Criteria for the new hanging and arrangement of the Velázquez rooms
Associated with the recent architectural enlargement of the Museum is the project that involves the creation of new display space for the permanent collection, the remodelling and updating of existing spaces and a new hanging of these galleries. This project began with the installation of the sculptures by the Leoni in the Cloister and continued with the opening of the new 19th-century galleries. The most recent phase was concluded with the opening of the rooms that house the collection of Spanish painting from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.
Velázquez has been the next focus of attention and his paintings will continue to function as the articulating axis for the display of the collection on the Museum’s main floor. The project has focused on three principal areas:
- Updating the galleries to new technical and museological standards and redecorating them. With regard to the latter, the three different types of cloth wall covering in these rooms have been removed and replaced with a single tone of paint. Its colour has been selected with the aim of emphasising the remarkable variety and richness of Velázquez’s chromatic values.
- The addition of new rooms. As has been the case since 1899, Room 12 continues to be the core of the Velázquez display but it is now joined by two new rooms (10 and 11) on its north side, and another one (room 27) on its west side, while Room XVI, which previously housed paintings from the Hall of Realms, will be used for other purposes. As a result, the Velázquez collection now has increased display space of a type more appropriate to its variety and particular characteristics. In addition, when the re-organisation of the collection is complete the expansion towards the north and west will link Velázquez’s works in an organic manner with the art-historical discourse on the Venetian and Flemish colourist tradition that will be the focus of the central gallery, as well as with the display that offers an account of Spanish Golden Age painting, located in the interior rooms parallel to the central gallery.
- The changes in the rooms assigned to Velázquez’s work have resulted in a new hanging of the paintings and a new approach to their display. A combined chronological and thematic focus has been adopted with the intention of offering visitors a clear overview of the development of the artist’s style during the successive phases of his career and of the way in which he approached different forms of narrative. The two chronologically arranged rooms are devoted to his naturalist phase and to the artist’s first Italian trip, while the galleries arranged iconographically focus on religion, mythology, portraits of buffoons and the theme of war, in all of which Velázquez made outstandingly original contributions. Room 12 is devoted to his output as court portraitist, to which he devoted most of his activities from 1623 until his death in 1660.
Special effort has been made in these new spaces to create optimum viewing conditions in order to ensure the maximum enjoyment and understanding of the work of Velázquez. In addition, some of his most important works have been singled out for slightly different display. For example, Vulcan’s Forge and The Crucified Christ are shown on separate walls in their respective rooms, while the location chosen for The Surrender of Breda has aimed to highlight the effect of aerial perspective that Velázquez so brilliantly achieved in this canvas. A particular case is that of The Spinners, a masterpiece that has been singled out in the following ways:
- It is now shown in a gallery devoted to the artist’s mythological paintings, which is the genre to which it belongs.
- The painting is displayed in a way that conceals the large additions made to the canvas in the 18th century and which markedly distorted a formal reading of the composition, making its narrative content difficult to grasp. This procedure has not involved any alteration to the picture surface but has been achieved through the application of a “window” surround that covers up the additions and only shows the original part painted by Velázquez.
- The painting is shown alongside Rubens’ Rape of Europa, which is a copy of the painting by Titian that is depicted in the background of The Spinners and which is crucial for an understanding of its contents.
Two mythological sculptures associated with Velázquez’s second trip to Rome now form part of this new display, at least one of which was sent to Madrid on the direct initiative of the painter.