Madrid’s Top 10 : El Escorial (part 2) - Further Features of El Escorial & King Felipe II

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Further Features of El Escorial

El Escorial Floorplan
  1. Cenotaphs

    These superb bronze sculptures on either side of the high altar are by an Italian father and son team, Leone and Pompeo Leoni. On the left is Carlos I (Emperor Charles V), shown with his wife, daughter and sisters; opposite is Felipe II, three of his wives and his son, Don Carlos.

  2. King’s Deathbed

    It was in this simple canopied bed that Felipe II died on 13 September 1598, it is said as “the seminary children were singing the dawn mass”. The bed was positioned so that the king could easily see the high altar of the basilica on one side and the mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama on the other.

  3. The Martyrdom of St Maurice and the Theban Legion

    This ethereal work by El Greco (1541–1614) was intended for an altar in the basilica but Felipe II found the style inappropriate and relegated it to the sacristy. El Greco never received another royal commission.

  4. Portrait of Felipe II

    In this stately painting by Dutch artist Antonio Moro, the king, then aged 37, is wearing the suit of armour he wore at the battle of St Quentin in 1557. It was to be Felipe’s only victory on the battlefield.

  5. Cellini Crucifix

    Florentine master craftsman Benvenuto Cellini sculpted this exquisite image of Christ from a single block of Carrara marble. It was presented to Felipe II in 1562 by Francisco de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

  6. Calvary

    This moving painting is by 15th-century Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden. Felipe II knew the Netherlands well and was an avid collector of Flemish art.

  7. Last Supper

    Venetian artist Titian undertook numerous commissions for El Escorial. Unfortunately this canvas was too big to fit the space assigned to it in the monks’ refectory and was literally cut down to size.

  8. Inlay Doors

    One of the most striking features of the king’s apartments is the superb marquetry of the inlay doors. Made by German craftsmen in the 16th century, they were a gift from Emperor Maximilian II.

  9. King’s Treasures

    A cupboard in the royal bedchamber contains more than a dozen priceless objets d’art. They include a 12th-century chest made in Limoges and a 16th-century “peace plate” by Spanish craftsman Luís de Castillo.

  10. Queen’s Room Organ

    The corridors of El Escorial would have resounded to monastic plainchant but the organ also met with royal approval. This rare hand organ dates from the 16th century and is decorated with Felipe II’s coat of arms.

King Felipe II

When Felipe II took over the reins of government from his father Carlos I in 1556, he inherited not only the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, Naples, Sicily, Milan and the Low Countries, but also the territories of the New World. Defending this farflung empire embroiled him in constant warfare. The drain on the royal coffers (despite the prodigious influx of gold and silver from the Americas) led to unpopular tax increases at home and eventual bankruptcy Felipe’s enemies, the Protestant Dutch, their English allies and the Huguenot French, set out to blacken his reputation, portraying him as a cold and bloodthirsty tyrant. Today’s historians take a more objective view, revealing him to have been a conscientious, if rather remote, ruler and a model family man with a wry sense of humour. On one occasion he startled the monks of El Escorial by encouraging an Indian elephant to roam the cloisters and invade the monastic Cells.

Top 10 El Escorial Statistics
  1. 2,673 windows

  2. 1,200 doors

  3. 300 monastic cells

  4. 88 fountains

  5. 86 stairways

  6. 73 statues

  7. 42 chapels (basílica)

  8. 16 courtyards

  9. 14 entrance halls

  10. 80,000 visitors a year

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