Sacred Stories in the Museo del Prado

Tobias and the Angel, Eduardo Rosales Gallinas

    The Prado is temporarily exhibiting a new selection of its 19th-century paintings in the Museum’s “collections presentation gallery”. This space has been designed to show rotating displays of works from that century not normally on display and selected from among its extensive holdings in virtue of their interest and quality. Thanks to the decision to create this temporary exhibition space, the Museum has now been able to display an outstanding group of religious compositions by Spanish artists working in Rome in the mid-19th century, a period when religious painting in Europe was inspired by the recent archaeological discoveries of the tombs of the early Christian martyrs in the catacombs.

    Monday 23 January 2012

    From today, visitors to the Museo del Prado will have more than a year to see the presentation of Sacred Stories, on display in Room 60, the “collections presentation gallery”. This space has been designed to introduce the public to the range and depth of the Museum’s 19th-century collection. The selection of works in the present display has been made by José Luis Díez, the Museum’s Chief Curator of 19th-century Painting, and by Javier Barón, Head of that Department. The canvases on display, which have recently been carefully restored, were extremely important not only in their own time but throughout the second half of the 19th century and the first third of the 20th century. Their display in optimum conditions in the Prado, as the natural continuation of the first gallery of History Painting, implies a new level of visibility for these works, given that they were previously almost unknown not only to the public but to many art historians.

    Among the paintings on display in this gallery, the triumph of academic purism is evident in the work by Luis de Madrazo, The Burial of Saint Cecilia in the Catacombs in Rome, which reflects the enormous enthusiasm aroused by the recent discovery of the famous archaeological remains referred to above and which is the first painting of its type in this new genre. Madrazo’s canvas led on to other, increasingly realist compositions of an academic type such as Alejo Vera’s delicate composition The Burial of Saint Lawrence in the Catacombs in Rome, which takes Madrazo’s painting as its starting point but deploys a greater degree of realism. This evolution culminates in Domingo Valdivieso’s moving painting of The Descent from the Cross, with its powerful echoes of Italian sources. In his two, early religious paintings executed in Italy, Tobias and the Angel and Saint Catherine of Siena receives the Stigmata, the Madrid artist Eduardo Rosales represents the end of purist painting and points the way towards the formulation of a realist style in Spain that essentially looks back to Velázquez.

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