íPrepárate! El Programa de Verano de UNCG en Madrid, España

Las casas reales de España
los Austria y los Borbones en el Prado


The world changed in 1492. It was the birth of Spain as both state and empire. The kingdoms of Castile-Leon and Aragon were united with the marriage of Isabel and Fernando; they defeated the last Moorish stronghold, Granada, and with the voyage of Columbus gained vast new territories and wealth. But the seeds of disintegration were sprouting at the same time Spain reached the pinnacle of its power. United by what had generations earlier become a religious war, Spain tried to keep its far-flung domains together with religion as well. Devout Spanish kings squandered the vast wealth wrought from their new colonies on war. Spain went right from the Reconquista into the Contrarreforma (Counterreformation). Although the population of Spain has such diverse roots, or perhaps because of this, Spain became concerned with the concept of "pureza de sangre," going to such lengths as to expel its hard-working populations of Jews and converted Moors (moriscos), while the Inquisition continued into the nineteenth century.

Spain was ruled by two royal houses, the Habsburgs or the Austrias, and the Bourbons, also the royal house of France. After the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), General Francisco Franco was dictator until his death in 1975. Now Spain is a constitutional monarchy under a Bourbon, King Juan Carlos I. His wife, Queen Sofia, is Greek.

Museum visits will enhance your appreciation of art and your awareness of Spain's past. In the Prado museum, take a visual tour through Spanish history with paintings by some of the world's most famous artists. Below is just a small sampling showing the Habsburg kings and the Bourbon kings up until the beginning of the nineteenth century. All the paintings below can be seen at the Prado; the last one may be seen at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.


Under Charles (1500-1558), Spain became a vast empire. He is Carlos I of Spain, but Karl V as the Holy Roman Emperor. He spent a great deal of time at war defending his vast empire. Upon his death he gave half his realm, the Holy Roman Empire, to his brother Maximilian and Spain and its colonies to his son, Philip II.

This is a portrait by Titian in the Renaissance style, showing the emperor at Muhlberg. This armor is on display at the Armory of the Royal Palace.

Carlos V retratado por Titian

Felipe II retratado por Titian

Philip II (1527-1598) was a devout Catholic and a fastidious administrator who ruled an empire upon which the sun never set. The head of the Counterreformation, Philip tried to quash heresy and extend the power of Spain. He built the Escorial, moved the capital of Spain to Madrid, and sent the Armada against England. Spain reached the zenith of its power under Felipe, but the forces that had put the Spanish empire together already had begun to tear it apart.

In this portrait, Philip is wearing a suit of armor you can see on display in the Armory of the Royal Palace.

Philip III (1578-1621) was devout but depressive and little given to governing, leaving his duties mostly in the hands of the Duke of Lerma and later the latter's son, the Duke of Uceda. He followed the example of his ancestors by trying to impose religious and national homogeneity on Spain by expelling the Moriscos, the Moors who had converted and remained in Spain after the Reconquista. Thus, he deprived Spain of many skilled workers.

His equestrian statue is in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

Felipe III retratado por Velázquez

Felipe IV retratado por Velázquez
Philip IV (1605-1665) ascended the throne at 16 and so depended greatly on his advisor, Count Olivares, until well after he came of age. Felipe continued the policy of defending Catholicism and the rights of Spain over the Netherlands and against the Protestants. Although he was a learned man and a great patron of the arts, under his rule Spain became exhausted in war.
Because the Netherlands were historically Spanish territory and were part of the protestant rebellion, the Spanish spent guts and money to hold on to them. In this painting the Spanish commander Ambrosio Spinola is graciously accepting the keys of the city from the defeated Dutch after the siege of Breda of 1624. Unfortunately only two years after Velázquez painted this picture, Breda was retaken by the Dutch and the Spanish hold on the Netherlands was broken.

La rendición de Breda (1634-1635), Velázquez

Las meninas (con autoretrato),
Velázquez (1656)
Look in the mirror on the back wall. There is another portrait of Felipe IV. In this famous portrait of the young daughter of the king, the Infanta Margarita, and her servants, Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) departed from expectations for royal portraiture to create one of the great masterpieces of painting.

Charles II (1661-1700) was the last Habsburg king of Spain. He was sickly and died without children. He had ties with both the Habsburgs and the Bourbons of France; only weeks before his death, he designated the grandson of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, to succeed him on the throne of Spain.

The shift of power from the Habsburg to Bourbon royal houses did not go down too well with the other Habsburgs. Charles's death lead to the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). Eventually Charles II's wishes were fulfilled but Spain lost its European territories in the process.

Carlos II, el último rey Hapsburgo
retratado por Juan Carreño de Miranda

Felipe V, el primer rey Borbón
retratado por Miguel Jacinto Meléndez
Philip V (1683-1746) became king after a protracted war; in the Treaty of Utrecht, Spain lost much of its territory. For example, it was in this treaty that Gibraltar was ceded to Britain.
Fernando VI (1713-1759) was an ineffectual but learned king given to depression. He was so devoted to his wife that when she died he refused to bathe or dress; eventually, without heirs, he died of grief, leaving the throne to his half-brother, Carlos III.

Fernando VI de niño
retratado por Jean Ranc

Carlos III
retratado por Goya

Charles III (1716-1788) came to the Spanish throne from Naples. Under his rule, Spain engaged in a disastrous foreign policy of continuing war; however, he is known as the best mayor of Madrid for the public works he carried out. He was influenced by the Enlightenment and was a proponent of enlightened absolutism. One effect of this was his expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain and his general hostility to the involvement of the church in his government.

His equestrian statue is in the Plaza del Sol in Madrid.

Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) was court painter like Velázquez before him. This is one of several paintings he made of Carlos IV; as in so many of them, Goya slyly depicts the king with the shaft of his sword invisible. Carlos IV was an avid wrestler in his youth and a hunter at maturity who didn't take much interest in the business of ruling the country. He had the ill luck to be king during the period of the French revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, during which he became a prisoner in France and lost his throne.

Carlos IV
retratado por Goya

Familia de Carlos IV, por Goya
Carlos IV (1748-1819) left the affairs of government to his wife, Maria Luisa of Parma, and her reputed lover, Manuel de Godoy. Here Goya puts the focus on Maria Luisa de Parma, the queen, while her husband is off to the side. The brightly dressed child in the central space draws the eye due to his red clothing and the arrangement of the group. This child was said to bear an unseemly resemblance to Manuel de Godoy. Of the king's sword, only the hilt is painted; below his hand, the sword disappears. Notice how one of the ladies has her face turned away; that marriage had not yet been arranged and Goya left a way to add the bride's features later. In imitation of Las meninas of Velázquez, Goya included himself in the painting, behind the canvas at left.

The upheavals in France had effects that rippled out all over Europe and even as far as Mexico, where Napoleon put his own brother on the throne, just as he did in Spain. He kept Carlos IV and his heirs prisoner in France.

When the population of Madrid rose up in revolt against the French, repression was brutal; Madrileños could be shot even for carrying a knife. Goya represented the event in this famous painting.

El tres de mayo 1808, por Goya

Fernando VII (1784-1833)
retratado por Goya

After Napoleon's defeat, Fernando VII resumed the throne of Spain. In spite of his pledge to uphold the constitution the Spanish cortes had drafted in 1812, Fernando was determined to be an absolute ruler with no restrictions on his power. Goya painted this portrait of the young king, but what he was painting on his own time, the Black Paintings you can see in the Prado, give you a better picture about how he felt about the state of Spain at the end of his life.


Other Bourbon monarchs: Isabela II (1830-1904) went into exile in 1868 and abdicated in 1870. After a turbulent period that included the First Republic (1873-1874), the monarchy was restored with Isabela's son Alfonso XII (1857-1885). His equestrian statue looks over the pond in the Retiro. He was followed by a son born after his death, Alfonso XIII (1886-1941), king from the moment of his birth. Alfonso went into exile in 1931 when, as the Bourbon family website delicately puts it, the monarchy "took a back seat" until 1975. The current king, Juan Carlos I, is Bourbon.

From 1931-1936, Spain tried a republic again, but it was unstable; eventually in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) conservative forces led by General Francisco Franco rebelled against the republic and took over the government. Years of dictatorship ensued.


Guernica pintado por Pablo Picasso
This impressive painting is not in the Prado, but in the Nacional Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, where modern works are housed. It portrays an episode from the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) when German planes in support of Franco's rebellious forces bombed the Basque town of Guernica.



Copyright A. Campitelli 2007