The Museo del Prado is highlighting its collection of miniatures

Presentation of the catalogue raisonné and restoration of Museo del Prado's collection of miniatures

    One of the most important collections of miniatures in any Spanish museum

    Monday 10 October 2011

    In conjunction with the publication of the new catalogue raisonné of its miniatures collection, the Museo del Prado has organised the first exhibition of a significant part (36 miniatures and 3 small portraits) of its little-known collection of miniatures. At the presentation of the exhibition the Museum also provided details of the new publication, which offers the first compilation and analysis of the 164 miniatures and 16 small portraits that make up this interesting and significant part of its collection. The exhibition will be open to the public between tomorrow, Tuesday 11 October, and 26 February 2012 in the first room of the vaults that display the Dauphin's Treasure (Villanueva Building, First Basement Level), the most celebrated part of this area of the Museum's holdings.

    The Prado will thus be offering the first display of works from its miniatures collection. Painted in gouache on vellum, small ivory panels or paper, miniatures represented the most intimate side of painting and in general related to the private realm. They also, however, acquired functions of State given that jewels containing miniatures were given by monarchs to ambassadors and foreign emissaries on the occasions of their ascents to the throne, royal weddings and the signing of treatises, concords and agreements. Miniatures were also used to commemorate successful military undertakings and the completion of special missions.

    The accomplished miniature painter had to possess technical skill and precision in the use of the brush as the pigments were applied through the superimposition of dots of colour in the flesh zones, while the remainder was carried out in a technique comparable to oil painting. Both the small portraits and miniatures on display for the first time at the Prado are technically paintings, executed on various supports and in different materials but with the same function. Miniatures in the strict sense of the term did not exist in Spain until the 18th century so the function played by miniatures at other European courts was fulfilled in Spain by small portraits known as retratico or retrato de faltriquera, hence the importance of the three examples on display in the exhibition.

    Visitors to the exhibition will be able to appreciate the delicate technique used by the artists represented in this selection. Among the three images that should not strictly be described as miniatures but rather as small portraits, perhaps the most famous one is the oil on copper portrait of Juana Galarza de Goicoechea by Goya (1805), which belonged to the series painted by the artist on the occasion of the marriage of his son, Javier, to Gumersinda de Goicoechea y Galaza. Among the 36 works in the exhibition that can be defined as miniatures in the strict sense due to the type of support and materials employed, there are various examples by Spanish miniaturists, primarily dating from the nineteenth century. They include the portraits of Pedro de Alcántara Téllez-Girón y Pacheco, 9th Duke of Osuna (ca.1805) by Guillermo Ducker (ca.1799-1800); of the journalist Ramón de Navarrete y Fernández Landa by Cecilio Corro (ca.1844); of Isabel II, Queen of Spain by Juan Pérez de Villamayor (1863), and a Saint Michael by Manuel Arbós y Ayerbe (1865). Works by non-Spanish artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries include the Pair of female Portraits by Charles Guillaume Alexandre Bourgeois (ca.1800); the portrait of Francis I, Emperor of Austria, by Heinrich Friedrich Füger (ca.1790); and the portrait of Hans Axel von Fersen (ca.1784) by Niclas Lafrensen.

    The display also includes an object that pays tribute to a prominent figure in the history of the Museo del Prado in the form of the recently acquired Nuptial Fan by Luis Eusebi of around 1790. The fan is painted in gouache on swan's skin and has ivory sticks with mother-of-pearl inlay. It is exhibited here for the first time. The Italian Eusebi (1773-1829) was a leading miniaturist and fan painter and above all an art historian who worked for the Real Museo de Pinturas from the time of its foundation in 1819 onwards. Specifically he was in charge of the area known as Stewardship of the Royal Museum. While responsible for the registration of works, management of costs and security, Eusebi's responsibilities were in fact close to that of a Curator as throughout his life he wrote the catalogues for the Royal Museum and actively participated in the preparation of strategic planning for the institution's artistic activities. This fan is one of the few works by him known today.

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