Golden Age Spain

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What is clearly evident in the painting is how the artist controls the movement and representation of every character in the court. His work is incredibly world renowned and questions the line between illusion and reality. Nowadays emphasis has been put on the idea and effect of naturalism and spontaneity, rather than the idea that this is a snapshot of a moment in time.

Edited By Duncan Wheeler

He is more renowned in the Spanish Golden era for his portrayal of the Italian renaissance and bringing it to Spain. He was one of the great landscape painters of his time, and having moved from Italy to the city of Toledo he was very influential in his paintings. He combined emotions and expression into his portrayal of the Toledo landscapes. He was very successful at bringing a religious element to art during this time, although King Philip IV opposed other people who shared the same view as de Zurbaran regarding religion. He was particularly known for having extreme talent regarding white draperies, hence why in a lot of his paintings there are many white robed Carthusians.

Murillo began his studies in Seville, where he became very familiar with Flemish painting. While Spain's economic impact on the rest of Europe was considerable throughout much of the Golden Age, the country's prosperity was short-lived: Spain's first official bankruptcy was declared as early as Indies treasure imports reached their height 42,, ducats in the years By this figure had fallen to less than half, and by to less than a tenth 3.

The Spanish Golden Age

Some sections of the Spanish economy, notably agriculture, were never truly prosperous. As historians have shown, Spain's political and military power were linked to her imports of bullion, and as the latter declined, so did the former 4. The zenith came in the reign of Philip II, although Spain still seemed a formidable enemy to her neighbours as late as the first half of the reign of Philip IV. The battle of Rocroi , which neatly bisects the reign of Philip IV, also marks the end of any lingering Spanish claims to be the major power in Europe, for in it the previously invincible Spanish infantry was decisively defeated.

The high point of Spain's cultural importance comes after these other high points: in the first half of the seventeenth century. Moreover, a glance at any suitable bibliography shows that the dead authors lived on in successive reprints of their works throughout the seventeenth century and, for that matter, well into the eighteenth.

Given these facts, the discovery that no major Spanish authors were born in the seventeenth century should come as a surprise. Literary figures do not arrange to be born at times convenient for literary historians, but in this case one almost feels that they were trying to be as helpful as possible. We must surely be tempted to wonder why none of the authors born after , and who received their literary formation during the height of Spain's cultural Golden Age, was able to emulate his elders 5.

Printing arrived in Spain in the early s, but although at least twenty-nine towns had seen presses set up in them before , the impact of the press on the book trade and particularly on the status of the author was a very gradual one 6. Until printing was invented, no author made a living from selling his work to the general public.

This situation held good in Spain until at least , and even then, patronage was still an important source of income for most authors. For the century before printing came to Spain, Spanish literature had tended to be monopolized by members of the great noble houses: not only did they often write it, but only they could afford to pay for it.

Throughout Europe, printing brought first the lower gentry and eventually the middle and lower middle classes into contact with written literature; as writers and, perhaps more important, as purchasers. This gradual, but eventually huge growth in the size of the reading public also produced a slow but significant change in the concept of literary reputation.

Press Releases

The slowness of manuscript transmission had meant that a widespread reputation could take decades to acquire. The press could make an author famous overnight 7. The widening interest in literature stimulated an interest in literary theory. In Spain's case, the Council of Trent contributed to this interest, because of the Council's concern at the effect of the printed word on the growing reading public 8. As every hispanist knows, there were different theories.

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The dispute between uso established practice and arte Aristotelian precept took on a moral dimension, thanks partly to Trent and partly to some confusion about what Aristotle meant by catharsis in the event, the neo-Aristotelians tended to confuse catharsis with the Horatian idea of combining pleasure with profit.

Another dispute involved the styles termed conceptismo and culteranismo , which have been described as appealing respectively to the reader's intellect and to his senses. The general public seldom cares about literary theory, whether it involves ethics or stylistics, but circumstances in Spain seem to have been exceptional: the exponents of the different theories often derided each other publicly and with unusual bitterness; as I shall argue presently, Madrid was unusually small for a major cultural centre, so that the writers were much more likely to be familiar figures to their immediate public; and just as the new and exciting possibilities of literary fame were beginning to impinge on authors, one of the best known, Lope de Vega, published a treatise which virtually tells the intending playwright how to become a roaring success with the public I refer to his Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo of Lope's fecundity as a playwright is well known, and perhaps the play in performance also made Spain exceptional, in the extent to which it brought literature even to the non-literate public.

Of course there were playhouses in other countries, and England must have run Spain a close second in this respect; but I suspect that only Spain offered her unlettered public such a range and quantity of dramatic literature. As we know from writers like Rojas Villandrando, even the most rural and otherwise culturally deprived parts of Spain had access to literature in the shape of plays and other oral forms; but at the same time Spain became in cultural terms a very centralized country.

In the sixteenth century, especially before the establishment of a fixed capital, one could find major writers living and working almost anywhere in Spain. What is striking about this is, first of all, that Madrid, unlike London in England, was only one of a large number of centres where books could be printed; and second, that for most of the Golden Age, Madrid was not even the largest city in Spain. What it means, I suggest, is that Madrid is unusual if not unique as a cultural capital in seventeenth-century Europe.

With a population of only 37, in , and less than , as late as , it must have been the smallest cultural capital in Europe in proportion to the country's total population about 8,, 9. We need not wonder, given this concentration of activity in Madrid, that it was such a centre of cultural ferment in the golden half-century of The difficulties here are vast and, as we shall see, unlikely to be overcome in the near future.

There is no STC , no general catalogue for seventeenth-century Spanish books, or even for Madrid books. There are catalogues of two large collections of seventeenth-century Spanish books:. That of the British Library is the larger in terms of numbers, but it is less carefully compiled: it certainly contains a few entries which belong in the sixteenth century, and possibly a substantial number of eighteenth-century books under the incorrect guess-date [? If we rely on books with both date and imprint, we find that Madrid appears to account for about forty per cent of Spain's seventeenth-century output in terms of items only.

Encouraged by this correspondence, we can continue the graph of the British Library's dated Madrid holdings up to , and hope that the correspondence remains valid. To this graph we can add the supposedly complete graphs for Seville and Valladolid, both major printing centres, and for Toledo, a minor centre. I have arranged the graphs in five-year periods to show trends rather than annual variations. Why is this activity not reflected in the graphs?

The ban was lifted apparently tacitly in , which might explain Madrid's slight recovery in the years It does not explain why the other cities failed to recover, or why Madrid slumped again, even lower than before. We know of Madrid writers who circumvented the ban by going to Aragonese printers, but the graph is still mystifying:.

There is a rise in from what looks like the start of a recession, but the figure is hardly more than that for , and is completely offset by the drop in If the graph is reliable, then the decade of the Castilian ban is also the worst ten years for printing in Zaragoza. This is a mystery which we are not helped to solve by the absence of a bibliography for Barcelona, although it may be noted that Zaragoza apparently recovered from this slump, unlike the Castilian cities.

Perhaps the first point to be made about the graphs is that they deal only with items: a single-sheet chapbook rates as much as a fat folio.

The Golden Age of Spanish Painting

One could, after much labour, produce graphs of the size of books and by size I do not mean format, but number of sheets. A moment's reflection reveals the futility of this task: the size of a book in sheets tells us nothing about production unless we also know the numbers involved in each edition. Apart from a ridiculously small number of examples, we do not know this, and never shall. One might think that another way to check the graphs as real indicators of production would be to establish the numbers of printers, booksellers and publishers who were active in any city in each year, and to produce graphs on that basis.

In practice, however, there are insuperable difficulties here too. Our convenient modern distinction between publisher and bookseller did not exist in seventeenth-century Spain, any more than it did elsewhere in Europe.

Moreover, as we can tell from lists compiled by the Inquisition to keep an eye on outlets for books, the word librero bookseller covered everything from what we would call a newsagent to the equivalent of Foyle's Some of these libreros operated as wholesalers and retailers. Some libreros were also publishers, as we know from surviving documents and the recurrence of their names in imprints, preceded by the words a costa de , at the expense of. If So-and-so's name appears in only one book, we cannot conclude that he ran a short-lived publishing business; if it appears twice or three times over a ten-year period, we cannot safely conclude that So-and-so ran a publishing business for ten years.

The best we can do is compile a list of printers, and even this is fraught with problems, for we seldom know enough about the size of an establishment, or the regularity of its activity, to allow for these factors in compiling the list As I hope to show later, one can reach some general conclusions about the size of Spanish printing-houses. From these conclusions, which are based in part on old inventories, from the inventories themselves, and from other evidence, one can draw inferences about production, and the extent to which it may have been affected by the ban. First, however, I should like to examine the reasons for the imposition of the ban.

They added that the persons selected to read the books should be paid for their trouble, but not excessively, lest the printers and booksellers who had to pay them should suffer too much financial loss Her autobiography was written in the s, but the events she describes took place about The suggested remedy was that the reading and printing of such works be made an offence, and that those in existence should be recalled and burned The nearer we get to the seventeenth century, the more frequent do such denunciations become.

Given this uncompromising attitude on the part of some churchmen, we should not be surprised that authors some of them also clerics find themselves in a somewhat ambiguous position. From our vantage-point, four centuries distant, we are perhaps more aware of the ambiguity than the authors could have been. The effect on public morality, he says, is very serious, because the ordinary public will read anything that gets into print or watch anything that reaches the stage, no matter how bad or harmful it is.

Many documents have been collected and published, and they need not be quoted at length here In Lope's play La octava maravilla , written about the same time as his Arte nuevo , a master and servant discuss printed ephemera. The servant has come across a pamphlet which states that in Granada a man has given birth. The master is scornful. This question gives the master a chance to comment on the folly of the general public, which will believe anything that gets into print, and on the dangerous lies spread by such ephemera Here we glimpse a distinction which I shall discuss later: the distinction between the vulgo , the ignorant public, and the discreto , the educated, discriminating individual.

In a slightly later play, Fuenteovejuna c. Fuenteovejuna is set in , and in it two characters discuss the recent invention of printing. One, who has been to university and who is therefore arguably a discreto admits that printing has preserved and disseminated much useful knowledge; but he also claims that it has lent an air of authority to rubbish, and worse, that people are printing rubbish under the names of serious authors, whose reputations suffer thereby.

As the commentators tell us, this is Lope himself, jealous of his reputation, complaining that others are profiting by it. And although the other character, an unlettered but shrewd peasant, is allowed to make the counter-claim that printing is important, the first character is given the last word, the gist of it being that people managed very well before printing was invented Lope's concern for his reputation is well known: we find it also in the prologues of his partes de comedias.

The most interesting expression of this concern is found in a memorandum written about the same time as Fuenteovejuna , or a little later In it Lope develops the criticism that the reputation of serious authors is suffering because unscrupulous people are using their names to promote the sale of pernicious rubbish. He expresses particular concern about what we might call gutter-press sensationalism, which was all the worse for being untrue. There are writers, he says, who invent stories about men raping their daughters, killing their mothers, conversing with the devil, denying the Faith, and so on, and who he might have added then relate in full gory detail the punishments allegedly imposed on these imaginary criminals.


Lope implicitly or explicitly blames all those involved in the book trade for this situation: public, authors, printers, those in charge of approving books for printing, booksellers and particularly sellers of ephemera. As for authors, he not unnaturally makes a distinction: there are serious and respectable authors among whom he names himself , and others. The bookseller is Juan Serrano of Seville, and although his memorandum has no date, it must have been composed in late or early He blamed the public as well as the desperate economic straits of the printers, and evidently felt that both public and printers could be partially protected if imported books were better controlled.

The date of this document is interesting, for it shortly precedes the ban imposed on 6 March If the authorities were influenced by it, they ignored its suggestions, as they had ignored those made by Lope earlier.

The nature of the ban is strange, and this is a good time to examine its threefold effect: on the public, on authors and on the trade. In the case of the public, only those who were literate would be directly affected. But who made up this literate public, and what percentage of Spain's population did they form in the Golden Age? Since this question has been little studied, I may be excused for dealing with it here at some length. Reliable census figures on adult literacy are not available until the nineteenth century.

Chapter Golden Age or Black Legend? - Catalonia Is Not Spain

According to Professor Cipolla, Spain, with an adult illiteracy rate in the mid-nineteenth century of seventy-five per cent, was at the bottom of the European league, surpassed only by the Russian Empire and possibly by Italy The only figures on which we can base estimates of literacy in Golden-Age Spain involve signatures in parish registers, and these are scarce because the priest generally did the signing. Kagan quotes one example where he did not, over a three-year period in a parish in Burgos: the years , when Burgos was still a major city During this period ninety-eight children were baptized, and in sixty-nine cases seventy per cent the child's godfather did not sign the register.

This figure is not a reliable guide, for several reasons. First, the percentage of the population able to stumble through a printed text was higher than the percentage of people able to write, or even to sign their name Second, and conversely, there was a tendency to choose literate men as godfathers. Third, the figure takes no account of women, and female illiteracy is generally supposed to have been higher, possibly substantially higher, than that of males.

Finally, figures from a still large and thriving town permit no conclusions to be drawn about small villages, in which most of Spain's population still lived: Kagan points out that it was common for villages with less than vecinos reckoned as equivalent to inhabitants to have no inhabitant, not even the mayor, who could sign his name pp. To these rather unhelpful figures we can add other scraps of inconclusive evidence. The round figure of 4, may be an over-enthusiastic guess, but the number of universities is not.

Kagan has calculated that at their height, in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, the universities in Castile had 20, students, an estimated 3. Only very complicated calculations would allow us to guess how many of the adult male population living at any given time in the early seventeenth century had at some stage attended university, but it must have been considerable. We do not know what percentage of the male population managed to complete a year at primary school the usual time required to teach literacy , but it was clearly much higher than the 5.

As we have seen, St Teresa was able to read these books, although it has been assumed that she was exceptional; on the other hand, as she tells us in the first two chapters of her autobiography, not only could she and her brother read lives of saints before she was twelve her age at her mother's death , but her mother could also read. The petition of the Cortes actually claims that mothers would go out, thinking that they were leaving their daughters safe at home, whereas they were corrupting themselves by their reading.

St Teresa's family was comparatively well-off, and this certainly accounts for the availability of reading-matter, if for nothing else. Alonso does not say whether his school depended on charity or on fees, but free schools were run by religious orders in most large towns, and St John of the Cross was taught to read and write in one of these, the Colegio de la Doctrina in Medina del Campo. His widowed mother was by this time John was about nine practically destitute In Chapter 6, Los libros , he writes of a girl wasting her afternoon in reading a volume of plays, of a married man doing likewise with a book of love-stories, and of a youth spending his as fruitlessly in writing a poem for a literary academy With Zabaleta, who is producing a piece of imaginative writing, we are on the border-line of what can be considered as evidence.

What he describes may be typical, but it is also fictitious. There are many other references in pieces of creative writing to individuals or to groups of people who are either literate or illiterate two examples from Lope have been quoted , but their real value as evidence is small. I shall refer to one more, Antonio de Mendoza's El premio de la virtud , a play written probably before which deals with the life of Pedro Guerrero, Archbishop of Granada from to We first meet the future prince of the church as a young ploughman being chided by his father for wasting his time reading coplas , which were the only reading-matter he could find.

This should remind us that verse chapbooks were still being used as reading-primers in the late eighteenth century in Spain. If any conclusions can be drawn from this evidence, they would seem to be as follows: first, in Golden-Age rural Spain as in nineteenth-century rural Russia, for which figures are available , the illiteracy rate was very high, probably over ninety per cent; secondly, in the towns it must have been substantially lower, for urban Spain underwent an educational revolution during the sixteenth century as a result of the policy, initiated by Ferdinand and Isabella, of recruiting the growing number of civil servants from the middle class, for whom the necessary education was provided by the numerous grammar schools and universities.

One hesitates to suggest an overall figure, but if the literacy rate were as low as ten per cent, then about , people could read, and read to others if need be; if it were as high as twenty per cent and it can scarcely have been much higher , then the total was about 1,, Madrid and Seville, with a combined population of , or so in , might well have had a thirty per cent literacy rate, or 60, readers.

I do not claim that this was the case; I merely mention it as a possibility which is partly corroborated by Kagan's research on early modern Spanish universities While the number of readers affected by the ban was numerically considerable, it was very small in proportion to Spain's total population. When we remember that the Spanish censors appear to have cared more about what was said in public on the stage than about what was read in private, we can only find this curious Obviously the attack on Tirso made Tirso in particular, and his colleagues in general, more careful about what they wrote in their plays, but it seems clear that the section of the public least likely to be affected by the ban was the vulgo , the least discriminating, most gullible, and so, in theory, the most likely to be depraved.

'Literature' and the book trade in Golden-Age Spain / William Cruickshank

By the same token, those most likely to be affected were habitual readers of novels and plays, discretos , those less likely to be corrupted. No author is recorded as having starved to death because of the ban. Playwrights made their money, if they made any, by selling manuscript plays to stage-managers rather than by printing them. Besides, both playwrights and novelists could make use of Aragonese printers. Lope's El castigo sin venganza , a masterpiece to which an over-zealous censor might easily object, was printed in Barcelona ostensibly, at least in Finally, of course, authors could simply wait.

In short, there is no evidence that authors suffered real hardship, probably because none of them derived his principal income from printing what he wrote. The effect of the ban on the book trade is hardest of all to assess, for reasons given already. The fall shown by the graphs of dated items in Castile corresponds to a large extent with the imposition of the ban, but there are several reasons for believing that the correspondence is not a straightforward one.

First of all, the recovery after the ban, where there was one, was not sustained. Secondly, dated output from Seville, a major centre, was already falling before the ban was introduced. Finally, Zaragoza, an Aragonese city which ought to have profited from the ban in Castile, apparently went through its worst decade precisely during this supposedly profitable period. We are not likely to discover how many times the ban was evaded successfully.

The picture was probably not affected by the government's short-lived attempt to introduce a tax on books in The attempt no doubt reflects the continuing desire of the authorities to find some way of restricting the output of books, but the resulting outcry from the booksellers is even more significant in that it indicates how desperate they were. The tax was remitted by royal decree on 27 June If we try to clarify matters by undertaking an exercise suggested above, namely, the drawing up of a graph of seventeenth-century Madrid printing-houses, the.

The graph bears almost no relation to the graph of dated items produced. There is a rise in the ten years or so prior to , but it corresponds to a much greater rise in output. The rise then stops, but the fact remains that while thirteen firms were working in , there were still twelve in Moreover, the peak eighteen firms comes in He added that they were very poor because they lacked work: much the same remark as Serrano had made half a century earlier Cabrera was a man with a keen interest in the book trade.

He makes other statements which we know to be accurate.