For Spain the 17th century was about serious decline. Philip II’s heritage was too great for the last representatives of the royal house of Austria to assume. When Charles II died in 1700 without an heir, the last frail links holding the empire together gave way. The ensuing war for the throne brought ruin, both moral and material, to great expanses of Spain, especially along its Mediterranean shores. In fact, it took until the mid-eighteenth century for the country to recover from this long stretch of misery and chaos. Paradoxically, it was from this ferment that rose some of the greatest artists Spain ever produced.
Italian influence was rejected in favor of Mannerism, and Spanish art became severe, noble and profoundly realistic, with tonal gradations and color growing more subtle. Artist observation became so penetrating that some authors consider that the great Spanish masters guided European painting along to naturalistic realism.
This new form of Baroque art still remained faithful to Spanish themes: religious subjects, but the more famous artists had commission to execute numerous royal portraits, as well as depictions of historical events and scenes from private and court life. The great names of the era include José de Ribera, Diego Velazquez, Alonso Cano, Francisco de Zurbaran, Bartolomé Murillo.