Italy during the Spanish Peace, 1559-1598

Italy during the years 1559-1598 enjoyed an extraordinary period of peace, sometimes referred to as the pax hispanica (Spanish peace).

caravaggio fruit



When the French and Spanish kings signed the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis  in April 1559 the “Italian Wars” officially came to an end.


 The Signing of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis

In 1556 Emperor  Charles V abdicated his throne.


abdication charles v

 Frans II Francken,  Allegory of the Abdication of Emperor Charles V

Recognizing that his territories had grown too immense to control, Charles divided his realm, giving the imperial title and rule of Germany to his brother Ferdinand,

Hans Bocksberger the Elder, Emperor Ferdinand I von Habsburg


while leaving Spain, the New World, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, and Milan to his son Philip.


Titian,Philip II

Though Italy had lost its political independence to the Spanish, the entire peninsula enjoyed a period of  peace and cultural flowering during the “Imperial Renaissance”.

Education flourished, not only in public universities, but in academies, like the Accademia della Crusca, which published this dictionary in 1612:


Information circulated as never before, in books, pamphlets, and printed newspapers known as gazettes, or avvisi.





Poets were writing verse…

Tasso gerusalemme

La Gerusalemme liberata by Torquato Tasso (1544-1595)


Veronica Franco Rime

 Veronica Franco  (1546-1591)  and her Terze rime, 1575 

Companies of travelling players made the  Italian street theater of commedia dell’arte popular everywhere,



giving birth to Renaissance drama


Actress and playwright Isabella Andreini performing with the company of the Gelosi



In the 1580s Battista Guarini wrote the hit pastoral tragicomedy  Il Pastor fido about the shepherd Mirtillo who is in love with the nymph Amarilli


Amarilli crowning Mirtillo in this 1635 painting by Cornelis van Poelenburgh



For the 1589 wedding of  Ferdinando de’ Medici to Christina of Lorraine elaborate staged musical festivities called intermedi were performed

1589 Medici interlud



One of the stars was baritone Jacopo Peri , who sang a title role

Jacopo Peri as Arion in the fifth Medici intermedio    

Peri went on eleven years later to compose the first opera, Dafne. 

Though the dramatic solo voice would triumph on operatic stages, Italian madrigals were ever popular.

In 1644 Barbara Strozzi  dedicated a volume of madrigals to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany


Madrigals were polyphonic compositions sung by groups of singers either publicly or in more intimate settings as depicted here by Caravaggio

Caravag concer

Caravaggio The Musicians 1595-96

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio burst onto the art scene in Rome in the 1590s with a fresh new style of painting

Carav fortu

Caravaggio The Fortuneteller, 1596

His work could also shock. This sleepy-eyed Bacchus is sensuous, a boy wrapped in bedsheets offering an intoxicating drink…


Caravaggio’s Bacchus c. 1596

and those dirty fingernails..!

Caravaggio bacchus fingernails

Whether in a secular scene…


Caravaggio The Cardsharpsc. 1596    

or a sacred setting….


Caravaggio The Calling of St. Matthew 1600

Caravaggio’s stark use of light  and shadow and unyielding naturalism lent drama and emotional power to his works.



Caravaggio, The Death of the Virgin 1602-06

Caravaggio introduced many innovations and spawned an entire school of artistic followers known as “Caravaggisti”, yet his was not the only style of painting during this period.

A school of painting, for instance, developed around the Academy founded by the Carracci  brothers in the 1580s as a reaction against new styles of painting



Annibale Carracci, detail from Loves of the Gods, Palazzo Farnese, Rome 1597-1601    

Women artists in Italy began to have more opportunities than they had earlier in the Renaissance.


Sofonisba Anguissola  Portrait of the Artist’s Sisters Playing Chess, 1555


Lavinia Fontana Portrait of a Lady, 1590s

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