Siglo de Oro

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Immaculada Concepcion by Murillo in the Chapter House of Seville Cathedral

In retrospect, the so-called “ Golden Age ” of Spain is referred to as the Siglo de Oro (literally “Golden Century”) . This epoch was a time of particular prosperity and global political power for the country in Spanish history . It led to a blossoming of art and culture in Europe. The Siglo de Oro represented the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque in Spain and lasted from around 1550 to 1660. In literary studies in particular, the end of the era is often set with the death of Calderón in 1681.

History and concept

After the key year 1492 (the end of the Reconquista with the conquest of Granada and the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus ), Spain rose to become one of the decisive political and economic powers in Europe and the world. Since 1600, however, political crises, military defeats and national bankruptcies increased. Spain was also ravaged by the plague.

The name Siglo de Oro has been used in retrospect since the 17th century for the cultural heyday between 1550 and 1660 or 1681. This period was the climax of the rule of the Habsburgs in Spain, but also ushered in the political and economic stagnation of Spain. Originally the term alludes to the idea of ​​a declining course of history, which leads from a golden heyday to a silver, a bronze and finally to an iron age. Due to the many currents that had an impact on the art of this epoch, one speaks today more of the Siglos de Oro (German: golden centuries). The historian Mariano Delgado suggested adding the term “Siglo de Oro” to the term “Spanish Century” for the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century, to express that Spain was not only culturally authoritative, but also politically raised a claim to leadership and showed a pronounced sense of mission.


Don Francisco de Quevedo .
Juan van der Hamen y León.
Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan. Madrid

Regardless of the political crises, the creative renewal movement in Spanish literature that began in the middle of the 16th century continued into the middle of the 17th century: genres such as drama , novels and poetry experienced an unprecedented heyday. In literary studies , this period is generally set from the assumption of government of Philip II (1556) to the death of Calderón (1681).

The following division into periods is common in literary studies:

Spain's rulers in the late Renaissance (approx. 1550–1600) and their influence on literature

  1. Charles V's reign 1516–1556: cosmopolitan, Europeanizing, optimistic worldview.
  2. Reign of Philip II. 1556–1598 : decidedly negative attitude towards foreign influences (especially anti- reformatory ), reflection on “one's own” or “typically Spanish”, penchant for mysticism .

Movements in Spanish poetry in the Baroque (early baroque approx. 1600–1630, high baroque approx. 1630–1680)

  1. Culteranismo : the poet makes use of an educated language using many expressions from Latin or ancient Greek and making numerous allusions to classical mythology ; literature is therefore only accessible to the educated classes and in a certain sense is elitist. Difficulties in understanding are also increased by the bold use of metaphors , neologisms and unusual word order ( hyperbaton ). The main representative of this direction is Luis de Góngora .
  2. Conceptismo : The name is derived from the Spanish concepto (“term”), which means here witty associations of ideas or words, such as word games based on ambiguity; The main stylistic devices used are, for example, antithesis , paradox , contrast , parallelism , laconic brevity. Francisco de Quevedo is the main representative of this direction .

The first novel by Miguel de Cervantes , Don Quixote, is known worldwide and is an important testimony to the Siglo de Oro . Cervantes took up the concept of an impartial, fearless interaction between the sexes in the Golden Age , which was spread by Jacopo Sannazaro and Torquato Tasso . In the novel, he lets the protagonist praise the happy times "which the ancients called the golden" in front of goatherds. At that time there was no sexual intrusiveness, and eroticism was only dependent on the inclination and free will of those involved and was not subject to any external coercion. The "knight of the sad figure" also describes as a prerequisite for being able to perceive an age as "golden", that the hungry stomach of the human being must be satisfied and that everything can be shared unselfishly. He also saw such an age in an ideal of an undestroyed and philanthropic nature. He did not attach any importance to the wealth of gold. Cervantes regards his own time as "iron".

In contrast to its time, Spanish literature - especially the works of Miguel de Cervantes - soars towards the golden age, the Siglo de Oro . In the period in which “Don Quixote” was created, the Spanish state is already on the decline of world history: the great Spanish Armada has already been defeated, the battle for the Netherlands in the Eighty Years' War is lost, and the enormous deliveries of precious metals are evident Overseas are declining and the high amount of silver has led to a large increase in the cost of living , the country is depopulated: the state had expelled Moors and Jews, plus there was mass emigration to Latin America.

The state ultimately ruined itself economically and spiritually because it was incapable of tolerance. The 17th century in Spain was primarily a largely racist one. It was “golden” because of the artistic achievements of the painters and sculptors in particular, but also the poets - not because of , but despite the alleged Siglo de Oro. In fact, gold shone in churches and palaces, even if Spain had literally squandered a lot of stolen gold from South and Central America in the numerous wars in the 17th century.

The court, Philip II and his government were deeply convinced that Spain should only have one religion. Only one ideology should rule and guarantee the cohesion of the real world empire. Spain was culturally very narrow, plurality was not wanted, there was intolerance, there was no real diversity in questions of equality and those who thought differently were persecuted and killed. Despite these circumstances, the artistic works created on the peninsula at that time are of outstanding quality. They inspired European art, even if it flourished in Spain in the shadow of the ever-threatening Inquisition.

The word about the golden age of Spain is a title that was formulated in retrospect, especially when looking at this 17th century in times that were perceived as even worse. On the Iberian Peninsula, the genesis of the term began at an early stage, which was transfigured as the golden age in view of the crises that had emerged from the second half of the 17th century. At the beginning of the 18th century, the term became common, particularly with a view to the literary work of the previous two centuries, and has since established itself primarily in literary studies as an epoch designation. In terms of its general historical content and the precise periodization, however, it remained vague.

Important representatives of the literature


Beginning of the treble part of the Missa alma redemptoris mater (Madrid 1600) by Tomás Luis de Victoria

Spanish music of the 15th and early 16th centuries was heavily influenced by Dutch vocal polyphony . Franco-Flemish singers and composers such as Gombert and Crequillon worked at the court of the Spanish kings until the beginning of the 17th century; the last was Philippe Rogier . Conversely, Spanish singers took an important place in the papal chapel in Rome , including the first internationally known and important Spanish composer of vocal music, Cristóbal de Morales (around 1500–1553). The now even more famous Tomás Luis de Victoria (around 1548–1611), whose works are strongly influenced by Palestrina , but are considered the epitome of Spanish music, also worked in Rome for decades . Both composers returned to Spain, where Victoria worked in the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales in Madrid and wrote his famous Requiem . The most important vocal composer on Spanish soil was Francisco Guerrero , who worked in Seville and whose lifetime was between Morales and Victoria. The vocal polyphony in the style of Victoria (and Palestrina) became a model for younger composers such as Alonso Lobo or Portuguese composers (who were under Spanish rule between 1580 and 1640). However, Iberian music of the 17th century soon fell into a sideline, as it stuck to the ideals of the Renaissance for a long time.

The Spanish instrumental music of the siglo de oro was also of great importance , especially for string instruments such as vihuela and later guitar , as well as in keyboard music. The so-called glosas played an important role, embellishments and plays around the actual ( contrapuntal ) vocal fabric. A number of composers, including a. Luis de Narváez , Luis de Milán , Miguel de Fuenllana and Alonso Mudarra created a complex and virtuoso music for Vihuela in the first half and in the middle of the 16th century that was unrivaled in Europe. They wrote variations , tientos , fantasies , pavans , galliards and also solo chants with virtuoso accompaniment, especially romances and villancicos .

Obras de musica para tecla arpa y vihuela by Antonio de Cabezón , 1578

At the same time, the blind Antonio de Cabezón worked , who created similarly important works of pioneering status for keyboard instruments such as harpsichord , virginal , clavichord and organ , or for the harp . His son Hernando took care of the publication of Antonio's works. The focus was on so-called glosados , i.e. heavily decorated (or varied) versions of popular motets , chansons and madrigals by Franco-Flemish composers such as Josquin Desprez , Crequillon, Richafort , Gombert, Verdelot , Willaert , Mouton and Clemens non Papa , as well Tientos and forms of variation. From this a separate tradition of Spanish (or Iberian) keyboard music developed, which was mostly intended as an alternative for the harp, and whose main genre was the tiento , which developed from its beginnings as a prelude and ricercar in a more virtuoso direction and also in sub- genres split up pieces for split registers of the Iberian organ, i.e. for solo part (s) and accompaniment. After the Cabezóns, the most important keyboard composers of the siglo de oro were : Sebastián Aguilera de Heredia (1561–1627), the Portuguese Manuel Rodrigues Coelho (around 1555-around 1635), Francisco Correa de Arauxo (1584–1654), the blind Pablo Bruna ( 1611–1679), José Ximénez (1601 [?] - 1678) and Juan Bautista Cabanilles (1644–1712).

The Spanish instrumental music was notated in a special notation , the Spanish tablature . One of the most important works that appeared in print is the Libro de cifra nueva ("Book of New Numbers") for keyboard instruments, harp or vihuela, published in 1557 by Luis Venegas de Henestrosa .

Important composers

Vocal polyphony

Vihuela and guitar

Keyboard music and harp


Francisco de Herrera the Younger : Dream of St. Joseph , 1662 (Prado, Madrid)

In painting, the centralization efforts under Philip IV led to a gradual relocation of artistic creation from centers such as Toledo, Seville or Valladolid to Madrid. Nevertheless, Seville in particular remained a leading art center alongside Madrid in the 17th century (with, among others, Zurbarán , Alonso Cano , Murillo ). The focus of Spanish painting was on religious painting, portrait art was also important , and still lifes in the typical, somewhat sparse form of the bodegón and, in a relatively small number, histories , mythological scenes and genre paintings were also created . Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco , who came from Greece and was influenced by icon painting there , was in reality a stylistic exception, often regarded as the typical protagonist of the Spanish siglo de oro today .

Characteristic of the Spanish high baroque (from around 1630) is a clearly pronounced naturalism in international comparison with a simultaneously strongly pronounced tendency towards the mystical . In addition to regional traditions, influences from the early Italian Baroque are particularly at work here, especially the Tenebrism of Caravaggio and his successors, which was conveyed to Spain through Jusepe de Ribera and other Neapolitan painters. In Madrid a separate direction of painting emerged (the Madrid School) which, in its fragrant brushwork with almost impressionistic effects, was also based on the middle and late Titian , Correggio , Van Dyck and Rubens . This Madrid school includes Velázquez , Juan Carreño de Miranda , Francisco Rizi , Francisco de Herrera the Elder. J. , Juan Antonio Escalante , José Antolínez , Mateo Cerezo and Claudio Coello .

John the Baptist by Alonso Cano
National Sculpture Museum. Valladolid



From 1492 onwards, the Muslims are considered to be permanently expelled from Spain. The remaining ones eke out their existence under constant control as Moriscos forcibly converted . At the beginning of the 17th century they too were expelled and shipped to North Africa.

Jews had to convert to Catholicism in Spain if they wanted to stay. But when they converted they were treated with great suspicion by the so-called old Christians.


This is reflected, for example, in dealing with the literary work of St. Theresa of Avila that was left behind . From the mystic and doctor of the church came a quote that aptly expresses the misogynist mentality in the church already in her previous lifetime: “Lord, my soul, you did not dread women when you traveled through this world, on the contrary. You have always favored them with great compassion and found just as much love and faith in them as in men ”. These words were censored in the Siglo de Oro by the Inquisition. The quote has only recently been rediscovered.



  • El Siglo de Oro. The golden age of Spanish art. Documentary, Germany, 2016, 52:04 min., Script and director: Grit Lederer, production: Medea Film, ZDF , arte , first broadcast: July 3rd, 2016 on arte, summary by arte, online video available until October 1st 2016.
    Documentary film on the occasion of the large special exhibition El Siglo de Oro - The Velázquez era in the Berlin Gemäldegalerie with over 100 masterpieces of 17th century art until October 30, 2016.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hartmut Stenzel: Introduction to Spanish literary studies. 2nd Edition. Stuttgart 2005, p. 125.
  2. ^ Mariano Delgado: The Spanish Century (1492-1659). Politics - religion - economy - culture . Scientific Book Society (WBG), Darmstadt 2016, ISBN 978-3-534-23953-5 , p. 2.
  3. ^ Mariano Delgado: The Spanish Century (1492-1659) . WBG, Darmstadt 2016, pp. 3–9.
  4. Hellmuth Petriconi: The new Arcadia . In: Antike und Abendland 3, 1948, pp. 187–200, here: 196–199.
  5. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: The ingenious Junker Don Quixote von der Mancha , translation: Braunfels / Speemann, Munich 1979, p. 88.
  6. .
  7. .
  8. Thomas Weller, The Spanish Century , European History Online
  9. Antonio de Cabezon: Glosados del libro "Obras de Musica para tecla, arpa y vihuela ..." (Madrid 1578), Transcripción: Maria A. Ester Sala, Publisher: Union Musical Ediciones SL, Madrid, 1974/1992, p VII-VIII (table of contents)
  10. Mariano Delgado with Volker Leppin: “You didn't dread women”. Mystics and Theologians in Christian History. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2015.
  11. www: //
  12. ^ Homepage of the Gemäldegalerie Staatliche Museen zu Berlin , accessed on October 9, 2016.