Study for the Decoration of the Escorial Library, Pellegrino Tibaldi. Pen and brown ink, with brown wash over black chalk, 332 x 485 mm, 1588 – 1592 © The Trustees of the British Museum 1846,0509.176

In 1561 Philip II established Madrid as his capital. Two years later he laid the foundation stone for El Escorial, which was conceived as a monastery, the burial chamber of the Hapsburg dynasty, a library and the repository for Philip’s vast collections of art, relics and natural wonders. Completed in 1584, it required an enormous workforce including engineers, architects and artists from across Europe.

The time he had spent outside Spain during his youth, where he had seen the work of some of the best Flemish and Italian artists, shaped Philip II’s taste for art. Renowned Italian painters such as Federico Zuccaro, Pellegrino Tibaldi and Luca Cambiaso were chosen for their ability as fresco painters and they executed most of the mural decoration of the Escorial. Their drawing styles and techniques and how they used drawings to prepare their compositions had a lasting impact on the Spanish artists working alongside them, as well as on future generations. Other Spanish masters, such as Alonso Berruguete, spent time in Italy. What they experienced during their travels left a deep mark on their work and is visible in the drawings they made on returning home.

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