? After thinking and discussing it, think about the role Titian played at the royal court. Why do you think he painted the two kings?

Think like a Historian:

Who is more important when it comes to cultural developments- a society or an individual creator? Why do you think so?
Important vocabulary:
  • Golden Age: a term that describes cultural flourishing during a historical period.
To explore this topic further…
  • If you’re interested in exploring the history of the ‘Golden Age’ as a concept, this article is a solid place to start as it discusses the way ancient Greeks and Romans used the concept in their poetry.
  • If you’re interested in exploring the Spanish ‘Golden Age’, then I would recommend reading Henry Kamen’s Spain 1469-1714: A Society of Conflict (Great Britain, 2005). It is a very neat discussion on how the ‘Golden Age’ of Spain came to be as well as its cultural implications.
  • Watch this documentary about how the literary traditions of the Spanish ‘Golden Age’ and the English ‘Golden Age’ helped one another and produced Shakespeare

One thought on “The Golden Ages: Spain (1/?)”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s