The third section, Bibliotheca Imaginis (Library of the Image) focuses on the important role that book illustrations played in European art in the early modern age. It includes drawing manuals, which were an essential element in artists’ training as they offered models for learning to draw the human figure step by step. Among them are the Principios by García Hidalgo (ca.1700), the most important and rarest of the Spanish manuals, produced in the final years of the Golden Age.
Books were of fundamental importance to painters as they constituted essential formal and iconographic sources for the creation of their own works. In this regard the exhibition offers a brief reflection on the genre of the portrait through three types of printed repertoires that were fundamental to the dissemination of formal models. Also on display are a number of books that are crucial to an understanding of the meaning of Renaissance and Baroque art, namely illustrated editions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1595), Ripa’s Iconology (1603), and various important emblem books, whose contents inspired the iconography of numerous paintings in the Museo del Prado.
Books lie at the origins of numerous paintings and also function as unique witnesses to their subsequent critical fortunes. The most important cycles of European paintings were reproduced in print form and disseminated through sumptuous albums, while the first collections of paintings (firstly private, aristocratic and royal ones and later public collections) became known throughout Europe through books such as the Prodromus (1735), a copy of which brings the exhibition to a close. Having opened with the first great theoretical text that codified the principles of Renaissance painting – Alberti’s Pittura – the exhibition closes with the birth of the institution that marked the evolution of the visual arts in the modern age: the Museum.