What is certainly true is that Spain under the rule of the Catholic Kings, as the rest of Europe, was beginning to make the slow transition from the medieval age, with the primacy of didactic style and strictly religious themes, to the courtly and renaissance age, with its celebration of courtly love and the triumph of theatre and profane poetry. It is not fortuitous that two key works of Spanish literature of those times, the Coplas by Jorge Manrique, and mainly the Celestina by Fernando de Rojas2 saw the light in the last decades of the century, and that the first grammar of modern European language, the Gramática Castellana (Castilian grammar) by Antonio Nebrija, dedicated to Isabella, was justly published in the febrile year of 1492. The court of Ferdinand and Isabel had its own poet in the figure of Pedro de Cartagena (1456–1486), of whom 88 compositions have been conserved, including canciones, villancicos, esparsas (monostrophic poems of troubadour descent), motes (mots), and several decires amatorios (love declarations), some of which of moral theme and other burlesque.3
Of course, Isabel's literary patronage is only explained as part of her attraction for all aspects of culture: from architecture to the plastic arts, from music to the celebration of religious and profane events, from her late commitment to learning Latin to her favor for the diffusion of the Castilian, that strived in speaking and writing with neatness. In the same field, we must place her obsession to elevate the cultural atmosphere of the court, supporting the establishment of outstanding humanists and favouring the creation of libraries; and the tenacity with which she insisted for her children to receive a careful education.4
Art patronage at the courts of Castile was extended to a number of painters, the most famous of which was probably the Master of the Virgin of the Catholic Monarchs, the author of the panel commissioned by the Kings, which portraits Ferdinand V and Isabel with their Saint patrons, the Infant Don Juan and the Chief Inquisitor.5 The Kings also sponsored the work of several foreign painters active in Spain, like Juan de Borgoña (1470–1536), native of the Duchy of Burgundy (before it ceased to exist as an independent state), whose earliest documented work was painted in 1495 for the cloister of the Cathedral of Toledo. He worked in Spain until his death in 1536 and is considered the author who brought into Castile the painting style of the Italian Quattrocento.
2 Whether the author was real or fictitious is outside the context of this study
3 Ana M. Rodado Ruiz, “La métrica cancioneril en la época de los Reyes Catolicos: la poesía de Pedro de Cartagena,” Ars Metrica, no. 5 (2012): pp. 1–24.
4 Nicasio Salvador Miguel, El mecenazgo literario de Isabel la Católica. In: F. Checa Cremades (comm.). Isabel la católica. La magnificencia de un reinado (Catálogo de la Exposición celebrada en Valladolid, Medina del Campo y Madrigal de las Altas Torres, febrero-junio de 2004). Salamanca, 2004, pp. 75-86.
––––––. La actividad literaria en la corte de Isabel la Católica. In: N. Salvador Miguel (comm.). Isabel la Católica. Los libros de la Reina (Catálogo de la Exposición celebrada en Burgos, diciembre de 2004-enero de 2005). Oviedo, 2004, pp. 171-196.
5 Due to the widespread influence of northern art in Castile, the extensive borrowings from the Masters of Netherlandish art do not necessarily lead us to suppose that he had lived outside Spain. For a long time attributed to Fernando Gallego (ca. 1440–1507), the altarpiece is assumed today to have been created by a follower of the Salamancan master, whose origins and nationality remain uncertain. Nevertheless, the high quality of the paintings attributed to the Master and the likely patronage of the Catholic Kings leave no doubts the fact that he was an important artist. Ferdinand and Isabel apparently commissioned also the retable “The Marriage at Cana”, where the prominent display of their heraldic devices and those of Maximilian I was probably meant to commemorate the marriage of their younger daughter, Juana of Castile, to Philip the Fair, Maximilian’s son (September 1496), and that of their son, Juan of Castile, to Margaret of Austria, Maximilian’s daughter (April 1497).
See J. Brown and R. G. Mann, Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue (Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 92-93.