A bright, wide-ranging chronicle of the golden age of the Spanish empire.
Though Goodwin (Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American Studies/Univ. Coll. London; Crossing the Continent 1527-1540: The Story of the First African-American Explorer of the American South, 2008) denies that he has written a magisterial work filled with scholarly detail but rather a book for the “idle reader,” it is a well-researched, intelligent, and easily understood history of the first global empire on Earth. The author divides the work into two sections: “Gold” deals with the historical, economic, and political history, and “Glitter” explores literary and artistic works. At the beginning of the empire, King Charles V realized that the great wealth of silver and gold arriving from America would require a bureaucracy to ensure the availability of the banks, postal service, food, and roads essential for the movement of troops and supplies. He had to be well-organized and wealthy to wage wars and contain an empire that included the Netherlands, Naples, the Holy Roman Empire, and, eventually, Portugal. Charles was also an avid collector of Renaissance art and appointed the Venetian artist Titian as court painter. His son, Philip II, inherited a well-oiled machine that enabled him to expand the vast art collection his father had begun. He laid the path for Spain’s great artists Velázquez, Murillo, and El Greco, who were joined by great writers and thinkers like Cervantes, Góngora, and Quevedo. Goodwin not only shows the greatness of Spain’s empire, but also explains the psyche of Spaniards during the time. They preferred poverty over labor and honor over trade, and they were obsessed with purity of blood. The latter aspect was one of the prime drivers of the Inquisition, formed to rid Spain of lapsed Christians who had converted from Judaism during the diaspora of 1492.
Any student of the Renaissance should read this excellent work showing Spain’s enormous impact on the arts and, with her vast American empire, the world.