Сontent | Library | Late Middle Ages

Philip II of Spain: one sees the haughty glance of Titian's youth of twenty-four, the confident stare of the young man of thirty portrayed by Anthonis Mor, the benign gaze of the mature man in his forties in the portrait by Sanchez Coello, and Pantoja de la Cruz's look of the ageing man in his sixties. In all there appears the same sense of dignity: behind the face there remained the same commanding vision.

Philip's Spain: we find it portrayed: we find it portrayed in the writings of Cervantes and Mateo Aleman, the diaries of St Teresa of Avila, the histories by Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Luis Cabrera de Cordoba; but we miss the brilliant visual depictions of popular life that Velazquez, Murillo and Zurbaran were to produce in the following century. Pieter Breughel, one of Philip's Flemish subjects, painted the best-know scenes of popular life in Philip's era, but only of his Netherlands. Philip was more than king of Spain, the title by which he is best known: he also ruled the seventeen provinces of the Low Countries, as well as being king of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia, duke of Milan, king of Aragon, Castile with its overseas possessions, and, in 1580, king of Portugal.

Yet it is with Spain that we associate him, and with some justification; for he saw the world through Castilian eyes, and according to his biographer and teacher, Juan Gines de Sepulveda, he had praise for none but Spaniards[1]. None the less he saw himself as a member, and after the death of his father the Emperor Charles V, as head of the Habsburg family, the House of Austria. He insisted that he bore equal love for all his own subjects, but his obvious preference for men of Iberian origins and his lack of ease among others made him, in the words of the Venetian ambassador Suriano, disliked by Italians, disagreeable to Flemings and hateful to Germans[2]. When he succeeded his father he withdrew as soon as he could to the Iberian peninsula. Here he lived out his life, reigning for more than forty years. [11]

[1] Juan Gines de Sepulveda, De rebus gestis Caroli Quinti et Regis Hispaniae, in Opera (Madrid 1780) I-II; II, 40 I.

[2] J. C. Davis, ed., Pursuit of Power: Venetian Ambassadors’ Reports on Turkey, France and Spain in the Age of Philip II, 1560 – 1600 (New York, London 1970) 67.