In 1665 Spain was still the greatest empire in Christendom. She ruled the southern Netherlands, Sardinia, Sicily, the kingdom of Naples, the duchy of Milan, and vast areas in North and South America. But she had lost the naval and military power needed to control the commerce and destiny of this scattered realm. Her costly armadas had been destroyed by the English (1588) and the Dutch (1639); her armies had suffered decisive defeats at Rocroi (1643) and Lens (1648); her diplomats, in the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659), had acknowledged the triumph of France. Her economy depended upon the influx of gold and silver from America, and that flow was repeatedly interrupted by Dutch or English fleets. Her reliance on foreign gold, and the scorn of her people for trade, had stunted her commerce and her industries. Much Spanish commerce was carried in foreign vessels. Spanish shipping plying between Spain and America was seventy-five per cent less in 1700 than in 1600. Manufactured articles were imported from England and Holland, and were paid for only in part by the export of wine, oil, iron, or wool; the balance was paid in bullion, so that American gold merely passed through Spain and Portugal on the way to England, France, and the United Provinces. Cordova and Valencia, once famous for their crafts, were in conscious and querulous decay. The expulsion of the Moriscos had injured agriculture, and the frequent debasement of the coinage had demoralized finance. Roads were so bad, transport so primitive, that towns near the sea or on navigable rivers found it cheaper to import goods, even grain, from abroad than to bring them in from sources in Spain. Exorbitant taxes, including a sales tax of fourteen per cent, strove to sustain the wars of Spain against incredibly unyielding enemies presumably cursed by God. The standard of living was so reduced that countless Spaniards abandoned their farms, their shops, at last their country. Infantile mortality was high, and there was apparently some furtive limitation of the family. Thousands of men and women became barren monks or nuns, and other thousands went off to adventure in distant lands. Seville, Toledo, Burgos, and Segovia lost part of their population; Madrid, in the seventeenth century, fell from 400,000 to 200,000. 52 Spain was dying of gold.
Amid the spreading and intensifying poverty the upper classes both hoarded and displayed their wealth. Long enriched by native exploitation or imported treasure, the nobles kept their wealth from investment in industry or commerce, and dazzled one another with gems and precious metal, with costly entertainments and magnificent equipage. The Duke of Alva had 7,200 plates and 9,600 other vessels of silver; the Prince of Stigliano made for his wife a sedan chair of gold and coral, so heavy that it was unfit for use. The Church too remained rich, grew richer, 53 amid surrounding penury. The Archbishop of Santiago proposed to build an entire chapel of silver; dissuaded, he built it all of marble. 54 The blood of the people was the soil of wealth and the glory of God.
The Inquisition was as strong as ever, stronger than the government. Autos-da-fé were less frequent than before, but only because heresy had been burned out. The disabilities of Catholics in England could hardly compare with the perils of Protestants in Spain. Cromwell was unable to protect English merchants there. The English ambassador’s Protestant servant was arrested by the Inquisition in 1691, and in that year the corpse of the ambassador’s Anglican chaplain was exhumed and mutilated by the people. The burning of converted Jews accused of secret Judaism continued. In Majorca the Inquisition built for itself a handsome palace from the wealth confiscated in a single investigation. 55 The populace warmly approved such bonfires, though many nobles sought to discourage them. When in 1680 Charles II expressed the wish to see an auto-da-fé, the artisans of Madrid volunteered to erect an amphitheater for the sacred spectacle; during their work they cheered one another to haste and industry by devout exhortations; it was truly a labor of love. Charles and his young bride attended in full regalia; 120 prisoners were judged, and twenty-one were burned to death in a caldron in the Plaza Major; it was the greatest and most splendid auto-da-fé in the history of Spain; and a book of 308 pages was published describing and commemorating the event. 56 In 1696 Charles appointed a Junta Magna to examine the abuses of the Inquisition; it submitted a report revealing and condemning many evils, but the Inquisitor General persuaded the King to consign the “terrible indictment” to oblivion; when, in 1701, Philip V called for it, no copy could be found. 57 The Inquisition, however, moved thereafter with more measured pace, and abated its conflagrations.
The Church tried to redeem its wealth, and buttress the faith, by financing art. In 1677 Francisco de Herrera el Mozo designed the second cathedral of Saragossa, called del Pilar from its boasting a pillar on which the Virgin was believed to have descended from heaven. Baroque architecture now came to Spain; almost overnight the Spanish mood passed from Gothic gloom to decorative extravagance. The great name here is José Churriguera; churrigueresca became for a time a name for Spanish baroque. Born at Salamanca in 1665, he expressed his exuberant energy in architecture, sculpture, cabinetry, and painting. Coming to Madrid at the age of twenty-three, he entered a competition to design a catafalque for the obsequies of Queen María Luisa; he won, and the confused structure,58 formed with fantastic pillars and broken cornices, and embellished with skeletons, crossbones, and skulls, established his reputation for fantastic skill. About 1690 he returned to Salamanca, and for ten years labored there, adorning the cathedral, building the high altar in the Church of San Esteban, and the magnificent hall of the city council. In Madrid, toward the close of his life, he designed the façade of the Church of San Tomás; dying (1725), he left the further construction to his sons, Gerónimo and Nicolás; during their operations the dome fell, crushing many workers and worshipers. A relatively moderate form of Churrigueresque migrated to Mexico, where it produced some of the loveliest buildings in North America.
Sculpture continued to be a powerful expression of the Spanish spirit. Sometimes the power came from a bizarre realism, as when it showed in gory detail the head of John the Baptist or some other severed saint. The Museum of Valladolid had two such heads of St. Paul. 59 Altar screens were still a favorite form; so Pedro Roldan carved the great screens in the parish church of the cathedral, and in the Hospital de la Caridad, at Seville; and his daughter Luisa Roldana, the outstanding woman sculptor of Spain, raised in the cathedral of Cádiz a group centering about Nuestra Señora de las Angustias—“Our Lady of the Sorrows.” Pedro de Mena dominated the age with his nudes (so rare in Spanish art), his Virgins, and his choir stalls in the Málaga cathedral, while his San Francisco, in the Seville cathedral, is among the finest examples of Hispanic sculpture. Toward the end of the seventeenth century the art shared in the general deterioration. Panels were loaded with ornament, images were equipped with mechanisms for moving the head, the eyes, and the mouth; real hair and dresses, and always color, were added in efforts to reach the simplest public imagination and taste.
The age of the giants was past in Spanish painting, but many minor heroes remained. Juan Carreño de Miranda, who succeeded Velázquez as court painter, was almost as loved as he; a man modest and kindly, and so absorbed in his work that at times he could not recall whether he had eaten or not. His portraits of Charles II and the court so pleased the young King that he was offered knighthood and the Cross of Santiago; Carreño refused the distinction as beyond his merit. Madrid in those days delighted in the story of el cantarillo de miel, the jar of honey. Gregorio Utande, an obscure artist, had painted for the Carmelite nuns a picture for which he asked a hundred ducats; they thought this too much, but agreed to let Carreño decide. Before Carreño heard of this, Utande presented him a jar of honey, and begged him to retouch the picture. This was done, much to its improvement. Carreño was surprised when the nuns called upon him to appraise it. He refused, but a third artist valued it at two hundred ducats, and the secret was kept till the price was paid.
In his later years Carreño eased the way for one of his successors. Claudio Coello worked day and night at his easel, with indifferent results. Carreño befriended him, and secured permission for him to study and copy the works of Titian, Rubens, and Vandyck in the royal galleries. The experience helped Claudio to mature, and in 1684, a year before Carreño’s death, Coello was appointed painter to the King. He achieved national renown by his Sagrada Forma, which showed the “Sacred Wafer” being presented to Charles II for an altar in the Escorial. The legend behind the picture expresses the temper of Spain. In the war with the Dutch (said the story) a consecrated Host had been trodden underfoot by some impious Calvinists; drops of blood had flowed from the injured wafer, at once converting one of the desecrators; the rescued Host had been reverently carried to Vienna, and had been sent as a gift to Philip II; since then it had been periodically exhibited, stained with Christ’s blood, to awed worshipers. Coello showed the King and his principal courtiers kneeling in adoration before the miraculous bread; half a hundred figures appeared in the picture, nearly all individualized, and arranged in a perspective of remarkably illusory depth. 60 After this work, which he had taken two years to complete, Coello was the undisputed master of all artists in the capital. Six years later (1692) he was suddenly eclipsed by the arrival of Luca Fa-Presto Giordano from Italy; Luca was at once given the leading role in redecorating the Escorial. Luca made matters worse by praising Claudio’s pictures. Coello finished the painting on which he was engaged, but then laid aside his brush. A year after Giordano’s arrival Coello died, aged fifty-one, allegedly of disappointment and jealousy. 61
Meanwhile Seville had seen the birth and death (1630–90) of the last great figure in Spanish painting before Goya. Juan de Valdés Leal, like Coello, was of Portuguese parentage and Spanish birth. After some years in Cordova, he moved to Seville to challenge the ascendancy of Murillo. He was too proud to offer to his patrons the sentimental loveliness of demure Madonnas. He painted the Virgin in her Assumption, but his heart and power went rather into uncompromising pictures belittling the pleasures of life and pointing to inevitable death. He showed St. Anthony turning in terror from the beauty of women. 62 In Ictu Oculi (In the Twinkling of an Eye) represented Death as a skeleton putting out life’s candle, whose brief illumination reveals, in chaos on the floor, the apparatus of worldly pursuits and glory—books, armor, a bishop’s miter, a king’s crown, a chain of the order of the Golden Fleece. In a variation on this idea Leal showed a charnel pit littered with corpses, skeletons, and skulls, and, above these, a fair hand holding a balance in which one scale contains the symbols of a knight, the other the insignia of a bishop; the one scale labeled NIMAS (no more), the other labeled NIMENOS (no less)—layman and ecclesiastic alike found wanting in the scales of God. Murillo, viewing the first of these two paintings, said to Valdés, “Comrade, it is a picture which cannot be looked at without holding one’s nose” 63—which might have been praise of the painter’s realism, or the reaction of a healthy mind to decadent art.
Decadence was the order of the day. No great literary figure dignified the age, no great drama took the stage. The universities were languishing amid the general destitution and obscurantism; at Salamanca, in this period, the enrollment of students fell from 7,800 to 2,076. 64 The Inquisition and the Index Librorum Prohibitorum labored successfully to exclude from Spain all literature displeasing to the Church; for a century Spain was hermetically sealed against the movements of the European mind. And decadence in person sat symbolically on the throne.
Charles II became king at the age of four (1665). During his minority the country was formally ruled by his mother, Queen Maríana, actually by her Jesuit confessor, Johannes Eberhard Nithard, then by her lover Fernando Valenzuela. Disorder mounted, and the competent ministry of another Don Juan of Austria was too brief to halt decay. In 1677 the sixteen-year-old King assumed the government and presided helplessly over the debacle. Persistent intermarriage within the Hapsburg family may have contributed to his debility of body and mind. The Hapsburg chin was in Charles so prognathous that he could not chew; his tongue was so large that his speech could hardly be understood. Till the age of ten he had been treated as an infant in arms. He could barely read; he had received little education; and the superstitions and legends of his faith were his dearest heritage. A leading Spanish historian describes him as “sickly, imbecile, and highly superstitious”; he “believed himself to be possessed by the Devil, and was the plaything of the ambitions of all who surrounded him.” 65 He married twice, but “it was a matter of public knowledge that he could not expect to have a child.” 66 Short, lame, epileptic, senile and completely bald before thirty-five, he was always on the verge of death, but repeatedly baffled Christendom by continuing to live.
The disintegration of Spain now became a European tragedy. Despite taxation, inflation, and the exploitation of American mines, the government was so near to bankruptcy that it could not pay the interest on its debt, and even the royal table had to stint the service of the King. The administrative bureaucracy, underpaid, was venal and indolent. Poverty was so desperate that people murdered for bread; bands of starving people broke into homes to rob and kill; and twenty thousand beggars roamed the streets of Madrid. The police, unable to obtain their pay, disbanded and joined the criminals.
Amid the chaos, insecurity, and desolation the poor, crippled, halfdemented King, feeling death upon him, faced in bewilderment and vacillation the problem of fixing the succession to his throne. His power being theoretically absolute, one line of his writing would suffice to bequeath his empire in four continents to either Austria or France. His mother pleaded for Austria, but Charles resented her scheming, and the shrewish rapacity of his German wife. The French ambassador reminded him that since the dowry of Louis XIV’s Spanish bride had not yet been paid, her renunciation of the succession was annulled; Louis was urging her rights, and had the power to enforce them. If Charles overrode those rights, Europe would flame into war, and Spain might be torn to pieces in the strife. Charles broke down under the burden of decision; he wept, and complained that some witch had laid unbearable misfortunes upon him. While he listened to confusing arguments rioters besieged his palace, crying out for bread.
In September, 1700, Charles took to his bed of death. The French party among the factions surrounding him won the Archbishop of Toledo, primate of Spain, to its side; he remained day and night with the dying King, and reminded him that only Louis XIV had the power to keep the Spanish empire intact, and to use it as a bastion of the Catholic Church. Pope Innocent XII, under the urging of Louis, advised Charles to favor France. At last Charles yielded, and signed the fatal will that left all his dominions to Philip, Duke of Anjou, grandson of the French King (October 3, 1700). On November 1 Charles died, aged thirty-nine but seeming to be eighty. The race of the Spanish Hapsburgs came to an end in a sunset red with the threat of war.