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Reviewed by:
  • Philip II of Spain: Patron of the Arts
  • Lilian Zirpolo
Rosemarie Mulcahy . Philip II of Spain: Patron of the Arts. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004. xviii + 350 pp. + 16 color pls. index. illus. bibl. $65. ISBN: 1–85182–773–0.

Mulcahy explains in the acknowledgment pages that most of the chapters in her book have been published elsewhere. The text in fact compiles twenty-five years of her research and publishing on the art patronage of Philip II of Spain (1527–98). The centerpiece of the book is the decoration of the Monastery of El Escorial with which Philip occupied himself from the early 1560s, when he founded it, until his death in 1598.

Mulcahy begins with an overview of Philip II's art collection and patronage activities. Relying on documents such as the "Inventario Real," compiled ca. 1600, and the "entregas" in the royal treasury, she reconstructs Philip's collections of art and other precious objects. These included works by Titian, Roger van der Weyden, and Hieronymus Bosch, some of which Philip inherited and others which he himself commissioned. Also included were prints, jewels, scientific and musical instruments, armors, maps, books, medals, and tapestries. To decorate the Escorial, Philip donated 1150 paintings from his collection, most still in situ. The altarpieces went to Juan Fernández de Navarrete, while the frescoes were assigned to masters Philip imported from Italy, among them Luca Cambiaso, Federico Zuccaro (discussed in chapter 4 along with Adriaen de Vries, who assisted Pompeo Leoni in the execution of the sculpted high altarpiece for the royal chapel of S. Lorenzo, and Philip's official portraitist Alonso Sánchez Coello), and Pellegrino Tibaldi.

Having set the stage, Mulcahy then goes into the specific aspects of Philip's involvement with art, all along constructing a picture of the king's character and personality. In chapter 2, for example, she writes on Philip's piety and incorruptibility and the attempts by the Medici to use his devotion to sway his opinion in their favor. The Medici showered Philip with religious gifts so he would recognize their title of Grand Dukes of Tuscany granted to them in 1570 by Pius V. When in 1576 both Eleonora da Toledo's niece Dianora and her daughter Isabella were strangled within a few days of each other by their husbands (Pietro de' Medici and Paolo Giordano Orsini, respectively), more gifts were sent by the Medici to appease the Spanish court, including Benvenuto Cellini's spectacular marble crucifix, now at the Escorial.

Of the five chapters in the book, chapter 3 is the most extensive, offering a [End Page 612] comprehensive examination of Navarrete's career, including his relationship with Philip and the works he executed for him. This chapter makes a major contribution to the study of Spanish art. As Mulcahy explains, scholarship on Navarrete has centered mainly on his activities at the Escorial, while little has been offered in terms of the early years he spent in his native Logroño and his activities while in Italy. Armed with archival documentation, such as royal decrees, payments, correspondence, wills, and inventories, Mulcahy reconstructs Navarrete's career and personality. She brings the era to life by including all sorts of contemporaneous information, including weather reports (the stifling heat when Navarrete arrived in the Escorial in July 1566 was affecting the health of the workers) and Philip's meticulousness in hanging paintings at eye level so they would not get splashed when the floors were mopped. Mulcahy explains in the book that she first became interested in Spanish painting over a quarter of a century ago when she viewed for the first time Navarrete's Abraham and the Three Angels in the National Gallery of Ireland, the only painting by the artist to hang in a foreign museum. Her enthusiasm for the artist is clearly felt in the book.

Some of the chapters include useful appendices that complement the text. So, for example, chapter 3 includes a catalogue of Navarrete's oeuvre, a royal decree relating to his salary as royal painter, inventories of his belongings, and a select bibliography on the artist. Chapter 4 provides documents relating to de Vries's work...


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