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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Isabella of Castile

b. 1451, Madrigal de las Altas Torres, Spain; d. 1504, Medina del Campo, Spain

Isabella of Castile married Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Aragon, in 1469. From 1479 to 1504, they jointly ruled both kingdoms, marking the start of the unification of Spain. Called Isabella the Catholic, she and her husband instituted the Spanish Inquisition in 1478 to achieve religious unity by punishing non-Christians, doubters, and heretics; in 1492, Jews who refused conversion were expelled from Spain. That same year, Christopher Columbus embarked on his voyage of exploration, largely underwritten by the queen. Isabella’s religious zealotry was almost matched by her commitment to education and the arts: she established a palace school for young noblemen, patronized literature, and amassed a stunning collection of Spanish and Flemish art. Her daughter, Catherine of Aragon, married King Henry VIII.