Matthew West­wood vis­its Spain’s Prado mu­seum ahead of a ground­break­ing tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tion in Mel­bourne

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THE mod­ern-day vis­i­tor to the Prado Mu­seum in Madrid will very likely have a list of must-sees. You will head to Goya’s “black paint­ings”, with their night­mar­ish vi­sion of gi­ants and witches. You will cer­tainly stand in front of Las Men­i­nas, where Ve­lazquez — through mind-bend­ing com­po­si­tion and the sheer glam­our of paint­ing — puts you at the cen­tre of the royal court.

These are among the high points of Span­ish paint­ing, and the ven­er­a­ble Prado is the place to see them. Yet Span­ish paint­ing was not al­ways the tourist mag­net of Spain’s na­tional collection.

From the mu­seum’s foun­da­tion in 1819 to about Ve­lazquez’s ter­cente­nary in 1899, it was Raphael who was the main event. The gallery where Las Men­i­nas now has pride of place was orig­i­nally de­voted to Raphael, an Ital­ian.

Ear­lier still, when Span­ish kings were busy buy­ing and com­mis­sion­ing paint­ings that even­tu­ally would be­come the Prado collection, Titian was the artist no self-re­spect­ing em­peror or pope would be with­out. Im­pe­rial Spain bought dozens of paint­ings by the cel­e­brated Vene­tian. In later years, Titian would be de­scribed as the fa­ther of the Prado — the mu­seum has the world’s sin­gle largest collection of paint­ings by Titian, about 50 of them — al­though he never set foot in Spain.

So Ital­ian art be­longs at the heart of the Span­ish Prado, and this is the fo­cus of the sec­ond ex­hi­bi­tion from the mu­seum to come to Aus­tralia. The Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria next month opens its ex­hi­bi­tion Ital­ian Master­pieces from Spain’s Royal Court, a show of 70 paint­ings and 30 draw­ings in­clud­ing im­por­tant works by Raphael, Cor­reg­gio, Tiepolo and, of course, Titian. The Prado’s di­rec­tor, Miguel Zugaza Miranda, tells Re­view it is the first time the Prado’s Ital­ian paint­ings have trav­elled as a collection.

“I think it’s im­por­tant that the pub­lic knows that the Prado is more than just a collection of Span­ish paint­ing,” the debonair di­rec­tor says. “We are ac­tu­ally a very in­ter­na­tional collection. With­out the great tra­di­tion of the Vene­tian school of paint­ing, one couldn’t un­der­stand Ve­lazquez, El Greco or even Goya.

“I’ve al­ways thought of the Prado as a small Ital­ian is­land that broke away from Italy.”

The NGV show fol­lows an ear­lier ex­hi­bi­tion from the Prado at Queens­land Art Gallery in 2012. That ex­hi­bi­tion, Por­trait of Spain, brought a se­lec­tion of Span­ish works to Bris­bane, among them paint­ings by those masters the di­rec­tor just men­tioned.

Zugaza was con­fi­dent in send­ing a sec­ond ex­hi­bi­tion to Aus­tralia be­cause of con­nec­tions made the first time. Tony Ell­wood, now di­rec­tor at the NGV, was head­ing the QAG at the time of the Bris­bane show, and Zugaza says he



was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with the ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram built around that ex­hi­bi­tion.

Por­trait of Spain at­tracted 110,000 vis­i­tors: a mid­dling fig­ure for a high-pro­file in­ter­na­tional show, but Zugaza de­clares it a pos­i­tive out­come.

“The pub­lic in Bris­bane is a much younger pub­lic, they are much more used to con­tem­po­rary art and they have not had so much con­tact with old mas­ter paint­ings,” Zugaza says in his of­fice at the Prado.

“In Mel­bourne, we find our­selves in the con­text of an in­sti­tu­tion that has a very im­por­tant collection of old mas­ter paint­ings. We find our-

selves with a pub­lic that is more fa­mil­iar with those kinds of works in their own collection.”

The Museo del Prado sits on a busy tree­lined av­enue in cen­tral Madrid, in a neo­clas­si­cal build­ing by Juan de Vil­lanueva that was orig­i­nally in­tended to be a nat­u­ral-his­tory mu­seum. Be­hind it are the for­mal gar­dens of the Buen Re­tiro park­lands, and the re­main­ing build­ings of the Buen Re­tiro palace; one of them, the Ca­son, is now oc­cu­pied by the Prado’s re­search wing.

The Prado is not a large gallery — as en­cy­clo­pe­dic mu­se­ums, the Lou­vre in Paris and the Met­ro­pol­i­tan in New York are much big­ger — but it has one of the best col­lec­tions of old masters any­where. The vis­i­tor prom­e­nades along its dove-grey gal­leries and en­coun­ters one sen­sa­tional paint­ing af­ter an­other.

We are about to take a tour of the Prado — and of the paint­ings com­ing to Mel­bourne — with the mu­seum’s head of Ital­ian paint­ing, Miguel Falomir Faus. But by way of pre­lim­i­nar­ies, we sit down for a cor­tado — Span­ish cof­fee sim­i­lar to mac­chi­ato — at the cafe in the Prado’s new ex­ten­sion and en­trance hall.

“What makes this collection unique in the world is that most of these paint­ings were done for the king of Spain,” Falomir says.

“They went from the pain­ter’s work­shop to the collection, and they have been here since then. This is not a collection done in the 19th and 20th century by bour­geois col­lec­tors.”

The collection’s em­pha­sis has changed with the tides of art his­tory and con­nois­seur­ship: Titian and the Vene­tian colourists, Flem­ish and Nether­lan­dish paint­ing, Raphael and cen­tral Ital­ian artists, and then Span­ish masters such as Ve­lazquez.

“When the mu­seum opened in 1819,” Falomir continues, “Raphael was the main at­trac­tion: not Ve­lazquez, not Goya, not any other pain­ter. When you read ac­counts of jour­nal­ists about the open­ing of the mu­seum, they say you have to go to the mu­seum be­cause Raphael is there.” When the Aca­demic style as­so­ci­ated with Raphael started to fall out of fash­ion in the 19th century, the taste for Span­ish paint­ing took hold: “That was the mo­ment when Ve­lazquez be­came king of the Prado.”

Falomir, whose spe­cial­ity is Vene­tian paint­ing, is the cu­ra­tor with An­dres Ubeda of Ital­ian

Master­pieces from Spain. So let’s start our tour of the Prado with Titian, five of whose paint­ings are com­ing to Mel­bourne.

We are stand­ing in a cen­tral gallery be­fore Titian’s mon­u­men­tal por­traits of his royal pa­trons, the Hab­s­burg monar­chs Charles V (Charles I of Spain) and his son Philip II. As Holy Ro­man Em­peror, Charles ap­pointed Titian as court pain­ter and com­mis­sioned re­li­gious pic­tures and por­traits: the most im­pres­sive and in­no­va­tive — in terms of the art of royal por­trai­ture — is the large-for­mat

Eques­trian Por­trait of Charles V at Muhlberg, show­ing the diminu­tive and block-jawed em­peror in ar­mour and plumed hel­met.

Next to this pic­ture is the most im­por­tant royal por­trait, of Philip II, to come to Mel­bourne. Titian mas­tered the full-length for­mat for de­pic­tions of this type, be­stow­ing dig­nity and stature on the royal per­son­age. Again, Titian has painted the monarch in ar­mour, stun- ningly ex­e­cuted, set against a bril­liant crim­son vel­vet cov­er­ing.

“It be­came the model for Euro­pean court por­trai­ture for 200 years,” Falomir says. “He was the most pow­er­ful ruler of his time” — this is the king who launched the Span­ish Ar­mada, and af­ter whom The Philip­pines is named — “and his por­trait is by the most im­por­tant por­trait-pain­ter of the Re­nais­sance. The al­liance be­tween ruler and pain­ter made this paint­ing, (and it) was im­i­tated by court painters through­out Europe.”

Let’s move on to an in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful re­li­gious pic­ture, Cor­reg­gio’s Noli me tan­gere (“Do not touch me”). The paint­ing de­picts the risen Christ in a gar­den, who in­structs Mary Mag­da­lene not to touch him be­cause he has not yet as­cended to heaven. One of the Prado’s

master­pieces, the paint­ing is in su­perb con­di­tion: its colours are so fresh it could have been painted yes­ter­day. Falomir says X-rays have re­vealed how Cor­reg­gio rethought the com­po­si­tion and changed Mary’s pose, so that she and Christ avoid phys­i­cal con­tact but are locked in each other’s gaze.

Nearby is a pic­ture by Raphael: a Holy Fam­ily with the in­fant John the Bap­tist, a paint­ing also known as the Madonna of the Rose, be­cause at Christ’s feet is a rose blos­som whose pink matches the colour of the Vir­gin’s sleeve. A rose is not nec­es­sar­ily a rose, how­ever: the bloom was added by a later artist, Falomir says, pos­si­bly in the 19th century.

Other re­li­gious pic­tures are in­tended for the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of hu­man form, rather than strictly de­vo­tional use. St Se­bas­tian was one of the more pop­u­lar sub­jects for stud­ies of male physique: the Ro­man sol­dier turned Chris­tian mar­tyr, here de­picted by Guido Reni, has been pierced by an ar­row and turns his gaze heav­en­ward. In art his­tory terms, we are now in the early 17th century and the era of Car­avag­gio. Reni uses the chiaroscuro ef­fects to bathe the young man’s body in moon­light. Paint­ings by Guer­cino, of Su­san­nah and the Elders, and by Furini of Lot and his Daugh­ters, make sim­i­larly sen­su­ous play with fe­male fig­ures.

Not all of the paint­ings are of re­li­gious themes: the Prado is also send­ing a se­lec­tion of still-life flow­ers and bode­gon kitchen scenes, mytho­log­i­cal and his­tory pic­tures, por­traits and land­scapes. The ex­hi­bi­tion will also cover var­i­ous schools of Ital­ian arts, so that Vene­tian, Tus­can, Ro­man, Neapoli­tan, Lom­bard and Ge­noese styles are rep­re­sented (as well as French painters who worked in Italy, Poussin and Claude Lor­rain).

At the NGV, the paint­ings will hang in roughly chrono­log­i­cal or­der, says the gallery’s cu­ra­tor of in­ter­na­tional art, Lau­rie Benson. Vis­i­tors will be­gin with Raphael and Cor­reg­gio, then Titian and the royal por­trait of Philip II, and pro­ceed through a se­quence of rooms that ex­plore still life, baroque and ro­coco styles, and paint­ings com­mis­sioned for the Buen Re­tiro palace.

Two paint­ings from the NGV’s own collection are in­cluded: the group por­trait with the cel­e­brated cas­trato Farinelli, by Amigoni, and the Mar­tyr­dom of St Lawrence by Rib­era. (Vis­i­tors may also make a de­tour to see the NGV’s new ac­qui­si­tion, a por­trait of the In­fante Don Luis de Bor­bon, by Mengs, court pain­ter to Spain’s Charles III. It can be seen in the NGV’s splen­didly re-hung “Cleopa­tra” room.)

The Prado art­works range in size from draw­ings and small dec­o­ra­tive pieces to the mon­u­men­tal. One of the largest to come from Madrid is of a pa­rade of ele­phants en­ter­ing an am­phithe­atre, by the Neapoli­tan An­drea di Lione. At the smaller scale and in­cred­i­bly frag­ile are about 30 works on paper, in­clud­ing a draw­ing by Michelan­gelo. The pen­cil sketch de­picts a frag­ment of shoul­der and up­per arm, prob­a­bly a study for one of the devils in The Last Judg­ment at the Sis­tine Chapel.

The ex­hi­bi­tion continues through to the mid-18th century and the lu­mi­nous ro­coco style of Gian­bat­tista Tiepolo and his son Gian­domenico. Tiepolo Sr is rep­re­sented by The Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion in which the Vir­gin and at­ten­dant an­gels as­cend amid lus­trous clouds.

Tiepolo and son mark the end-point of Ital­ian Master­pieces from Spain’s Royal Court: Gian­bat­tista had been brought to Madrid in 1762 by Charles III (who com­mis­sioned Tiepolo’s vast dec­o­ra­tive ceil­ing for the throne room at the new Royal Palace), and Gian­domenico was among the last of the Ital­ian artists to be com­mis­sioned by the Span­ish court. By the early 19th century, Spain was no longer the pow­er­ful cen­tre of art and royal pa­tron­age.

“Tiepolo is the end point, be­cause there’s re­ally no more Ital­ian paint­ing in the Prado collection af­ter that,” says Gabriel e Fi­naldi, the Prado’s as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of cu­ra­tor­ship and re­search. “It’s also the case that the Prado opens in 1819, so a new chap­ter be­gins. But by the 19th century, Spain is no longer the great pro­tag­o­nist of the art scene that it had been be­fore.”

The Prado has not been im­mune from the

April 26-27, 2014


eco­nomic strife that has be­set Spain in re­cent years: since the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis the coun­try has en­dured a com­bi­na­tion of debt, in­fla­tion and high un­em­ploy­ment. Cul­tural or­gan­i­sa­tions have had bud­gets slashed: the Prado lost half of its an­nual grant from the Span­ish Min­istry of Cul­ture.

Zugaza, the Prado’s di­rec­tor since 2002, is cred­ited with mod­ernising the mu­seum and for steer­ing it through fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, in part by build­ing part­ner­ships with spon­sors and donors. One mea­sure, to help raise rev­enue through ad­mis­sion fees, was to open the mu­seum seven days a week.

The Prado has rarely al­lowed its trea­sures to travel, but in re­cent years has sent loans to the Met­ro­pol­i­tan, the Her­mitage in St Peters­burg and to Bris­bane. The Mel­bourne ex­hi­bi­tion will earn the Prado a fee, but it also rep­re­sents a kind of soft diplo­macy, let­ting the world know that Spain, and Madrid, are open for busi­ness.

One as­pect of the Prado’s ac­tiv­i­ties where the di­rec­tor won’t com­pro­mise is its con­ser­va­tion and re­search projects.

“We would be will­ing to let go of other things, any­thing, be­fore ever tak­ing away fund­ing that is al­lo­cated to the tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise and re­search of our tech­ni­cians and cu­ra­tors,” Zugaza says.

Two years ago, the Prado’s re­search work be­came in­ter­na­tional news, when it un­veiled a re­stored copy of the Mona Lisa. The paint­ing had been at the Prado since its foun­da­tion, but clean­ing re­vealed pre­vi­ously un­seen de­tails in the back­ground land­scape. The sim­i­lar­ity with Leonardo’s fa­mous pic­ture in the Lou­vre was enough for the Prado to con­clude that its ver­sion was painted at the same time as the orig­i­nal, pos­si­bly by one of the mas­ter’s ap­pren­tices.

This fas­ci­nat­ing con­ser­va­tion work hap­pens in a light-filled stu­dio, part of the Prado’s new wing de­signed by Rafael Moneo. Be­fore we leave Madrid, Fi­naldi takes us on a tour of the work­shop, where great master­pieces are ex­am­ined and spruced up, be­fore go­ing back on dis­play or on tour.

On en­ter­ing the stu­dio we are con­fronted with some­thing truly jaw-drop­ping. El Greco’s paint­ing El Espo­lio, The Dis­rob­ing of Christ, with the un­for­get­tably in­tense red of Christ’s rai­ment. It’s here at eye-level, with­out a frame and mounted on an easel, be­ing pre­pared to go back on dis­play in Toledo for the 400th an­niver­sary of El Greco’s death this year.

Else­where in the work­shop, a can­vas stained with bat piss is be­ing cleaned, new sup­ports are be­ing fit­ted (with hi-tech springs de­signed by NASA) to pan­els by Rubens, and many other pic­tures are be­ing given a gen­tle wipe-down with ethanol and white spirit. Ar­rayed on lit­tle trol­leys are the con­ser­va­tors’ tools: brushes and swabs, chemical bot­tles, mag­ni­fy­ing gog­gles and lots of cot­ton wool.

One of the con­ser­va­tors, Al­fonso Cas­trillo Carpin­tero, is work­ing on a paint­ing be­fore its voy­age to Mel­bourne. A pic­ture by Guer­cino of Cu­pid emp­ty­ing a swag of gold coins is be­ing re­paired: the paint has cracked in places where the can­vas has buck­led, pos­si­bly due to ear­lier restora­tion. Clean­ing has al­ready re­vealed de­tails that had been ob­scured: the scat­tered coins — in­di­cat­ing that Cu­pid, or love, doesn’t care for wealth — are shown to be pa­pal coins from the reign of Ur­ban VIII. Guer­cino’s paint­ing will be paired in Mel­bourne with a sim­i­lar Cu­pid by Reni, just as they were seen in the royal collection.

A paint­ing by Titian was also due to un­dergo a pre-tour clean, Salome with the Head of John the Bap­tist. Salome, a beau­ti­ful young woman — the model may have been Titian’s daugh­ter, Lavinia — is shown hold­ing aloft the sil­ver plat­ter with John’s de­cap­i­tated head.

The NGV’s Lau­rie Benson, an­tic­i­pat­ing the ar­rival of this and other Ital­ian trea­sures, has seen im­ages of the cleaned Salome. We can imag­ine the pink, pli­ant flesh of the wicked princess, and the Bap­tist’s hair sex­ily brush­ing against her own. “It’s a typ­i­cally ra­di­ant Titian,” Benson says, “ex­actly what you would want.” Ital­ian Master­pieces from Spain’s Royal Court, Museo del Prado is at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria, May 16-Au­gust 31. Matthew West­wood trav­elled to Madrid as a guest of Art Ex­hi­bi­tions Aus­tralia.

Clock­wise from op­po­site page: Titian’s Filippo II, (1551); Orazio Gen­tileschi’s San Francesco sor­retto da un an­gelo (Saint Fran­cis sup­ported by an an­gel, 1605); Noli me tan­gere (1525) by An­to­nio Cor­reg­gio; La chimera (1590) at­trib­uted to Ja­copo Ligozzi

From top to bot­tom, An­drea di Lione’s Gli Ele­fanti in un circo (Ele­phants in a cir­cus, c.1640); Vi­viano Co­dazzi/Domenico Gargiulo, Vista prospet­tica di un an­fiteatro ro­mano (Per­spec­ti­val view of a Ro­man am­phithe­atre, 1638); Raphael’s Sacra Famiglia con san Gio­van­nino o Madonna della Rosa (Holy Fam­ily with Saint John or Madonna of the Rose, 1517); Bar­tolomeo Pas­sarotti’s Testa di una figura (Head of a Fig­ure, c.1560–70)


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