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Spanish Renaissance - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )

I. Geographical.—Spain, in the Gothic period (p. 522), could well be geographically considered as " the Peninsula " and merely as a country in the extreme south-west of Europe. It was far otherwise in the Renaissance period, when her prestige and power had been increased and extended by the discovery of the New World, which, together with the vast hereditary possessions and the military conquests of the Spanish monarchy, established Spain as the leading country in Europe. Her boundaries, under the Emperor Charles V, even extended over Germany and the Netherlands, till, after eighty years of strife, they shrank again in Europe under the Peace of Westphalia (A.D. 1648). But there remained those marvellous tropical lands, the Spanish colonies of South America—Mexico, Peru, and Chile—which were so naturally allied in many aspects with the sunny Spain of Europe. In these exotic lands Spanish architects had the widest scope for the exercise of their flamboyant genius.

II. Geological.—In continuation of previous practice (p. 522), granite was much used, as in the Escurial where its hard severe nature had much to do with the grim aspect of that building ; while stone and the semi-marbles in which the country abounds were in general use. Brick was employed with stone in bonding courses, mainly in Moorish districts, such as Toledo, and the iron ore of the northern mountains gave an impetus to the development of decorative ironwork.

III. Climatic.—The climate varies, as in the Gothic period (p. 525), from intense cold of the table-lands in the north to tropical heat in the south, and, owing to the general sunny character of the Peninsula, there is a prevalence of small windows, flat roofs, and open " patios," or courtyards. In the new Spanish colonies of South America, the tropical climate was not unlike that of Spain, and was thus favourable to the reproduction there of similar architectural features to those of Spain. Under such climatic conditions the Baroque style, which flourished during the later Renaissance in Spain, was peculiarly acceptable to the voluptuous taste of people who basked in the tropical heat, and revelled in the luxuriant vegetation under the southern sun.

IV. Religious.—The Reformation obtained no hold whatever in Spain, for the religious and racial struggle between Christianity and Mahometanism formed a bond of union amongst all Christians, and so left little opportunity for Christian internecine strife. The final expulsion of the Moors, after the fall of Granada (A.D. 1492), resulted in a revival of ecclesiastical building, and many fine Renaissance churches were erected in the hitherto Moorish districts. The counter-Reformation is here signalised by the activities of the Jesuit order founded by the Spaniard, Ignatius de Loyola, and the religious zeal of this order is responsible for many magnificent Baroque churches and convents throughout the country.

V. Social.—Goths from North Europe and Moors from North Africa were the most potent elements in the mixed population of Spain, and these warring influences are visible in the architecture. The marriage (A.D. 1469) of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile began that fusion of the different states which resulted in the consolidation of the Kingdom of Spain. In A.D. 1512 Ferdinand conquered the Kingdom of Navarre, which was incorporated with Castile, and thus the whole of Spain was joined under one rule, and during the annexation of Portugal (A.D. 1580–164o) the Spanish Kingdom covered the whole peninsula. Under the despotism of Philip II Jews and heretics were persistently persecuted. Under Philip III (A.D. 1598–1621) the Moriscoes were driven out of the country, and this proved a great loss, both in handicrafts and commerce, to Southern Spain, for their industry had largely contributed to its prosperity. After the invasion by Napoleon many internal revolutions followed which have not been favourable to architecture.

VI. Historical.—In the latter part of the fifteenth century the power of Spain gradually increased until, under the Emperor Charles V (A.D. 1516-56), she became the chief power in Europe. The Turkish occupation of the Levant, which closed the usual trade routes to the East, had promoted that spirit of maritime enterprise in Spain and Portugal which led to the great discoveries of new lands in the West and thus brought increased riches to the Peninsula. In A.D. 1486 Diaz discovered the Cape of Good Hope ; in A.D. 1492 Columbus discovered the West Indies, and in A.D. 1498 the continent of America, while in A.D. 1497 Vasco da Gama carried Portuguese trade to India. The extent of the Spanish dominions in Europe was due in the first place to a succession of marriages, as a result of which the Emperor Charles V reigned over Spain, the Netherlands, Sardinia, Sicily, Naples, Germany, and Austria, and to these hereditary dominions he added by conquest Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Tunis, and proved himself the most powerful Emperor since Charlemagne. This vast empire was held together by his skill in government and by the excellence of the Spanish army, of which the infantry was the finest in Europe. Philip II checked the power of the Turks in A.D. 1571 by winning the great naval battle of Lepanto, but his harsh and despotic rule alienated the Netherlands

while the expedition against England ended in the defeat of the Armada in A.D. 1588. Provinces were gradually lost, until in A.D. 1648 the power of Spain was shattered by the Peace of Munster. The War of the Spanish succession (A.D. 1701-14), terminated by the Peace of Utrecht,-resulted in the loss of Gibraltar, as well as of the Spanish dominions in Italy and Flanders. At the commencement of the nineteenth century Napoleon's invasion led to an outburst of national resistance, when, with the powerful aid of the armies of Great Britain under Wellington, the French were finally driven out of Spain after the battle of Vittoria (A.D. 1813), and during the Peninsular War the Spanish colonies in America had revolted and were eventually recognised as independent.

Then later in A.D. 1898 the war with the United States left Spain denuded of all her former glorious colonial empire.

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