Modern Age Southern Europe (15th - 16th.)

Holland and Spain were united within the Spanish empire under Philip II and upon arrival in Spain The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis had a vital impact on Ignatius of Loyola. His reading prompted him to found The Society of Jesus (1534). The Jesuits founded schools throughout Europe and the teaching reflected the training of their teachers in classical studies and theology. They also sent missionaries around the world in an effort to evangelize.

The first activities of Ignatius de Loyola in his diffusion of the method through his Exercitia spiritualia made him suspect of heterodoxy (assimilated to the followers of Erasmus). He was prosecuted, preaching was prohibited (1524) and he had to interrupt his studies. However, during the Counter-Reformation the Jesuits agreed with Erasmus in his criticism of the Protestant idea of ​​predestination and supported the Church in its struggle.

In 16th century Spain there was an extraordinary explosion of mystical and contemplative activity as part of the task of counter-reform. It was not an abstract mysticism, but aimed at self-support in order to undertake practical reforms. The protagonists were also prolific writers who knew how to communicate their experiences. Loyola was an example and others were Teresa of Ávila and her disciple Juan de la Cruz.

Teresa of Ávila was a Carmelite nun, but she found the rules lax and decided to found a new order that embraced the values ​​of poverty and simplicity. She was an energetic leader and traveled the country founding new monasteries. Her mystical experiences began when she was hospitalized with malaria. It was a period of intense pain, but she began to have spiritual visions and a sense of inner peace that helped her transcend physical pain. She used these experiences for the rest of her life as sources of energy for her reform task.

John of the Cross entered the Carmelites in 1568. He was very demanding and the other monks criticized him for their exhortations to follow him and abandon comfort, liberties and pleasures. In
1577 the ecclesiastical authorities kidnapped him and he was imprisoned under torture for nine months. It was during this captivity in the dark that he wrote his two most famous poems: Spiritual Canticle and Dark Night of the Soul.

After escaping he wrote The Ascent of Mount Carmel where he comments on his poetry and explains his mystical path. This is summed up in an unstoppable desire to fully know and love God, abandoning everything that does not contribute to this communion. For him, the senses are illusions that distort the reality of union with God.

Teresa and John met when she was founding her reformed Carmel and was 52 years old. John was about to leave his Carmelite order to go to the Augustinians, but he joined the new Teresian company. He was 25 years old.

Scientific truths at that time were already established by the Catholic and Protestant religions. They were based on scholasticism, Aristotle, and the Bible, not on empirical observation. Scientists of the time had to accept the ecclesiastical matrix or die at the stake.

Vesalius represented the culmination of the recovery of ancient knowledge, the introduction of human dissection, and the rise of anatomical literature in Europe. During his life he corrected points of Galen's anatomy and after his death anatomy became a scientific discipline.

He studied at the Catholic University of Leuven / Louvain where the influence of Arab medicine predominated. He then moved to Padua as a professor of surgery performing himself the practical demonstrations for students. On his visit to Bologna, his practical interventions taught him that Galen was wrong in some of his anatomical conclusions. Indeed, he had based his studies on the dissection of dogs, monkeys and pigs because research on human corpses was prohibited by religion. Versalius  published his work on anatomy Fabrica in 1543. The illustrations were made in the studio of the painter Titian.

Giordano Bruno was a priest of the Dominican order in Naples. He expounded theories of an infinite universe and multiple worlds rejecting the traditional geocentrism of the earth. He went beyond Copernicus who maintained a finite universe and fixed stars. At a time when the Catholic Church and Protestantism affirmed Aristotelian and Scholastic principles, Bruno was considered a heretic and condemned to the stake.

Galileo Galilei improved the original Dutch design telescope allowing him to observe and describe Jupiter's moons, Saturn's rings, Venus phases, sunspots, and the wrinkled lunar surface. His observations contradicted the Aristotelian vision of the universe that was established in science and theology. The wrinkled lunar surface contradicted celestial perfection and the orbits violated the dogma that the earth was the center of the universe. His support for the new conception of the universe brought him before the religious authorities in 1616 and again in 1633 when he had to recant.

The Artists of the time depended on sponsors to survive on their art. These included the church, the crown, and the wealthy, and he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Titian earned his living painting for his sponsors: the Catholic Church, the Spanish kings, and the wealthy landowners.

The ecclesiastical commissions were to paint religious scenes in churches.

The kings and popes commissioned portraits and Titian lived in the Vatican for 6 months in the year
1545 to paint a portrait of Pope Paul III. In 1548 he traveled to the court of Carlos V to
paint portraits of the king and his heir Philip II.

Rich people like Alfonso I, Duke of Ferrara, wanted mythological paintings for their private palaces.

Rafael worked from 1504 to 1508 in Florence where he received the artistic influence of Leonardo Vinci and Michaelangelo. Later Pope Julius II called him to decorate the Vatican Residence rooms. (Miguelangelo painted the Sistine chapel at the same time.) Between 1509 and 1511 he decorated the Rooms with five great frescoes: The Triumph of the Eucharist, The School of Athens, El Parnaso, Gregorio IX promulgating the Decretales and Triboniano.

The School of Athens was painted on the wall of the Pope's library following the contemporary tradition of decorating private libraries with portraits of great thinkers. The fresco groups the Greek philosophers around Plato and Aristotle, traditionally the main representatives of ancient philosophy. Raphael makes an elegant pictorial philosophical comment placing everyone by their epistemology and dividing them between deductive idealists on the left, Plato's side, and inductive realists on the right of Aristotle.


In 1570, after a seven-year stay in Rome, El Greco moved to Toledo at the invitation of Canon Diego de Castilla, who commissioned the altarpiece The Assumption of the Virgin for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo. Castilla also facilitated the commission of El Expolio in 1579. (El Greco asked for a price that was too high and he had no further orders from Castilla.) He had been in Toledo for ten years when Philip II commissioned a work for the monastery of El Escorial; but
the Spanish sovereign did not lik The Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and did not commission the artist again.

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (1586-88) is his masterpiece. His son appears in the painting in addition to some prominent people in Toledo society, probably the sponsors. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune as in the pictorial works of the Italian Renaissance.

The authors Philippe de Commynes and the poet François Villon wrote in French. In Germany Das Narrenschiff written by Sebastian Brant was the only masterpiece.

Many authors were critical of tradition and strove to propose changes. Doubt appears as the main theme of their creations whether doubt about reality (Cervantes, Calderón), about the contributions of philosophy and science (Montaigne), about social rules (Lope de Vega) or as the basis to rebuild philosophy from scratch (Descartes).

In 1605 the first part of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes was published. It is a fiction about a gentleman who lives in a personal dream. It can be interpreted as a satire on chivalrous books or a social criticism of the time. On another level the book introduces a doubt about the difference between History and story-telling, sometimes indistinguishable because both depend on the reader's perception. It is
expressed in Cervantes' works using dualities to contrast reality and illusion: Quixote and Panza; talking dogs; Don Quixote's 'reason for unreason'. (It has a parallel in the contemporary Shakespearean idea of ​​'life as theatre' and evident in Calderón de la Barca's notion of 'life as a dream'.)

For Unamuno Don Quixote is dreaming of immortality. He knows that he cannot live forever, but he lives in such a way that he will be remembered. He is indeed an immortal.

Michel de Montaigne published his Essays (1580) in the vernacular, Middle French (moyen français). He was very critical of the speculative method of scholastic philosophy and said that there was only a general belief in science, not an empirical method. He argued that this science only served to rationally justify beliefs that were already held, as in apologetics.
Montaigne was looking for a thought process without ties to dogmatic principles.
"There is more work in interpreting interpretations than in interpreting things ..."    
Michel de Montaigne

As a humanist, he conceived philosophy as moral. He practiced it scrutinizing his own judgments to know his weaknesses and also his strengths. He promoted a humanistic revolution in philosophy: a move from a conception of philosophy as a theoretical science to a new approach: the practice of free judgment. His motto showed doubt and skepticism: "Que sais-je?" (What do I know?), Which later became one of the foundations of Descartes' philosophy.

Montaigne's writings are a testimony to the blossoming of a subjectivity. Because philosophy had failed to show a safe path to happiness, it was an invitation to each individual to find their own way.

Lope de Vega explains in his theater manual, The new art of making comedies at this time, his rejection of classical and neoclassical theatrical rules. He opted for a mix of comedy and tragedy, in addition to a metric variety and installed the public as the final judges of good theatre.

Comedy was a social drama including criticism of the foundations of contemporary society: respect for the Crown, the church and the pudonor (social reputation). The men were brave and proud;
women chaste before marriage and faithful after.

They were essentially plots of two kinds: the heroic story and the cloak-and-dagger story.

The concept of the king as an arbiter of justice for the poor against oppression was the argument of heroic works as well as the vindication of the individual's right.

The cloak-and-dagger plays have common ingredients: love, pride, parody on the part of servants and the gracioso (court jester) who comments on the nonsense of his superiors.

More information...

Philippe de Commynes (1447-1511)
Sebastian Brant (1457-1521)
François Villon (1431-1463)
Ignatius of Loyola (1491 - 1556)
Teresa of Ávila (1515 - 1582)
John of the Cross (1542 - 1591)
Titian (1477 - 1576)
Nicholas Copernicus (1473 - 1543)
Michaelangelo (1475 - 1564)
Rafael Sanzio (1483 - 1520)
Andreas Vesalio (1514 - 1564)
Luís de Camões (1524 - 1580)
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525 - 1594)
Michel de Montaigne (1533 - 1592)
 "El Greco" (1541-1614)
Miguel de Cervantes (1547 - 1616)
Giordano Bruno (1548 - 1600)
Lope de Vega (1562 - 1635)
Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642)

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