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The Golden Age of Spain
 
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The Golden Age of Spain

After the Age of Exploration, innumerable amounts of gold and silver poured into Spain from the newly discovered Americas, and the country slowly became one of the wealthiest nations in the world. By the 16th century, Spain entered a period of cultural and intellectual prowess, known as its "Golden Age." Recognized for the burgeoning of its literary, dramatic, and visual arts, Spain's Golden Age was also marked by the growing dominance of the Roman Catholic Church and its attempt to suppress all heresy through the Inquisition.

Due in part to a political unification in Spain near the beginning of the 16th century, Spanish literature was imbued with patriotism and religious zeal, and included allusions to earlier epics and ballads. The literary arts flourished with the advent of the picaresque novel-comedies focusing on the adventures of lower class rogues-a genre that replaced the then-popular chivalric and pastoral novels. By far the most popular novel in this genre was Miguel de Saavedra's Don Quixote. Numerous works of religious literature also dominated during the period, including the spiritual writings of St. Teresa of Ávila, Luis de León, and St. John of the Cross.

Spanish poetry, previously influenced heavily by Italian forms, had cultivated its own style through the use of elevated language, classical allusions, and elaborate metaphors that were indicative of the Baroque period. Two well-respected poets utilizing these new forms were Luis de Góngora and Francisco de Quevedo.

The dramatic arts also reached its height during Spain's Golden Age with the help of the prolific playwright Lope de Vega. He helped develop Spain's dramatic tradition by using Spanish themes and subjects in his works. Other important playwrights were Tirso de Molina and Pedro Calderón de la Barca. In addition, corrales-structures in residential courtyards designed for theatrical performances-were becoming more frequently used, and plays were no longer staged in ecclesiastical surroundings.

Spain's Golden Age also produced many prolific painters with unique and innovative styles, including the dramatic and expressionistic works of Doménikos Theotokópoulos (more commonly known as El Greco), the synthesis of the natural, religious, and intellectual imagery in paintings by Diego Velazquez; the religious imagery of Francisco de Zurbaran and Bartolome Esteban Murillo, and the realism of Francisco Ribalta and Jose de Ribera.

At the beginning of the Golden Age, which spanned almost two centuries, Spain was ruled by Charles I. But when his son Philip II took the throne in 1556, Spanish power began to decline. Internal struggle in Spain and continuous battles in Europe and abroad-including the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Spanish-American War-drained the country's resources and strength. Spain's Golden Age ended in 1681, marked by the respected playwright Calderón's death.