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The Golden Age (Siglo de Oro)

Spanish Golden Age

Find out information about the Spanish Golden Age (1492-1659). Columbus, Velazquez and Cervantes were a few human contributors to the Golden Age in Spain.

Spain's El Siglo de Oro or Golden Age is a title given to a range of dates from 1492-1659. Essentially, during this time, Spain proved herself on the world stage by showcasing great contributors to the humanities. Household names like Columbus, Vasquez and Cervantes were just a few who helped Spain achieve its golden status. Discovering and settling parts of the New World, contributing to art, music and literature are the marks that stand today left by these masters.

The completion of the reconquista and Columbus discovering the New World gave rise to the Golden Age. With Columbus's success reaching land, Spain now had the opportunity to assert their colonizing ability. A groundbreaking piece of literature by Antonio de Nebrija called Gramatica de la lengua castellan (Grammar of the Castilian Tongue) was also released around the time the Golden Age is considered to have begun.

Diego Velazquez, born on June 6th, 1599 in Seville is one of Spain's most important and influential artists. Velazquez gained the attention of statesmen across Europe for painting portraits in a realist approach with an added element of emotion. He is most famously known for Las Meninas, a work that Velazquez painted himself into and today hangs in the Prado Museum in Madrid.

El Greco (which means “The Greek”) is another artist that must be mentioned in connection with the Siglo de Oro. El Greco lived and studied in Italy around 1568 to 1577 paying close attention to greats like Titian, Tintoretto, and Michelangelo. He eventually settled in Toledo bringing the Italian Renaissance to Spain. Domenikos Theotokopoulos, his birth name, contributed a new style of painting landscapes that would be a model for later European painters. View of Toledo remains one of his greatest works; located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

During the 16th century most, if not all music, was written for the church in hymns, gospels, and other secular pieces. The works of Tomas Luis de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero, and Alonso Lobo broke the traditional mold of music composition in Spain. Their music captured emotions, like ecstasy, longing, joy, and despair. By breaking free of the traditional pieces written for the Catholic Church these men also greatly contributed to the Spanish Baroque era.

Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega are the two men arguably most responsible for vaulting Spanish literature into the upper stratosphere. Critics frequently mention their names in the same breath and in comparison to English writer, William Shakespeare. Both writers put out satirical works that commented on the church, state, and politics. In fact Cervantes was in prison for tax evasion when he began his celebrated piece, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha.

The end of the Golden Age is typically marked by the emergence of the Baroque period (1600-1750). The word Baroque came from the Portuguese, it means strange or oddly shaped pearl. This description refers to the new, eccentric, and explosive characteristics of music of the time. The orchestra and the opera also began to take shape during this time with their composers including the elements of the human spirit and an aspect of nature in their pieces. Vivaldi's Four Seasons is a popular example of Baroque work.

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