Lecture Series - Titian, Rubens & Velazquez Art & Power in Habsburg Spain & the Spanish Netherlands

February 28, 2022

If you are unable to attend the live session, do not worry - all those who register will automatically be sent copies of the lecture to view in your own time.

 Titian, Rubens & Velazquez: Art & Power in Habsburg Spain & the Spanish Netherlands


The just over a hundred years between the accession of Philip II as King of Spain in 1556 and the death of his grandson, Philip IV, in 1665 saw momentous changes within the Spanish Habsburg Empire. Whilst remaining geographically almost intact, the religious wars of the period wrought unimaginable havoc and untold suffering, much of it stemming from the faults of a gifted, if intolerant king, Philip II. This second series of webinars on the Habsburgs will chronicle an extraordinary period, Spain's 'Golden Age', as it fought its enemies including the rebellious 'Dutch' within the Spanish Netherlands, the French, the English and the Ottoman Turks. When a temporary peace was achieved, much of this was due to the intelligence of a remarkable woman, the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, an achievement more or less squandered by her brother and nephew, respectively Philip III and Philip IV, until true peace (and ignominious defeat) came with the end of the 'Thirty Years War' in 1648.

The visual arts offer their own commentary on these events, from the gaunt and chilly beauty of Philip II's 'monastery-palace', the Escorial, to the extraordinary collection of paintings which the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs accumulated, now the core collections of the Prado in Madrid and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Titian painted his most visually arresting series of allegories, the 'Poesie' for Philip II while the king also collected Flemish art, above all the work of Bosch. His daughter, Isabella Clara Eugenia, was no less perspicacious in her choice of artists as she was the great patron of both Rubens and the young Van Dyck, not to mention sundry members of the Brueghel family. Philip IV, his family and court, were immortalised by one of the greatest painters of any period, Velazquez, arguably the finest master of the colour black?  Both branches of the family reaped the unlikely harvest that was the forced dispersal of England's amazing collections built up by Charles I and his courtiers.

Lecture 1, Wednesday, 9 March, 11am. Philip II of Spain: Blinded by Faith

Philip II of Spain was to many an enigma, both in his lifetime as now. He combined an unerring eye for art while blinded by religious prejudice to the realities of the exercise of power. Strategic capital gained via victories such as the defeat of the Turks at Lepanto was squandered in, for example, his quest to conquer England with the launch of several 'Armadas'. However, his greatest error was his treatment of his Protestant subjects in the Spanish Netherlands - a 'Spanish Fury', the flames of which would linger for several generations. Yet, this most devout of Catholics had a sensuous side to his character and he was one of Titian's most perceptive patrons. Indeed, his 'eye' was acute and wide ranging, delighting not just in the poetic nudes of Titian but also in the bizarre creations of Bosch and the consolation of van der Weyden's religious masterpieces. Yet, to modern eyes it is the monastery cum palace of San Lorenzo, known as 'El Escorial', which captures the essence of this monarch - austere, labyrinthine and unyielding.

Lecture 2, Thursday, 10 March, 11am. The Infanta Isabella: My Favourite Nun  

It was an accident of birth which prevented Philip II of Spain's eldest surviving, and most intelligent child, the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, from ruling all the Spanish Habsburg lands on her father's death in 1598, First, she was a girl and second, she had a much younger half-brother, the future Philip III, one of the dynasty's least inspiring monarchs. The Infanta was the eldest child of Philip's third wife, Elizabeth of Valois. Trusted by her father due to her innate abilities and appetite for hard work, on her marriage to her cousin, the Archduke Albert of Austria, she was given the Spanish Netherlands to govern, with her husband granted co-equal powers. They initiated a period of temporary peace, which led to a flourishing of the arts, not least when Rubens was appointed their court painter. This remarkable artist also worked for the couple as a diplomat which saw him shuttle between Brussels, Madrid, Paris and London, with the stunning Banqueting House ceiling paintings in London the most tangible result of his mission. Widowed in 1621, the Infanta took minor Holy Orders and donned her nun's habit, ruling alone until just before her death in 1633.

Lecture 3, Wednesday, 16 March, 11am. Philip IV of Spain: Still Waters Run Deep?

The reign of Philip IV, 1621 - 1665, will forever be seen through the eyes of a single artist, Velazquez. The young king was 16 when he succeeded his father, Philip III in 1621, and in 1623 he appointed the equally young Velazquez as his court painter, who would capture the Spanish court in all its formality over the coming decades. This, the last of the truly 'Habsburg' Philips, would see Spain's so-called 'Golden Age' end as its powers were curbed with the loss of Portugal in 1640 and it accepted the loss of the northern part of the Spanish Netherlands for ever in 1648. That said, this was truly a golden period for the growth of the Spanish royal collections, not least via the opportunities provided by the 'Sale of the Century', when the English parliament sold off the works of art owned by Charles I, many of which are now in the Prado. Indeed, Philip was not the only Habsburg buying English-owned works of art as his Austrian cousin, the Archduke Leopold, ruling what was left of the Spanish Netherlands, was equally active on the art market and his collections would form the core of another monument to the Habsburg 'eye', Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Format for Lecture

Tom will give three one-hour illustrated lectures for £33. During the lecture you will have the chance to submit written questions which Tom will answer at the end - if time permits.

You will not need to download any software and the lecture will work in any browser. For the best experience use a desktop or laptop - but it will also work on an iPad or similar tablet. You will be also able to re-watch or watch a recording after the lecture.


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