Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Spanish Golden Age

The United States today bears close semblance to 17th Century Hapsburg Spain. Both are empires in decline, decaying from within. Spain living off silver from the Americas; while the United States lives off credit from abroad.

Given this dreary prognosis, we must consider how nevertheless to make a go of things.

If the parallel between today's United States and 17th century Spain holds up, then we should pursue high culture - for while 17th century Spain suffered political decline, it also culturally manifested its Golden Age
The Spanish Golden Age (Spanish: Siglo de Oro, Golden Century) period of flourishing in arts and literature in Spain, coinciding with the political rise and decline of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty. El Siglo de Oro does not imply precise dates, but it begins no earlier than 1492, with the end of the Reconquista (Reconquest), the sea voyages of Christopher Columbus to the New World, and the publication of Antonio de Nebrija's Gramática de la lengua castellana (Grammar of the Castilian Tongue). Politically, it ends no later than 1659, with the Treaty of the Pyrenees, ratified between France and Habsburg Spain. The last, great writer of the period, Pedro Calderon de la Barca, died in 1681, and his death usually is considered the end of El Siglo de Oro of Spain, the golden century in the arts and literature.

The Habsburgs, both in Spain and Austria, were great patrons of art in their countries. El Escorial, the great royal monastery built by King Philip II of Spain, invited the attention of some of Europe's greatest architects and painters. Diego Velázquez, regarded as one of the most influential painters of European history and a greatly respected artist in his own time, cultivated a relationship with King Philip IV and his chief minister, the Count-Duke of Olivares, leaving us several portraits that demonstrate his style and skill. El Greco, another respected artist from the period, infused Spanish art with the styles of the Italian renaissance and helped create a uniquely Spanish style of painting. Some of Spain's greatest music is regarded as having been written in the period. Such composers as Tomás Luis de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero, Luis de Milán and Alonso Lobo helped to shape Renaissance music and the styles of counterpoint and polychoral music, and their influence lasted far into the Baroque period which resulted in a revolution of music. Spanish literature blossomed as well, most famously demonstrated in the work of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote de la Mancha. Spain's most prolific playwright, Lope de Vega, wrote possibly as many as one thousand plays during his lifetime, of which over four hundred survive to the present day.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think the artistic and aesthetic parallel holds.

    The Hapsburgs subsidized fine arts and culture; the USA subsidized technology.

    If I recall correctly, it was William S. Lind who said the American Century was 1865 to 1965. During that time,

    * technology won the War Between the States for the North,

    * the Gilded Age blossomed (due to government collusion),

    * the Philippines were seized in a precursor to Vietnam-style technologically intensive warfare,

    * the Federal Reserve pushed the boundaries of legal sophistry,

    * World War I introduced modernity,

    * airplanes, radios and automobiles provided opportunities for the USA to distinguish itself,

    * cinema blossomed as a predominantly American form of propaganda,

    * World War II made the USA technologically, economically, and militarily dominant, with the military-industrial complex,

    * television became 'the idiot box,'

    * transistors and electronic computers changed the world,

    * the MIC and its shadowy private profiteers got ready for a moon shot.

    That was the time of America. Since 1965, the private companies have taken over the most profitable bits of technology, and turned the USA government into a hired thug, suitable only for defending plutocratic interests.

    There are still some laboratories doing innovative work in America. There are still some USA technologists who are the smartest in the world.

    But is the USA a cultural power? Is there anything the USA has given the world in terms of art, due to government subsidy?

    What kinds of art do USA taxes pay for? Voice of America radio? Sesame Street? An award for Serrano's "Piss Christ"? Robert Mapplethorpe? Technical advisors to Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor"?

    I don't doubt that there are still some Americans who are cutting new trails in the fine arts. But I doubt that they are taxpayer-funded.

    As an example of vigorous USA creativity, consider the popular comic strip "Penny Arcade." It got in on the ground floor of a new medium and it became a leader in its field. It is the joint product of two men from Seattle. It is not, to my knowledge, taxpayer-funded. I have no idea whether it will be considered noteworthy in a century or three - but at the moment, it is vigorous.