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date: 25 February 2021

Publishing and Iberian Books in Spain, Portugal, and the New World before 1700locked

  • Alexander S. WilkinsonAlexander S. WilkinsonUniversity College Dublin

Summary

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain was the most powerful nation in the world, controlling territories across Europe and much of the newly discovered lands west of the Tordesillas line. Although its influence would wane in the 17th century, as its empire became overstretched, and as the home nation itself was forced to confront major financial and demographic challenges, overall these centuries would represent the high point in Spain’s political and global hegemony. This was a great age—a Golden Age—in Spain’s history, and one which would see too the unleashing of powerful creative energies, especially in the fields of literature, drama, and the visual arts. Among a host of other notable figures active in this period were Miguel de Cervantes, Félix Lope de Vega, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, El Greco, and Diego Velázquez. Given such intense artistic vitality, it has seemed almost paradoxical to scholars that the publishing industries of Spain and Portugal should have remained so underdeveloped. In the broader historiography of the European book, Spain and Portugal are presented as examples of peripheral print regions. Mention is frequently made of the relatively late arrival of print to the Peninsula, as well as the unexceptional quality of its book production—particularly its rudimentary typography and uninventive ornamentation and illustration. Surveys usually point out that so poor was the caliber of printing in the Peninsula that printers in the Low Countries, France, and elsewhere saw clear opportunities for filling the void, producing both scholarly and vernacular editions to be sold to eager and grateful purchasers in Spain and Portugal. However, this established and rather somber portrait of the industry is exaggerated and misleading in some key respects.

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