With his listless eyes, sickly pale skin and prominent lower jaw that jutted out, King Philip IV of Spain (1605-1665) had a slack face that was not attractive, if I may be so blunt as to say so.

I could not help staring at his portrait at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo’s Ueno district, where a special exhibition titled "The Hapsburg Dynasty: 600 Years of Imperial Collections" is running until Jan. 26.

"He was a good man by nature, but being essentially unmotivated and lazy, he never took his royal duties seriously and accelerated Spain's decline," noted Kenichi Satake, 70, a professor emeritus at Nanzan University and the author of "Uwaki na Kokuo Feripe 4-sei no Kyutei Seikatsu" (Fickle King Philip IV's life in court), a biography.

Philip effectively delegated all affairs of the state to his favorite retainer, so he himself could spend most of his time watching plays, hunting and partying.

But his foremost passion was pursuing romantic liaisons with women of any status or profession, wooing married women, ladies in waiting and even nuns.

His scandalous promiscuity was widely known among the populace, sometimes serving to inspire poets and playwrights.

Under his grandfather, Philip II (1527-1598), Spain expanded its colonial territory during the Age of Discovery and basked in glory as the "empire on which the sun never sets."

But under Philip IV, the empire shrank, its finances went downhill and the population decreased. "Spain's decline was all too obvious to the Spanish people themselves," noted Satake.

Late in life, the king was tormented by deep guilt, believing the weakness of his will was the cause of revolts, famine and pestilence that continued to plague Spain. In a private letter, he asked God to punish him. But by then, it was too late to stop his nation's inexorable decline, no matter how deeply he lamented his own limitations.

Thinking such things, my thoughts suddenly turned to present-day Japan.

Our national debts are bloating endlessly, there is no stopping the rapid decline in population and thinking about the uncertain future fills us with apprehension.

What type of political leadership do we really need now?

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 13

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.