January 16, 2021

Magnificence, the virtue of antiquity that austerity distorts – The Province

Magnificence, the virtue of antiquity that austerity distorts - The Province

On Dam Square, in the heart of Amsterdam, stands an imposing classicist style building. It is the City Hall of Amsterdam, originally Royal Palace, a canonical example of what in the seventeenth century was understood as "magnificence". That concept, that virtue, was in the Modern Age an ideal to which all the monarchs and rulers aspired, but today, singularly in the Catholic countries, it has acquired negative connotations, derived from the high expenses that these great works required.

The nature of the concept of "magnificence" and its evolution to the present day are central aspects of the congress Magnificence in the 17th Century, organized by the Moll Institute-Flamenco Painting Research Center, the University of Leiden and the Rey Juan Carlos University, and directed by Stijn Bussels, of the University of Leiden; Bram Van Oostveldt, from the University of Amsterdam; Gijs Versteegen and José Eloy Hortal Muñoz, of the Rey Juan Carlos University, and Ana Diéguez-Rodríguez, director of the Moll Institute. A scientific meeting that closes today at the headquarters that Rey Juan Carlos University has in the Quintana street in Madrid after three intense and fruitful days of talks and debates.

The conference emphasizes the differences in understanding the magnificence between Catholic and Protestant contexts. "There are many points in common both in the religious constructions and in the court, but the evolution is striking: the vision that we now have of what was done at that time, of the expenditure that these constructions and these activities required, is in function Of the economy when it was not like that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, logically much money was spent, but it was more important, or more valuable, to represent the virtues of the sovereign and his kingdom, "explains José Eloy Hortal, tenured professor of Modern History at the Rey Juan Carlos University. Curiously, according to what is seen throughout the congress, in the Modern Age the manifestations of the magnificence proliferated in the Catholic countries, and even in the religious sphere it was more splendid than in the Protestant countries, with a more contained, almost intimate vision , of religiosity. But at present, the tables have changed.

Positive and negative

"The signs of magnificence of that time, in Catholic countries, are now seen as something negative, related to waste and corruption, for the money that was spent in the palaces, in the clothes … But in the Protestant countries those investments in palaces are well regarded, it is considered to be money spent for the good of the people, "explains Hortal. "What was positive in the Modern Age is now negative," he continues, "it is not thought that sovereigns should have a series of virtues, and that money was spent to reflect those virtues and for the kingdom to be better."

Stijn Bussels includes another nuance that is being seen these days in the congress: the difference when valuing the expressions of magnificence depending on whether it is architectural works, with perspective of permanence, or festivities or ephemeral architectures. "In the seventeenth century, at the beginning of capitalism, it was not bad seen spending that money on parties or ephemeral activities, now it's different, now it has those negative connotations," Bussels reflects.

In any case, Bussels, professor of Art History at the University of Leiden, insists on the dangers of trying to interpret the investments related to the virtue of magnificence with the eyes of today: "They were very different contexts. of the ephemeral, at that time the first bubble of history occurred in the Netherlands: that of tulips, a bulb that cost more than a house, something that seems inconceivable to us today, but in that context it became that way ".


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