The Escorial: Art and Power in the Renaissance by Henry Kamen - review by Patrick Williams

Patrick Williams

European Son

The Escorial: Art and Power in the Renaissance

By

Yale University Press 336pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

Few major historical figures have been so despised as Philip II of Spain. In his own day his greatest opponents became revered national icons – Elizabeth of England, Henry IV of France and William of Orange – and the early historians of their countries damned Philip for daring to oppose them. Posterity was even less generous: in the nineteenth century, the Protestant liberal historian J L Motley created a school of history by describing Philip as ‘deficient in manly energy, a pedant, bigot, cold, mediocre, grossly licentious’. The crowning indignity came from within Spain itself when Philip was afflicted with the admiration of General Franco, who claimed him as one of his inspirational icons and created his sepulchre in the shadow of Philip’s great monastery-palace, the Escorial. Philip and his unique building were thereby damned as proto-Catholic, deeply reactionary and symbols of all that was worst in Spanish history, including intolerance and brutality.

Much of this long-term damage to Philip’s reputation has been repaired in the last thirty years, particularly in 1998, when the 400th anniversary of his death brought about a flood of publications by historians and cultural historians reappraising his historical significance. These made Spaniards much more self-confident in

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