- Signs of Power in Habsburg Spain and the New World by Jason McCloskey and Ignacio López Alemany, eds
This volume includes ten essays that explore, from different perspectives, the representation of power in the Spanish monarchy during the early modern period. The authors of these essays develop their analysis by focusing on a variety of [End Page 586] cultural signs: literary, historical, and political texts, paintings, coins, and other kinds of elements of material culture. This approach allows them to examine an abstract notion such as power (understood basically as political, economic, military, religious, or judicial authority) through texts and objects that put it into motion as specific cultural practices and that can be subjected to critical inquiry. At the same time, the relationship of these signs with power is a complex one, for their creators frequently resorted to a symbolic component that required an interpretation by readers or viewers and consequently prevented a simplistic relationship between sign and meaning. This collection of essays therefore provides a fruitful intersection of two topics that have interested early modern Hispanists for some time: on the one hand, the complex reality of power in Spain and its American colonies, much less monolithic and unidirectional than presented by certain traditional historiographies; on the other hand, objects and their social use as a source of cultural analysis.
The volume is divided into two sections. The first one, entitled “Myths of Power,” includes four essays that examine the use of various classical myths in relation to power. Anne Cruz focuses on a series of mythological paintings known as the poesie and painted by Tiziano for Philip II between 1553 and 1562, which she reads as reflections on the evolution of the prince-monarch’s marital and political circumstances. Lucia Binotti’s article, the most risqué and provocative in the volume, argues for a reading of La fábula de Polifemo y Galatea that expands the erotic interpretation of several passages of the text and highlights the role of ekphrasis, which leads the author to see the poem as a “stimulus and perhaps a supplement to sexual self-pleasuring” of the noblemen who read it in the privacy of their rooms (28). Frederick de Armas discusses the first meeting between Don Quixote and the false knight Sansón Carrasco by analyzing how the legendary Hercules models certain aspects of the relationship between these two characters. In the fourth work of this first section, Ignacio López Alemany examines how the myth of the Roman hero Marcus Curtius served as an idealized model for both the figure of the Renaissance courtier, as used by Luis de Milán, and the image of the perfect soldier, as exemplified in a fresco in the palace of the Marqués del Viso.
The second part of the volume, entitled “Challenges for Power,” presents six essays that study specific practices that questioned the established power. Elvira Vilches shows how the currency devaluations that took place during the reigns of Philip III and Philip IV represented a decline in the confidence of the economic policies of these monarchs, and created certain uneasiness due to the instability of an object that was traditionally regarded as invariable and fully supported by political power. John Slater focuses on the interesting case of Juan de Palafox, Bishop of Puebla between 1639 and 1649, who was embroiled in a bitter controversy when he designed a modified royal coat of arms for the cathedral of Puebla. These changes questioned the supposedly stable meaning of every coat of arms by opening it up to interpretation, which, in the case of Juan de Palafox, might have been critical of Philip IV’s policies in relation to the kingdom of Aragon. Ana María G. Laguna studies the figure of Antonio Pérez, the secretary of Philip II who, after falling out of favor and being accused of treason, ended up seeking protection first in the kingdom of Aragon and later in England. Laguna examines two works by Pérez in...