Monastery of San Lorenzo, palace, royal mausoleum, college, and monastery, situated 26 miles northwest of Madrid, Spain, on the southern slope of the Guadarrama Mountains near the old village of Escorial. It was founded by Philip II in thanksgiving for the victory of St. Quentin (St. Lawrence's day, Aug. 10, 1557). Begun April 23, 1563 by Juan Bautista de Toledo, a Spanish-born military engineer, it was completed Sept. 13, 1584. The Escorial fulfilled Philip II's promise to provide a mausoleum for the remains of his father Emperor Charles V and provided a residence for the king and a palace for the court; it accommodated community of 100 friars (originally Hieronymites), a seminary, a college, a hospital, a large research library, and a generous basilica.
Architecture of the Escorial. Dissatisfied with the first scheme for the church, Philip II requested plans from a great many architects. Their projects (now lost) were submitted to the Florentine Academy for criticism in 1567. Though parts of some of them may have been incorporated in the building as we see it, visiting Italian military architect Francesco Paciotto submitted the drawings (also lost) according to which the church was built, as we know from José de Sigüenza, official chronicler of the Escorial.
Upon the death of de Toledo (May 1567), his assistant Juan de Herrera took charge of the construction. In 1572 Herrera reorganized the entire workshop in order to speed the work, introducing competitive bidding for contracts and requiring stone to be cut to specified dimensions at the quarry rather than on site. Herrera claimed that his methods permitted doing in eight years (1572–84) what by previous methods would have taken 80.
The rectangular building measuring 207 meters by 161 meters consists of three parts: the south portion housed the royal palace and offices; on the north was the monastery with 300 cells and in the middle, the church with 43 altars. The Escorial has remarkable architectural coherence. Built in a coarse granite that permits no refinement of detail, it is contained within clean, simple planes of immense size. The taste and will of Philip II are present everywhere, and he, as much as his architects, is to be credited with the emergence of the severe mode in Spanish architecture (estilo desornamentado, or "bare style"). It contributed a clarity of structure, a love of rectilinear planes, and geometric consonance to subsequent Spanish architecture.
History of the Escorial. The Hieronymites installed by Philip II remained there until their suppression (1854); the monastery was later granted by Isabella II to St. Antonio Maria Claret and a group of secular priests (1859), and by Alfonso XII to the Augustinians (1885), who still hold it. Philip II's ascetic study-bedroom, from which he governed the Spanish Empire and in which he died (1598), is interesting in its simplicity; but Charles III and Charles IV in the 18th century decorated the other rooms and used the building as a hunting lodge. Beneath the church is the pantheon, where most Spanish kings since Charles V are buried with their families in hierarchical order.
The Escorial as a Cultural Center. The Escorial houses some 16,000 oil paintings by Velázquez, Zurbarán, Ribera, Titian, and others; some 540 murals, including that of the battles of Higueruela and St. Quentin (185 feet long); and a world-famous library, which contains about 40,000 books, mostly rare, and 4,742 valuable manuscripts in Arabic, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Spanish.
Bibliography: El Escorial: Eighth Marvel of the World (Madrid 1967). g. kubler, Building the Escorial (Princeton 1982). r. mulcahy, The Decoration of the Royal Basilica of El Escorial (New York 1994). m. cable, El Escorial (New York 1971). m. lÓpez serrano, ed., Trazas de Juan de Herrera (Madrid 1944). a. portabales-pichel, Maestros mayores, arquitectos y aparejadores de El Escorial (Madrid 1952). j. quevedo, Historia del real monasterio de San Lorenzo, llamado comunmente del Escorial (Madrid 1849). juan de san gerÓnimo, Memorias sobre la fundación del Escorial y su fábrica (Colección de documentos inéditos para la historia de España, 112 v. (Madrid 1842–95) 7; 1845). josÉ de sigÜenza, Fundación del monasterio de El Escorial (Madrid 1605; new ed. Madrid 1963). Historia primitiva y exacta del monasterio del Escorial (Madrid 1881). Los Agustinos y el real monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 1885–1910 (Madrid 1910). j. zarco cuevas, Catálogo de los manuscritos castellanos de la real biblioteca de El Escorial, 3 v. (Madrid 1924–29).
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