The Dark Heart Art of Spain


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The Dark Heart

Andrew Graham-Dixon explores Spain's art history. He discovers how a brutal empire brought a Golden Age of art of the 16th and 17th centuries.


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THUNDER RUMBLES

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The plains of Castile,

the bleak heart of central Spain.

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In the sixteenth

and seventeenth centuries,

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this barren landscape nurtured some

of the most dramatic art in history.

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From the mystical world of El Greco

to the dark visions of Zurbaran

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and Ribera,

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this was an art inspired

by fervent Catholicism

and a yearning for contact with God.

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Out of such fervour would come

darkness and even savagery -

religion and violence intertwined.

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And as the Inquisition struggled

to maintain control, Spain would

descend into crisis and paranoia.

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I'm travelling through

the heart of Spain,

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through some of the country's

most extraordinary landscapes,

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to discover how a history so harsh,

so violent,

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could have produced some

of the greatest art ever seen.

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FLAMENCO STYLE MUSIC

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My journey begins in a place where,

in the 16th century,

a great project was born -

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one that would shape Spain's art,

history, and religion

for more than 100 years -

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the Escorial Palace.

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Wow!

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Look at it!

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I've never seen El Escorial before.

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I've seen pictures, but nothing

to prepare me for the size of it.

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It's enormous!

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They say it took 21 years to build.

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When I first read that,

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I thought,

"That's not going very quickly".

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But in fact, 21 years is lightning

fast to build something that size.

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I don't know any

builders who could do it!

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The Escorial

was built for Philip II,

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the King of Spain and the

most powerful man in the world.

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His empire stretched from Holland

to Italy, and included the

vast territories of the New World.

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This was a citadel

fit for an emperor.

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But this is no romantic fairytale

palace to delight and enchant.

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It's monumental, austere,

forbidding.

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From this angle,

with its high watch towers,

it almost looks like a prison.

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It's the very emblem of Philip's

determination to rule

through fear and control.

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Despite his power and wealth,

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Philip was struggling to govern

an empire that was in

a state of religious emergency -

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attacked both by the Muslims

in the East

and the Protestants in the North.

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This vast building, with its state

apartments and magnificent library,

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was a defiant statement of

Spanish invincibility, and the

nerve centre of Philip's reign.

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But at its heart is a tiny chamber.

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Now, these were Philip II's

private apartments.

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And you've got to remember

the scale of the Escorial and here,

this is where he is.

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And it's so simple, so austere.

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Just four rather Spartan rooms.

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This is where he would

pore over the affairs of state.

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This is his writing room.

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This is a little, very small,

very modest drawing room.

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And this is Philip II's bedroom,

his bed!

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And you think this is the bed of the

most powerful man in the world!

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It's really rather small.

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It doesn't look very comfortable.

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But even more telling -

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this is my favourite bit.

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This is absolutely amazing!

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Here's your bedroom.

You're Philip II.

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You get out of that very

uncomfortable bed, and you

come into your oratory to pray...

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Look where his bedroom leads to!

Come out here.

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Straight onto the high altar

of one of the most

fantastic basilicas every built!

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This mighty basilica is a muscular

declaration of Philip's faith -

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and a direct appeal

to God for help in difficult times.

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Philip called it "a new Jerusalem",

and founded a monastery here

to pray for his soul for all time.

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That monastery is the key to the

Spain of Philip II - with religion

at the centre of everything.

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It seems to me that he was a man who

felt that his power very much

depended on his relationship to God.

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That he ruled by the grace of

God and that he had to do his best

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to keep in God's

good books, if you like.

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Yes, I would say that because he was

really a person living with faith.

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Trying to do his best.

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That's evident.

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According to some opinions,

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this monastery was a kind of sign

for the strength of the church.

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For example, you enter the main

entrance and you are

walking towards the East,

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where is Jerusalem,

where the sun rises.

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And because the sun

is a symbol of Christ,

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when you are entering the church,

you are walking

in the direction of Christ.

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So, even in the architecture,

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there is the expression

of theological doctrine?

Yes, of course.

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Philip wanted to unite his people

through piety -

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but that piety had to conform

to the strictest laws

of the Catholic Church.

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He wanted to spread the one

true faith, but also to control it -

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and what better tool for that,

than art?

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New rules were laid down

for artists.

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Religious images were to tell

clear, direct, unambiguous stories.

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There were to be no

distracting or irrelevant details.

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The images of the saints were to be

humble, direct calls to prayer.

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These were the new criteria

by which ALL art would be judged,

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and Philip II

rigorously enforced them.

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One artist who passed the test

was Juan de Navarrete,

whose paintings fill the Basilica.

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In works like this vivid,

colour-saturated portrait

of Saints Peter and Paul,

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he created straightforward aids

to devotion -

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exactly what Philip wanted.

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But one artist failed to

comply with Philip's rules.

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Domenikos Theotocopoulos

came to the Escorial from Greece,

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and the picture he painted

for the king would become one of the

masterpieces of 16th-century Spain.

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Its subject is

the death of Saint Maurice -

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an early saint

martyred by the Romans.

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The painting shows his arrest

and execution.

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CHURCH BELLS TOLL

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Theotocopoulos hadn't

reckoned on his patron's

extreme religious sensitivities.

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And while the King

praised the picture

for its flair and originality,

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he took issue

with one cardinal error -

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the placement

of the beheaded martyr's body

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in the obscure middle distance.

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As far as Philip was concerned,

it should have been

centre stage for everyone to see.

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Theotocopoulos had failed

on the one essential criterion -

religious clarity.

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The king dismissed him.

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He would never work for him again.

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What Philip didn't realise

was that he had just sent away

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the greatest artist of the age -

El Greco - "The Greek".

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El Greco's work was too

original for Philip II.

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There was only one other place

for an ambitious painter to try

his luck - the city of Toledo.

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I'm not the only one.

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We'll fight our way through.

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See if we can get a view of

the city that inspired El Greco.

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It is a great view.

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When El Greco arrived, Toledo was a

beacon for Catholics across Spain.

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And it still is today.

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Madrid might be the political

capital of Spain, but Toledo is

definitely its religious centre.

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And in a deeply Catholic country,

this is the closest

you can get to being in Rome.

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Everyone's in on the business.

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You sell a lot of images of saints.

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Is there a kind of

top ten of saints?

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Is there a particular saint

that you sell the most of?

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The most popular one would be

St Pancrathio,

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who's supposed to

bring health, money and work.

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St Pancrathio?

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And he gives you health.

What would be your number two?

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St Teresa is also very popular.

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She used to be a writer.

She has the pen to write.

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And the pigeon, the pigeon of peace.

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St Anthony is very popular,

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because it tradition that all the

girls that are single, single girls,

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they go to church and they go to

the convent where St Anthony is.

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They kneel down

in front of St Anthony.

They say a prayer to St Anthony,

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and St Anthony will provide them with

a good-looking and rich boyfriend.

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It actually works out.

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Sometimes they get married

within the year!

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This kind of deep,

popular devotion to the saints goes

back a long time in Toledo.

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And El Greco encountered

much the same thing,

although in a different form,

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at the very heart

of the city's cathedral.

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This is the great altarpiece.

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It's a multi-coloured

wall of sculpture,

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with much the same doll's

house feel

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as the displays of statuettes

in Toledo's modern gift-shops.

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Made by an army of anonymous

craftsmen, it's like a 3-D

billboard of Christian messages.

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Art for the masses - just

what Philip II would have liked.

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And it was in this world where

the church was all important,

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and the individual artist

was subordinate to its

majesty, might and splendour.

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It was this world that El Greco

was going to have to try

and find a way through.

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In 1577, he got his chance to

prove there could be more to

Spanish art than pious folksiness.

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The cathedral authorities

gave him a commission.

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The subject?

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The Disrobing of Christ -

Jesus about to be stripped

before his Crucifixion.

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It's an

absolutely wonderful picture.

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I'd never seen it before.

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It's just a tour de force of

everything that makes El Greco

the greatest painter of his age.

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And he's pulled out all the stops.

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This wonderfully original vertical

composition, crowded with figures,

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in which you get

an extraordinary combination of

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virtuoso realism.

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Look at the armour of Herod.

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Look at that old man at the

back of the painting

with his hand pointing out at us -

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which is a classic painter's

way of showing off

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that he can paint that

foreshortening of perspective.

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And yet on the other hand,

you've got this tremendous

departure from realism.

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Look at the scale

of the body of Christ.

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Look at the way in which

the whole composition seems

in contradiction of the fact

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that he's about to be crucified.

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It seems to be

whooshing him up to heaven.

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Hard to believe, but the

cathedral authorities disapproved.

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They complained

that there shouldn't be any figures

above Christ in the picture -

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nothing should

separate the Lord from heaven.

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Once more,

El Greco had broken the rules

to express his own artistic vision.

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He'd never work in

the cathedral again.

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The irony is that it was precisely

because El Greco was

rejected by these two great patrons,

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the Spanish king

and the cathedral authorities,

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that he was able to find

the freedom to develop

his own imaginative vision.

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If at first you don't succeed,

try again. And El Greco had

good reason not to give up.

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Away from the cathedral, a circle of

priests and scholars were practising

an intense form of spirituality -

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mysticism,

a devotion to God so extreme

it became a physical experience.

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They embraced

El Greco's experiments -

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the way he brought his own roots

in the shimmering art of the Greek

east, and planted them in Spain.

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In his pictures,

the figures yearn towards heaven

and writhe with energy.

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It's as if they're

bursting out of the frame.

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And when he came to paint Toledo

itself, he filled the landscape

with that same mystical spirit.

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He turned Toledo into a brooding

cauldron of spiritual energy.

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The clouds overhead signal

the apocalypse -

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the impending religious showdown

for which all of Spain and

all of Christendom was preparing.

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El Greco didn't

paint the real Toledo.

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He painted a Toledo of the

imagination, and that imagination

was intensely spiritual.

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In his vision,

the end of the world is nigh.

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The city's buildings

are quivering with a kind

of spiritual electricity.

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It's as if the whole place is

about to be whirled up to heaven.

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He painted Toledo

as the holiest of holy places.

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And he could have

given it no greater gift.

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People in those days really believed

in visions, spirits, angels.

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But this could become a contagion,

breeding morbid obsession.

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And El Greco captured that too

in his greatest work of all -

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The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.

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It depicts the moment when two

saints descended from heaven

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to take the soul of the

devout Count up to God.

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It's stunning, with these

radiant colours, these forms that

flicker and ascend like flames.

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It's as if

the whole wall is on fire.

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Below,

we have flesh and blood human beings

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witnessing solemnly the miracle.

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But as the miracle takes place, as

the soul is transported into heaven,

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all of the forms dissolve.

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The Count of Orgaz

becomes pure spirit and

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as that happens, El Greco's

style turns into pure spirit.

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So that the forms become more fluid.

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Look at the figure of

John the Baptist, for example.

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It's not a body,

it's like an emanation of spirit.

It's like a flame.

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There's a wonderful tenderness about

the way in which the two saints

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are lowering the Count's body

into the tomb.

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It's as if they're placing a

new born infant in the cradle.

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And I think THAT ultimately is

what this picture is all about.

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It's a picture that says that

death IS a form of rebirth.

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It expresses the belief that death

is what you live for,

death is the fulfilment,

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death is the beginning of the

great adventure that will take your

soul into the world of the spirit.

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El Greco could never have thrived

without the mystics of Toledo.

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But all over Spain,

a uniquely strong sense of piety

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was flourishing - an obsession with

saints, their lives, their relics.

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I'm on my way to the home of

the most extraordinary female

mystic of 16th century Spain -

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St Teresa of Avila.

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She was born in Avila in 1515

and was so fascinated

by the lives of the saints,

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that at the age of seven

she ran away to the South,

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hoping to become a Christian martyr

at the hands of the Moors.

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Her family rescued her, but Teresa

went on to become a nun,

founding convents all over Spain.

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Five hundred years on,

pilgrims come to Avila

from all corners of the world.

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She was a saint who

understood the everyday

problems of ordinary people.

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And in her writings

she spoke openly about her

struggles with her own faith.

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She preached a simple message

to people whose lives

were short and often very hard.

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"Life on earth," she said,

"well, it's no more

than a night in a cheap hotel."

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Here in this convent,

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Teresa stripped Christianity back

to its basics -

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love, charity, poverty.

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She even went so far as to turn

the expression of her faith into

an uncanny form of performance art.

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When Santa Teresa first entered

the convent, she was appalled by

the other sisters' lack of piety.

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So to make her point, she staged her

own personal re-enactment of Christ

being dragged to his crucifixion.

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She got on all fours,

she had herself saddled up

with a mule pack full of stones,

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and she got one

of the other sisters to lead her

around the convent on a halter.

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These are the rooms where

Teresa experienced her visions.

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She claimed that Christ appeared

to her, right here, tied to

the pillar on which he was scourged.

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Later, the power

of the Holy Spirit

took hold of her so strongly

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that her body shook

and she began to levitate.

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And then there was the most

baffling phenomenon of all.

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A transverberation of the heart, in

which she felt she had been speared

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through the heart by an angel

and infused with the Holy Spirit.

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Teresa had such an

intense relationship with God

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that she actually

felt it within her own body.

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She died in 1582

and was canonised 40 years later.

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But after her death, the

question was, how to tell her story?

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The answer was art.

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Teresa had become a folk hero,

an inspiration to thousands.

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And her image appeared in countless

paintings, by artists including

Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens

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and the Spaniard Claudio Coello.

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But paintings weren't enough

for St Teresa's followers.

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They would demand something

far more graphic.

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This is the convent of

Alba de Tormes, where Teresa died,

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and her final resting place.

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Above the altar is a gold-trimmed

casket designed to receive her body.

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But the casket is incomplete.

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Nine months after she died in 1582,

her body was exhumed,

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and conclusive evidence

of her purity was found.

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Her body was said to have been

perfectly preserved.

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In fact, witnesses said

it even smelt of perfume.

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But devotion to Teresa

soon became a cult.

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Over the following centuries, her

body was exhumed countless times.

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On each occasion,

parts of it were removed for relics.

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This is her arm, encased in crystal.

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The 400-year-old

flesh still clinging to the bone.

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But the greatest

treasure is this object -

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St Teresa's heart, displayed

in a gold and silver reliquary.

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When we talk about Spanish art

of the Golden Age,

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we tend to think very much of

painting and sculpture, the sort

of art that you see in museums.

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But I think that these

reliquaries are in themselves

tremendously eloquent works of art.

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They take us straight

to the centre of that combination

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of mysticism and morbidity

which is right at the heart

of Santa Teresa's legend.

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There's the angel with the spear

said to have pierced her heart.

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And then, right at the centre of it,

is her heart itself.

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A piece of her actual body.

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It's that interplay between

the sense of the flesh itself,

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the body - the fact

that we're all going to die -

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and the hope

that we'll all go to heaven -

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it's absolutely

enshrined in that object.

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In a final twist

to the legend of the angel,

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when the heart was removed

from St Teresa's body,

it was said to be perforated.

0:25:320:25:39

Today, her fingers are in Avila,

her jaw is in Rome.

0:25:410:25:45

Such was the power and persistence

of Santa Teresa's legend,

0:25:450:25:49

that throughout his dictatorship,

General Franco

kept her hand beside his bed.

0:25:490:25:55

The fate of St Teresa's body

is a symbol of the deep fascination

with saints and martyrs

0:26:040:26:09

that gripped 17th century Spain.

0:26:090:26:11

Pain had become the mark of piety -

God's sign -

0:26:130:26:15

written into your very flesh, that

you had become one of his Chosen.

0:26:150:26:21

And the most visceral artist of

this pain was Jusepe de Ribera.

0:26:210:26:26

Ribera specialised in martyrdoms,

which he painted

with extraordinary realism.

0:26:280:26:34

This is this is the Martyrdom

of St Philip, captured in the

moments before his crucifixion.

0:26:350:26:41

Ribera doesn't paint him

ON the cross,

0:26:410:26:44

but as he's being

agonisingly winched into place.

0:26:440:26:49

At his crucifixion,

St Andrew submits stoically as the

executioner binds him to the cross.

0:26:530:27:00

And then there's the martyrdom

of St Bartholomew, one

of Ribera's favourite subjects.

0:27:000:27:08

Bartholomew was executed

by being skinned alive.

0:27:080:27:13

There's a tremendously strong

emphasis in all of these works

0:27:180:27:21

on the sheer visceral pain

that goes with being a saint.

0:27:210:27:25

These are religious paintings,

but they have the immediacy of

portraits, and what they show us

0:27:250:27:29

is real flesh-and-blood

human bodies being subjected

to appalling torments.

0:27:290:27:34

You see the sweat, the blood,

the straining sinews.

0:27:340:27:37

There'd been violence of this kind

in religious art before.

0:27:370:27:41

But in Spanish art,

everything is more intense.

0:27:410:27:44

It's as if the

volume's been turned up.

0:27:440:27:47

But the dark

in this world of light and shade,

could be very black indeed.

0:27:550:28:00

Spain's preoccupation with martyrdom

would be used to justify atrocities.

0:28:010:28:06

I'm travelling through the province

of Extremadura, one of the

remotest parts of the country.

0:28:090:28:15

The literal meaning of Extremadura

is "extremely hard".

0:28:150:28:19

And

you can feel that about this place.

0:28:190:28:22

It's bleak, it's isolated.

0:28:220:28:24

The landscape is parched.

0:28:240:28:25

In the summer, it's unbearably hot.

0:28:250:28:29

And the people from here

have a reputation

for being extremely hard too.

0:28:290:28:34

They certainly bore that

out in the 16th century.

0:28:340:28:37

In the middle of this

impoverished landscape

is an unlikely treasure -

0:28:420:28:47

the birthplace of one of the darkest

figures in Spanish history.

0:28:470:28:51

It's an architectural jewel

of 16th-century Spain - Trujillo.

0:28:540:28:59

The first thing you notice when

you walk into the town square

is the architecture.

0:29:150:29:18

How grand,

how unexpectedly imposing it is.

0:29:180:29:22

In fact, the whole place is

like a 16th-century film set.

0:29:220:29:25

So how did a little

provincial backwater

like this come to be so rich?

0:29:250:29:31

In the early 16th century,

0:29:340:29:37

an illegitimate swineherd,

named Francisco Pizarro,

0:29:370:29:40

set off from Trujillo to make

his fortune in the New World.

0:29:400:29:43

He and his band of conquistadors

0:29:450:29:47

discovered an extraordinary

civilisation - the Incas -

0:29:470:29:51

and wealth beyond

their wildest dreams.

0:29:510:29:54

It started out as a trickle of gold,

and soon became a torrent of silver.

0:29:560:30:00

And the king got 20 percent

of the spoils.

0:30:000:30:03

The wealth brought

back by the conquistadors

would fuel the Spanish Empire.

0:30:030:30:07

When the conquistadors

returned home from Peru,

0:30:120:30:14

they were determined

to show off that money.

0:30:140:30:17

Here in Trujillo, they built a

Renaissance ideal city in miniature.

0:30:170:30:22

Streets of elaborate palaces,

0:30:220:30:24

completely disproportionate

to the size of the town

0:30:240:30:27

and the economy of the region.

0:30:270:30:29

At first sight, these buildings look

like traditional displays of wealth.

0:30:310:30:36

But look a little closer,

and something else is going on.

0:30:360:30:41

The owner of this palace built his

chimneys to resemble Inca temples,

0:30:460:30:51

like the ones the Spanish plundered.

0:30:510:30:53

On the Pizarro family palace,

0:30:570:30:59

the parapet is decorated

with Inca-style statues.

0:30:590:31:03

And at the centre of

the coat of arms,

0:31:050:31:09

groups of Inca prisoners

are bound together with chains.

0:31:090:31:13

The architectural equivalent

of a head on a stick,

0:31:130:31:16

this is the triumphant

architecture of conquest.

0:31:160:31:19

During the course of the conquest

of Peru, thousands of Incas died,

0:31:210:31:26

some from European diseases,

0:31:260:31:27

but many as the result

of Spanish butchery.

0:31:270:31:31

Francisco Pizarro was

one of the most brutal of

all the conquistadors.

0:31:340:31:38

He raped and pillaged,

and he duped the king of the Incas,

0:31:380:31:42

persuading him to give him all

his gold in exchange for his life,

0:31:420:31:46

and then just garrotting him

anyway.

0:31:460:31:48

The blood of the Incas

is the cement that holds all of

these magnificent palaces together.

0:31:480:31:54

But the conquistadors

were more than mercenaries.

0:31:590:32:03

They saw themselves as missionaries,

0:32:030:32:05

and their conquest of the New World

was just another front

0:32:050:32:08

in the great religious war that was

consuming 16th-century Spain.

0:32:080:32:14

If you want to understand the

conquistador mentality,

0:32:150:32:17

you have to realise that it was

widely believed throughout Spain

0:32:170:32:21

that God had given

to these Catholic people

0:32:210:32:25

the New World and all its treasures,

0:32:250:32:28

precisely so that they could combat

the enemies of Catholicism -

0:32:280:32:32

the Protestants, the Muslims.

0:32:320:32:34

They genuinely believed

that God was on their side.

0:32:340:32:38

Francisco Pizarro's descendents

were awarded an aristocratic title,

0:32:440:32:47

and still live in Trujillo today.

0:32:470:32:50

Ramon Perez de Herraste is the

current Marquis of the Conquest.

0:32:520:32:58

How do you think Francisco Pizarro

has gone down in history?

0:33:000:33:03

Is he a hero, is he a villain?

0:33:030:33:06

When you think of,

particularly Francisco Pizarro,

0:33:330:33:37

do you think

he was a very religious man?

0:33:370:33:39

That's religious!

0:34:020:34:04

In the twisted logic of

Catholic Spain,

0:34:150:34:18

the brutality of the conquistadors

became the expression

of their piety.

0:34:180:34:23

By advancing his faith at

the expense of a whole civilization,

0:34:270:34:31

Francisco Pizarro

would become a Spanish hero.

0:34:310:34:35

Before the conquistadors

set off for the New World,

0:34:500:34:53

they made a public display

of their piety.

0:34:530:34:57

To pray for safe passage,

0:34:570:34:58

they visited one of

the holiest shrines in Europe,

0:34:580:35:02

and a wellspring of extreme

Catholic fervour -

0:35:020:35:04

the monastery of Guadalupe.

0:35:040:35:08

Around the year 1290,

0:35:370:35:38

the Virgin Mary was said

to have appeared to a shepherd,

0:35:380:35:43

and guided him to a statue

buried in the ground on this site.

0:35:430:35:48

What the shepherd found became

one of the most sacred treasures

0:35:480:35:52

of the Catholic world -

the Virgin of Guadalupe.

0:35:520:35:56

Perched high above the altar

and blackened with age,

0:36:000:36:03

she's so small,

you can barely see her.

0:36:030:36:06

But there is a way to get closer.

0:36:060:36:09

To change her elaborate robes,

0:36:140:36:16

the monks use a special chamber

at the back of the altar.

0:36:160:36:19

For centuries, the Spanish had

prayed to the Madonna of Guadalupe.

0:36:440:36:48

Christopher Columbus in 1492

came here to pray to her before

setting sail for the New World,

0:36:480:36:54

and the reason was that

they believed that this was no

ordinary Madonna.

0:36:540:36:58

This was a portrait of Mary,

Mother of God herself,

0:36:580:37:02

carved by none other than St Luke.

0:37:020:37:05

And you can still feel

that intensity of veneration

0:37:050:37:09

in the splendour with

which she's housed today.

0:37:090:37:12

But the Virgin of Guadalupe

is just the centrepiece of a vast

complex of piety and prayer.

0:37:230:37:29

In the 17th century,

0:37:390:37:40

it was a group of Jeronymite monks

who had the task

of looking after the Virgin.

0:37:400:37:45

Inspired by the 4th-century scholar

and monk, St Jerome,

0:37:500:37:53

the Jeronymite Order was one of

the most powerful and influential

forces in Spain.

0:37:530:37:58

And to assert the authority of

their order, they turned to art.

0:38:010:38:05

In 1637, the friars of the order

0:38:080:38:11

commissioned the greatest Spanish

religious artist of the day,

0:38:110:38:15

Francisco de Zurbaran,

0:38:150:38:16

to paint eight pictures

commemorating the ways

0:38:160:38:19

in which they strove to keep

the spirit of St Jerome alive,

0:38:190:38:24

and this was the result.

0:38:240:38:26

It's one of the most

extraordinary rooms.

0:38:260:38:29

In fact, it's the only space in all

of the monasteries of all of Spain

0:38:290:38:34

where you can still see a great

cycle of religious paintings in the

place for which it was designed.

0:38:340:38:39

Now, you might have expected

to find here a set of paintings

0:38:430:38:47

illustrating the life of St Jerome,

but that's not what you see.

0:38:470:38:51

What you see are

a series of portraits

0:38:510:38:53

of members of the

Spanish Jeronymite order

0:38:530:38:57

experiencing, themselves,

apparitions and visions.

0:38:570:39:03

He shows us Brother Pedro

of Salamanca having a vision

0:39:030:39:07

of a great fire in the sky that

portends a great battle to come.

0:39:070:39:13

But how simply Zurbaran

has painted it.

0:39:150:39:18

He just shows us two men

in the dark,

0:39:180:39:22

one of them gesturing

towards the vision.

0:39:220:39:25

There's almost nothing to look at

except for their awestruck faces.

0:39:250:39:29

But over here, this is my

favourite picture in the room.

0:39:320:39:37

I think it's a real masterpiece.

0:39:370:39:39

For me, it's perhaps Zurbaran's

greatest painting,

0:39:390:39:41

and what it shows us is a young

25-year-old brother of the order.

0:39:410:39:46

He's received a vision from God,

0:39:460:39:49

in which he's learned that

he's going to die on this day,

0:39:490:39:53

and he's gone to get

the other brothers in the order.

0:39:530:39:56

He's told them the news,

and they're all praying together.

0:39:560:39:59

He is about to die. That's

the moment that Zurbaran's painted.

0:39:590:40:03

What's extraordinary about this

as a work of art,

0:40:090:40:13

and why I think Zurbaran is the

greatest artistic interpreter

0:40:130:40:17

of this monastic, austere

ideal of life,

0:40:170:40:20

is because he has found an

equivalent in painting

0:40:200:40:23

to the extremism of the piety

that it represents.

0:40:230:40:26

This is a form of painting that has

rejected, as the monk rejects,

0:40:260:40:29

all the things of this world.

0:40:290:40:31

It's almost like a kind of

spiritual minimalism.

0:40:310:40:35

There's only the black

and the white of the monk's robes,

0:40:350:40:38

and I think it absolutely expresses

the sense that for these people,

0:40:380:40:42

black and white is all there is.

0:40:420:40:45

Either you're in God's light,

or you're cast out into darkness.

0:40:450:40:49

Zurbaran's paintings for Guadalupe

would represent the last great

flowering of religious art in Spain.

0:41:030:41:10

Increasingly,

this was a society in crisis.

0:41:100:41:14

While the monks of Guadalupe

were models of piety,

0:41:240:41:28

elsewhere, people

were asking awkward questions.

0:41:280:41:31

The black and white doctrines

of the church

0:41:310:41:34

were being tested by some

of the sharpest minds in Spain.

0:41:340:41:38

A storm was brewing.

0:41:400:41:42

This is Salamanca, one of

Europe's most beautiful towns.

0:41:510:41:56

Its chief glory is the university,

the oldest in Spain,

0:41:560:41:56

Its chief glory is the university,

the oldest in Spain,

0:41:560:42:01

and, in the 16th century, one of

the great European seats of

learning.

0:42:010:42:05

But its open spirit of inquiry would

attract the attention of the most

draconian organisation in Europe,

0:42:070:42:14

the Spanish Inquisition -

0:42:140:42:16

a tribunal set up to enforce

Catholic orthodoxy.

0:42:160:42:20

The results would be devastating.

0:42:200:42:23

This is Fray Luis de Leon,

0:42:290:42:31

one of the great intellectuals

in the university's history.

0:42:310:42:35

He was a revered theologian

0:42:350:42:37

whose progressive scholarship and

religious poetry

0:42:370:42:39

were part of the mystical tradition

of El Greco and St Teresa.

0:42:390:42:44

And this is his lecture theatre,

0:42:460:42:48

just as it was when he taught here

in the mid 1500s.

0:42:480:42:52

This was where he expounded his

0:42:520:42:57

own unique vision of faith -

0:42:520:42:57

intense,

0:42:520:42:57

questioning, a deep personal

engagement with the Bible.

0:42:570:43:01

It while he was lecturing

in this very room

0:43:050:43:08

that Fray Luis came to the attention

of the Spanish Inquisition.

0:43:080:43:11

His crime had been to produce

his own translation

0:43:110:43:14

of one of the most erotic passages

in the whole Bible,

0:43:140:43:17

the Song of Songs.

0:43:170:43:19

Now this dangerous text was

being sold and circulated in the

street just outside this building.

0:43:190:43:24

That had to be stopped, and

it had to be stopped immediately.

0:43:250:43:28

And so on 27th March 1572,

0:43:280:43:30

the officers of the Inquisition

stormed into this room.

0:43:300:43:34

Fray Luis was lecturing up there.

0:43:340:43:37

They arrested him,

they dragged him away,

0:43:370:43:40

and they imprisoned him

for five years.

0:43:400:43:42

The Inquisition had

succeeded in stifling

0:43:480:43:50

one of the most humane voices

in a climate of increasing paranoia.

0:43:500:43:54

But it wasn't just

religious scholarship

0:44:000:44:03

that the Inquisition repressed.

0:44:030:44:04

Professor Jose Luis Marcello

is the guardian of a unique text,

0:44:040:44:10

one that shows how the Inquisition

invented the dark art

of thought control.

0:44:100:44:15

So cover the pages up!

0:44:460:44:47

What other methods did they...?

0:44:490:44:50

These are dangerous ideas.

0:45:020:45:05

Wow! Incredible.

0:45:050:45:08

In the case of this book,

what are the dangerous ideas?

0:45:240:45:27

But censorship was the mildest

of the Inquisition's techniques.

0:45:540:45:59

All over the country,

0:46:030:46:05

ordinary people were being

forced to provide proof

of their Christian bloodlines.

0:46:050:46:10

This is the Plaza Mayor, the

great central square of Salamanca.

0:46:160:46:21

Such squares are a feature

of nearly every Spanish town,

0:46:230:46:26

the place for bullfights,

carnivals and civic events.

0:46:260:46:29

But during the Inquisition,

they also served another purpose.

0:46:350:46:38

All over Spain, squares like this

0:46:420:46:44

were used to stage elaborate public

rituals known as trials of faith.

0:46:440:46:48

Those accused of heresy were

brought here by the Inquisition

0:46:480:46:52

to face questions from

priests and officials,

0:46:520:46:54

and it all took place in front

of a bloodthirsty crowd.

0:46:540:46:58

On their inevitable conviction,

0:46:580:46:59

those accused of heresy

were sentenced to death,

0:46:590:47:02

and they were executed

by being burned at the stake,

0:47:020:47:06

a lengthy process

that gave them plenty of time

0:47:060:47:09

to plead for forgiveness

in their dying moments.

0:47:090:47:13

This was religious enforcement

as a kind of grisly public theatre.

0:47:130:47:18

In one of the few paintings

of a trial of faith,

0:47:220:47:26

Francisco Rizzi shows

a public square crammed

with officials and onlookers.

0:47:260:47:30

The condemned heretics, wearing tall

hats, are paraded around the square,

0:47:310:47:35

and urged to repent

by priests and monks.

0:47:350:47:39

This is religious persecution,

0:47:410:47:42

painted as if it were

a spectator sport.

0:47:420:47:46

Pedro Berruguete paints

the moment of execution itself.

0:47:490:47:52

Flames lick around

the feet of the condemned,

0:47:520:47:56

but for the executioner,

0:47:560:48:01

it's just another tedious day's

0:47:560:48:01

work.

0:47:560:48:01

Burning at the stake

had become part of everyday life.

0:48:030:48:07

Much of Spain was descending

into a kind of madness.

0:48:160:48:19

The nation's devotion to God was

increasingly darkened by obsession,

0:48:190:48:22

and the relentless focus

on Church doctrine

0:48:220:48:25

had climaxed in a bloodbath.

0:48:250:48:27

This was a country

starting to devour itself.

0:48:270:48:31

And while religious conflict

was consuming the nation,

0:48:420:48:45

the Empire was starting to unravel.

0:48:450:48:49

Philip had spent millions leading

a campaign against the Protestants

0:48:490:48:53

in northern Europe,

a campaign that failed disastrously.

0:48:530:48:57

His famous Armada against England

had also ended in failure.

0:48:570:49:02

Throughout this period,

0:49:060:49:07

it was the Castilians who funded

their kings' foreign wars,

0:49:070:49:10

and provided most of the soldiers.

0:49:100:49:12

Even today, this has the feeling

of a war-scarred landscape.

0:49:120:49:17

The people were exhausted,

0:49:200:49:22

a fact subtly expressed in one

of the unsung art forms of the day.

0:49:220:49:26

Still life paintings traditionally

reflect on mortality,

0:49:280:49:31

but in Spain,

they become a cry of despair.

0:49:310:49:34

In Zurbaran's Agnus Dei,

0:49:340:49:38

the lamb of God is a dead sheep

on a slab, its feet trussed up,

0:49:380:49:42

ready for the butcher's block.

0:49:420:49:44

In Antonio de Pereda's

Still Life with Walnuts,

0:49:470:49:51

the cracked nuts spill out of

their shells onto a table,

0:49:510:49:55

like brains from smashed skulls.

0:49:550:49:58

And in even the simplest of

subjects,

0:50:000:50:04

Juan Sanchez Cotan's beautiful

painting of vegetables,

0:50:040:50:08

the carrots are rotten and black.

0:50:080:50:13

But before imperial Spain

vanished into darkness,

0:50:150:50:18

there would be

one extraordinary final act,

0:50:180:50:22

and it would be played out

in the capital, Madrid.

0:50:220:50:25

The old order was changing.

0:50:360:50:39

In 1598, Philip II died.

0:50:390:50:41

His son, Philip III,

squandered his power,

0:50:410:50:45

delegating authority

to his courtiers.

0:50:450:50:48

His grandson, Philip IV,

0:50:480:50:49

would be the king to lead

the Empire into its final moments.

0:50:490:50:54

Philip IV spared no expense

in turning this city

0:51:010:51:05

into one of the most glittering

capitals of all Europe.

0:51:050:51:08

He filled Madrid with lavish palaces

and monuments to his own glory.

0:51:080:51:13

But all was not well.

0:51:140:51:16

While Philip was busy rebuilding,

his empire was falling apart.

0:51:170:51:21

Religious wars had emptied

the nation's coffers,

0:51:210:51:24

the gold rush of the New World

had dried up,

0:51:240:51:27

the economy was on its knees.

0:51:270:51:29

The great Spanish galleon

was running aground,

0:51:290:51:32

while the captain

twiddled his thumbs.

0:51:320:51:34

The beliefs that had sustained

Spain for a century

0:51:370:51:41

were starting to crumble.

0:51:410:51:42

And one artist would reveal the

truth beneath - Diego de Velazquez.

0:51:420:51:47

And it was on streets like these

that he found his inspiration.

0:51:500:51:53

For centuries, the art of Spain

had been overwhelmingly religious,

0:51:540:52:00

but he turned away from that

to paint real life.

0:52:000:52:04

He painted ordinary working people

in simple settings.

0:52:090:52:14

In taverns and kitchens,

he captured moments of humanity,

0:52:170:52:21

with immense wisdom and sympathy.

0:52:210:52:24

In this picture,

an old woman poaches eggs.

0:52:320:52:35

Everyday life has been given

a miraculous vividness.

0:52:350:52:38

The wrinkles on the woman's face,

the simple utensils she uses,

0:52:380:52:44

the perfect depiction of

half-cooked, milky egg-whites.

0:52:440:52:50

In these pictures, Velazquez painted

ordinary people living their lives.

0:52:500:52:55

With immense respect,

he gave them great dignity,

0:52:550:52:57

but he didn't sentimentalise them

in the slightest bit.

0:52:570:53:00

There are no religious mysteries

here, no arcane symbolism, no codes.

0:53:000:53:06

He simply painted what was

in front of his eyes.

0:53:060:53:09

But this painter of ordinary people

was also destined to become

0:53:170:53:21

the greatest court painter

of the age.

0:53:210:53:23

Some would say the greatest painter

ever to have lived.

0:53:230:53:27

And in Philip IV,

he found the perfect patron.

0:53:270:53:32

Philip IV collected art

with an astonishing enthusiasm,

0:53:320:53:35

and on an incredible scale.

0:53:350:53:38

At one point, he had half the

studios in Rome working for him.

0:53:380:53:42

It's as if he wanted the

beautiful illusions of art

0:53:420:53:45

to fill the real power vacuum that

was developing during his reign.

0:53:450:53:49

But his favourite artist

was Velazquez,

0:53:490:53:51

who painted for every occasion.

0:53:510:53:53

He painted his few

military victories,

0:53:530:53:55

such as The Surrender at Breda.

0:53:550:53:58

He painted Philip himself,

resplendent on horseback,

0:54:000:54:03

he rides through the landscape.

0:54:030:54:06

The horse symbolising

the unruly populace that

he keeps under his firm control.

0:54:060:54:11

Far from the truth.

0:54:110:54:13

And here, Velazquez paints

Philip's son and heir.

0:54:130:54:17

Again, astride a horse,

0:54:170:54:19

but on this occasion, the painting

starts to develop something uneasy.

0:54:190:54:22

You sense that Velazquez can feel

that this rather sickly boy

0:54:220:54:26

may not live long, which, indeed,

turned out to be the case.

0:54:260:54:30

And this begins to take us

to the heart of the painter,

0:54:300:54:35

and his strange, remarkable

relationship with the king,

0:54:350:54:38

because what Velazquez ended up

giving Philip IV,

0:54:380:54:41

and it's what makes Velazquez such

a great, such a profound artist,

0:54:410:54:45

was something much deeper

than merely official propaganda.

0:54:450:54:49

But there's one picture by Velazquez

that encapsulates all the delusion,

0:54:520:54:57

glory and grandeur

of 17th-century Spain,

0:54:570:55:01

and finally sounds its death knell.

0:55:010:55:04

It's often been described

as the world's greatest painting,

0:55:040:55:09

and it's called Las Meninas -

The Ladies-in-Waiting.

0:55:090:55:13

Every time I see this picture,

0:55:200:55:22

I just think what an artist

Velasquez was.

0:55:220:55:26

The painting is often said

to be a great mystery,

0:55:280:55:30

but I don't think it is a mystery,

0:55:300:55:33

I think it's wonderfully clear

what's going on,

0:55:330:55:35

although what's going on

is an incredibly daring thing.

0:55:350:55:38

No one had ever painted this before.

0:55:380:55:41

What Velazquez has painted

is not a portrait of the king.

0:55:410:55:46

He's painted a picture

of what the king sees as

he's having his portrait painted.

0:55:460:55:52

And what does the king see?

0:55:520:55:54

He sees his daughter,

who's come to see him being painted,

0:55:540:55:59

lit by this brilliant shaft of light

in this rather dark room.

0:55:590:56:05

He sees his court entertainers,

a dwarf, a midget. He sees his dog.

0:56:050:56:10

He sees Velazquez himself,

with his paintbrush in his hand.

0:56:100:56:15

He sees himself in the mirror,

and he sees his queen.

0:56:170:56:21

But what do they look like?

They look like ghosts.

0:56:230:56:25

Everything in this picture

is about transience.

0:56:270:56:30

Look at the way in which Velazquez

paints the fabrics,

0:56:300:56:33

the skin, the hair.

0:56:330:56:34

Look at the way in which

he paints the dwarves.

0:56:340:56:37

Everything is hovering on the brink

of disappearance.

0:56:370:56:40

Some of the forms are

almost out of focus.

0:56:400:56:43

It's as if these figures

will turn and move,

0:56:430:56:46

that the scene will disperse,

that the moment will pass.

0:56:460:56:49

The message seems to be that no

matter how powerful you are,

0:56:490:56:54

in the end,

your experience is transitory.

0:56:540:56:57

Spanish power, Spanish might,

all its glory and magnificence.

0:56:570:57:02

It's all come down to these figures

in this dark room.

0:57:020:57:05

They will pass, they will die,

everything will come to an end.

0:57:050:57:10

Velazquez's masterpiece was

a full-stop to the extraordinary

century that preceded it.

0:57:290:57:35

He'd introduced a dangerously

powerful idea,

0:57:350:57:38

an utterly secular view

of the world.

0:57:380:57:41

The Golden Age of Spain was over.

0:57:420:57:46

It had been an era in which Spain

had been consumed by religion,

0:57:460:57:50

by a fascination with piety,

self-denial, death.

0:57:500:57:54

Its artists, from El Greco

to Zurbaran,

0:57:570:58:01

had looked to God for inspiration,

0:58:010:58:03

capturing a spiritual realm,

invisible to the eye.

0:58:030:58:06

In the end, the greatest

Spanish painter of all

0:58:130:58:15

dares to turn his back

on all of that,

0:58:150:58:18

and the most basic and subversive

message of his art

0:58:180:58:22

is that this life, brief though

it is, is all we can be sure of,

0:58:220:58:26

and maybe that's enough.

0:58:260:58:29

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:550:58:58

Email subtitling@bbc.co.uk

0:58:580:59:01

Critic and art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon travels from southern to northern Spain to tell the story of some of Europe's most exciting and vital art. He journeys to the country’s scorched centre to explore Spanish art of the 16th and 17th centuries. From the mystical world of El Greco to the tender genius of Velazquez, this was a moment so extraordinary it became known as the Golden Age. But beneath the glittering surface was a dark and savage heart. Travelling from the architectural jewel of Toledo to majestic Madrid, Andrew Graham-Dixon traces the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire, the brutal conquest of the New World, and the religious madness of the Inquisition, to discover how a history so violent could produce some of the most beautiful art ever seen.