The Spanish architect Juan de Herrera (ca. 1530-1597) helped to plan the Escorial and introduced there a style that influenced Spanish architecture for over a century.
Juan de Herrera was born in Mobellán, Santander Province. He completed his studies at the University of Valladolid in the spring of 1548. The following October he joined Prince Philip (later Philip II) for a 3-year tour of Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. He returned to Italy in 1553 in the service of Emperor Charles V and subsequently fought in the campaign of Flanders.
Herrera called his service to the monarch his "highest ideal." Not surprisingly, then, he followed Charles V into retirement in a monastery in Yuste, Estremadura region, and remained until the Emperor's death in 1558. Thereafter Herrera entered the service of Philip II. Herrera declared that, from 1565 onward, he made it a point "to follow His Majesty constantly wherever he might go." He also considered it to be his obligation to dress elegantly and to spend "excessively" in the best places as a living proof of "so great a prince."
One evidence of Herrera's ambition to be the very model of a multitalented Renaissance man is his geometrical illustrations for an abridgment (1562) of Alphonse the Wise's book on astronomy. Herrera also applied his knowledge of mathematics to the invention of navigational instruments that have been said to have increased the accuracy of nautical calculations.
In 1563 Philip II appointed Herrera to assist Juan Bautista de Toledo, the court architect, in the plans and construction of the Escorial (1561-1584), which the monarch described as "a palace for God and a little house for me." Some authorities insist that Herrera's real contribution to the Escorial design and construction did not begin until 1572, 5 years after Toledo's death. Letters between Philip II and Pedro de Hoyo in 1564, however, indicate that Herrera was playing an important role even then.
The Escorial is a complex of monastery, church, royal mausoleum, and palace. The site chosen was near the Guadarrama Mountains in the little town of El Escorial. All controversy over the extent of Herrera's contribution aside, the completed monument was the introduction of a style known traditionally as Herreran. The style is austere, symmetrical, and majestic, influenced by an Italianate, classicistic mannerism. Yet it is unique: its majesty is unforced; its formality is polyphonically muted; and its severity is a sovereign simplicity. Like the Gregorian chant, it is a paradox, simultaneously solemn and profoundly intimate.
Later works by Herrera, such as the Alcázar of Toledo (1571-1585) and the Palace of Aranjuez (ca. 1564-1586; finished in the 18th century), justify his fame. Among his disciples were Jorge Manuel Theotocopuli, the son of El Greco; and Francisco de Mora and his nephew Juan Gómez de Mora. Owing to what has been called the metaphysics of Herrera's principles, his style has been largely inimitable.
Herrera fell seriously ill in 1584 and was obliged to rely heavily upon the assistance of his pupils, particularly Francisco de Mora. He died on Jan. 15, 1597, in Madrid. He had married twice and was survived by his only child, Lorenzo.
Further Reading on Juan de Herrera
The most informative source on Herrera in English is Fernando Chueca y Goitia's article in the Encyclopedia of World Art, vol. 7 (1963). George Kubler and Martin Soria, Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and Their American Dominions: 1500-1800 (1959), provides sufficient information on the number of architects involved with the Escorial to give the reader an excellent idea of the controversy, which may continue until further documentation is discovered.
Wilkinson-Zerner, Catherine., Juan de Herrera: architect to Philip II of Spain, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.