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Home » Language Resources » Spanish Literature » History of Spanish Literature » The Golden Age

The Spanish Golden Age

The Spanish Golden Age

During the 16th and 17th century the Spanish arts were going to see their moment of splendor. These years were called the Golden Age, which ironically increased in grandeur as the economic crisis of the Asturias kingdom worsened.

Figures appeared in all the artistic fields. In painting, Velázquez, Murillo, El Greco; in sculpture the great wooden sculptures from the schools of Valladolid and Seville appeared; in architecture, Churriguera; and in literature, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Quevedo, Góngora and many others.

Here we will focus on the literature scene. There were diverse factors that provoked this new age. On the one hand the Spanish language had matured after undergoing a period of changes, or a phonological revolution so to speak. After the Renaissance period they began to see the Spanish language as something to be studied, it was taken into consideration as a cultured language, which displaced the use of Latin in this field. Grammar and dictionaries were established to make it more stable.

Alongside this linguistic maturity there was also an artistic maturity. The evolution that had been produced during the Renaissance led to the Golden Age. The pure inherited forms became ever more complicated. All of the rhetoric forms became more daring as the authors searched for increasingly more cultivated forms. Poetry became dark; the theatre returned to Aristotle's theory of tragedy; the novel modernized and became more and more realistic as it moved away from idealism. They fled from the “horror vacui”, fear of empty spaces. Architecture and sculpture mixed together. In painting the “claire-obscure” (technique of using light and shade) phase began. Everything was full of both bright lights and shady darks to create volume.

Everything that had been light and happy turned dark and gloomy in the Baroque period. Life was once again seen as a valley of tears, and the notion that death pursues us from the cradle prevailed once again. This was all linked to the economic crisis, which created discontented intellectuals. The inquisition searched for pure blood and many authors of Jewish origin had to hide their intelligence to prevent arousing suspicion. Teresa de Jesús deliberately made mistakes in her writings so that no-one noticed her intelligence, and so she avoided investigation.

Spirituality was changing. The Protestant Church provoked the Catholic Reform which watched authors carefully to make sure they did not divert from the Catholic Orthodox. They kept an eye on all the cultural trends that came from Europe, especially those from Flanders, and particularly those that were related to the ideas of Erasmus, a Dutch Renaissance humanist.

Paradoxically, alongside the Protestant revolution appeared the great mystic Spanish authors: Santa Teresa de Jesús and San Juan de la Cruz, who launched the reform of the Carmelite order and formed the Discalced Carmelites (Barefoot Carmelites), who were a Catholic mendicant order.

Faced with the wealth that the Church owned, they returned to asking for poverty, as was done in the time of San Francisco de Asís. They were carefully watched over by the Inquisition. Alongside the mystics the figure of Fray Luis de León stands out, who, although he didn't reach mysticism, is a great ascetic figure, but perhaps more intellectual than passionate.

The colonial literature of Sor Juana Inés, a great poet from the viceroyalty of New Spain, became important. Colonial literature would have great importance in subsequent years, both for the Spanish writers that arrived in America who were astonished by what they saw, and for the Creole writers, the heirs of the former.