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What Were the Salient Features of the Cultural Transformations Known as the Golden Age of Spain (Sixteenth-And-Seventeenth Century)?

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Golden Age, Spanish Siglo De Oro, the period of Spanish literature extending from the early 16th century to the late 17th century, generally considered the high point in Spain’s literary history. The Golden Age began with the partial political unification of Spain about 1500

Its literature is characterized by patriotic and religious fervour, heightened realism, and a new interest in earlier epics and ballads, together with the somewhat less-pronounced influences of humanism and Neoplatonism.

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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”. 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”. By allowing for a great Baroque presence in his court, Philip was also able to display power and wealth.

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Of the three genres, poetry was the most admired in the Golden Age, and Spain was fortunate that the first important poet of the Siglo de Oro, Garcilaso de la Vega 1501-36, was extraordinarily gifted. Following the example of his Catalan friend, Juan Boscán (1490-1542. Joan Boscà in Catalan), Garcilaso undertook an experiment that totally transformed Spanish verse and poetic language: together they replaced traditional Castilian metres and stanza forms with Italian metres and stanza forms

Of the two, Garcilaso was the superior poet, and it was he who successfully made the transition. His other major successes included the adaptation of Petrarchan imagery of nature and self analysis, and the remarkable use of Virgilian pastoral landscape. His poetry became an inspiration and model for later poets of the Golden Age, and the subject of learned commentaries. The development of Spanish verse in the Golden Age has traditionally been seen as a trajectory from Garcilaso to the Luis de Góngora (1561-1627), a poet who brilliantly captures the verbal inventiveness of the Baroque. Some may argue that a younger contemporary of Góngora, Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645) was equally inventive, but he is equally if not better known as a prose writer and author of the picaresque novel El Buscón (Deyermond, A.D , 1971). Expanding the Spanish Golden Age to include Mexico, many anthologists also include a truly remarkable and original poet, much admired by feminists: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-95). Between Garcilaso and Góngora, there are numerous poets of outstanding quality, but we’ll only look at a few. Among them are San Juan de la Cruz (1542-91, widely known as St John of the Cross) and Fray Luis de León (1527-91). Both were religious poets but each quite different in his approach to God (Gies, David, 2004). Fernando de Herrera (ca 1534-97), on the other hand, was a secular poet, usually considered a bridge between Garcilaso and Góngora because of his verbal and syntactic innovations.

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In the end, since Spain had missed much of the Renaissance, they were desperate to catch up once the Reconquista ended. (So desperate, in fact, that the monarchs were willing to fund a crazy Genoese sailor who claimed he could open a trade route to China by sailing west in 1492.) This desperation fueled the conquests of Mexico and Peru, and as the wealth started pouring in, Spanish monarchs had a chance to transform Spain into a more modern, less medieval nation. In particular, this was a major project of Philip II (r

1556-1598), who brought artists into Spain in order to inaugurate a Spanish Renaissance. Philip wanted the world to know that Spain was not only caught up but in the lead, and theater would play a part in that.

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Deyermond, A.D A Literary History of Spain: The Middle Ages London 1971

Gies, David ed. The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature Cambridge 2004

Eisenberg, D Romances of Chivalry in the Spanish Golden Age Newark, 1982

Jones, R.O. A Literary History of Spain: The Golden Age Prose and Poetry London, 1971

Thacker, Jonathan A Companion to Golden Age Theatre Woodbridge, England 2007

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