TOLEDO, Juan Bautista de
(b. ca. 1515, Madrid, d. 1567, Madrid)

Aerial view

San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Italian Renaissance decorative elements first appeared in Spanish architecture at about the time of the unification of Spain and the expulsion of the Moors in 1492. There were three phases of Spanish Renaissance architecture: (1) the early Renaissance, or Plateresque, from the late 15th century until about 1560; (2) a brief Classical period, coexistent with the Plateresque from about 1525 to 1560; and (3) the Herreran style from 1560 until the end of the 16th century.

The Herreran was an extremely austere and cold style named after the greatest Spanish architect of the 16th century, Juan de Herrera. The finest example of the Herreran style is the palace-monastery of El Escorial (1563–84), which Philip II had built as a retreat outside Madrid. El Escorial was more than a royal palace, as it also contained provisions for a monastery and college. A city in itself, it was planned as a tremendous rectangle (205 by 160 metres), with a large church at the centre.

El Escorial was begun by the architect Juan Bautista de Toledo, who may be responsible for the planning, but the execution and architectural style were that of his assistant and successor, Herrera. Philip II himself reviewed the drawings for the palace, removing anything ornamental or ostentatious. On the exterior the architecture is very simple - a plain wall with a monotonous series of unadorned windows expressing the general monastic character of the whole. The only segment of the Classical Renaissance style on the exterior is at the central portal with two stories of giant Doric half columns supporting a triangular pediment. The church, at the centre of the complex, has two bell towers and a great dome set on a drum, which surmount the whole. The austerity is enhanced by the cold, gray granite of which El Escorial was built. On the interior a similar severity of manner is indicated by the lack of decoration.

View the ground plan of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.