Velázquez’s equestrian portraits of Philip III and Margaret of Austria regain their quality and original composition

These two celebrated paintings by the great Sevilian master are now on display in the Museum’s Basilical Gallery (which houses Las Meninas) with all their painterly qualities fully restored and without the 18th-century additions that distorted the compositions and negatively affected a visual comprehension of the series of which they were originally part together with the three other famous equestrian portraits by the artist, also on display in this gallery. In addition, the sculpture of The sleeping Ariadne (2nd century AD), which is a Roman variant of a 2nd century BC Greek sculpture, is once again on display following its restoration and the remodelling of the unique space known as the “Ariadne Rotunda” in which it has traditionally been shown

Friday 02 December 2011

The Museo del Prado today presented some of the most important restoration projects that it has undertaken this year, sponsored by Fundación Iberdrola in its capacity as “Protector Member” of the Restoration Programme. The three restoration projects presented today also relate to the re-hang of the Museum’s collections, a programme entitled The Collection: The Second Expansion Plan. The programme’s aims include equipping the works on display with the museological resources necessary for their optimum presentation, as well as analysing and reviewing their of conservation and undertaking restoration when necessary.

Within this context of reorganising and improving the display context of the Museum’s collections, in particular the Velázquez collection (the re-hang of which was completed last year with the exception of of these two works), the Museum has now restored Philip III on Horsebackand Margaret of Austria on Horseback. These two monumental equestrian statues were painted by the artist with the help of assistants for the Hall of Realms in the Buen Retiro Palace as part of a series that included the similarly famous equestrian portraits of Philip IV, Isabel of Bourbon and Prince Baltasar Carlos.

The recent restoration of the two canvases in question, undertaken by Rocío Dávila, has allowed for the recuperation of their original pictorial values, which were notably affected by accumulation of dirt and alteration of the varnish, which changed the chromatic relations within each painting, dulling the contrasts and creating a “veil” that produced a negative effect by reducing the sense of pictorial recession. In the case of Philip III on Horseback these problems also prevented an appreciation of the lighting effects in the sky against which the horse and rider are set.

In addition, in the mid-18th century both canvases were enlarged with the addition of strips to the left and right sides in order to make them the same size as the other works in the series when they were installed in a newly designed room in the Royal Palace in Madrid. The addition of these strips considerably affected a formal reading of the two canvases, particularly in the case of Philip III on Horseback. Velázquez originally devised a foreshortened composition that he emphasised through the painting’s markedly horizontal format, resulting in a vigorous, dynamic image to which the luminous sky also contributed. His intention was thus to offer a different solution to the one that he deployed in Philip IV on Horseback. The additional lateral strips changed the artist’s original concept by producing a less vertical format that diminished the effect of foreshortening and thus resulted in a less powerful, dynamic image. In the case of Margaret of Austria on Horseback the additions also affected a reading of the canvas although not in such a pronounced manner. It detracted from the majestic horse and also altered the landscape, which originally consisted of distant mountains that were transformed into hills with streams.

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