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Expository itinerary

The Female Perspective

The Museo Nacional del Prado’s thematic routes are devised with the aim of encouraging a fresh viewpoint. With this proposal in mind they regularly count on the collaboration of external experts working in disciplines other than those normally associated with the Museum. The intention is thus to foster a different but rigorous perspective on the collections, focusing on themes and subjects other than the habitual ones, in this case making women the centre of attention.

This is the case with “The Female Perspective”, an important and topical route devised with the academic supervision of Professor Noelia García Pérez. Through 32 works it draws our attention to the women who commissioned, collected or inspired some of the most important works of art in the Museum’s collection.

As such, the route encourages us to explore new narratives and discover unique and surprising accounts in which women are subjects in their own right: artistic promoters, patrons of the arts, the women who lie behind the Museo del Prado and who made such a vital contribution to the formation of its collections during a specific chronological timespan, from 1451 to 1633, in other words the lifetimes of Isabella the Catholic to Isabel Clara Eugenia.

The creation of this route has also provided the opportunity to display various works that were previously in storage at the Museum, including the portraits of Isabel Clara Eugenia and Albert of Austria by Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder; John Frederick of Saxony by Titian; Elisabeth of Valois by Pantoja de la Cruz; and Anne of Austria by Bartolomé González. In addition, other works have been relocated in the galleries, including the sculptural busts of Eleanor of Austria and Mary of Hungary by Dubroeucq and the Leonis respectively, in order to offer a more complete narrative of the permanent collection. Finally, the titles and texts of some of the labels that accompany works on display have been modified to offer an account that better reflects 21st-century interests.

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Activities

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Symposium

Key Women in the Creation of the Prado’s Collections.
From Isabella of Bourbon to Maria Anna of Neuburg

March 6th and 7th, 2023

Activity

I. Women Patrons of Art in The Museo Del Prado (1451–1633)

I. Women Patrons of Art in The Museo Del Prado (1451–1633)
Isabel I de Castilla. Anonymous. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.

This thematic route begins with Isabella I of Castile, a key figure in the origins and evolution of female art patronage in Spain and the obligatory starting point for an analysis of the artistic promotion undertaken by women of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty. As heirs to the Catholic Queen’s legacy in this field, they represent some of the most important female patrons of the arts in 16th-century Europe.

The dynasty to which they belonged, their humanist education, social context and financial resources allowed these women to assemble important collections of European Renaissance art, to play a prominent role in the patronage of the artists they supported, and to construct their own image through art. This in turn functioned to a considerable degree to consolidate their political legitimacy, reinforce their power and project their authority across the continent’s ruling courts.

Together with them, we will also look at leading women from other royal houses, including those of Aviz, Tudor, Valois and Habsburg-Styria, who were connected to the Spanish monarchy through their matrimonial alliances with male members of the Habsburg dynasty. This was how Isabella of Portugal, Mary Tudor, Elisabeth of Valois and Margaret of Austria joined the roll call of women art patrons associated with the Museo del Prado’s collections.

Their portraits painted by artists such as Titian, Anthonis Mor, Alonso Sánchez Coello and Juan Pantoja de la Cruz provide clear examples of how these women, who came from different royal houses but were all associated with the Spanish monarchy, used art patronage to express their piety, reveal their personal interests and define their official positions and roles at court.

II. Mary of Hungary

II. Mary of Hungary
The Queen Mary of Hungary. Leone Leoni and Pompeo Leoni 1553-64. Italian marble, 175 × 60 cm. Claustro de los Jerónimos.

Although her life coincided with a period of wars and religious conflicts, Mary of Hungary (1505–1558) provided a preeminent example for her contemporaries and for succeeding generations due to her acute political vision and cultural legacy. Part of that heritage is now housed in the Museo del Prado in the form of some of its greatest masterpieces: works that represent particularly telling examples of a type of artistic patronage directed in three complementary directions. The first relates to the construction and promotion of an image of power that identifies Mary as governor of the Low Countries and as the widowed Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, as represented in the sculptural portraits she commissioned from the Leoni. These are pieces that eloquently reveal the different aspects that together constituted her public image as a strong, powerful woman of the Habsburg dynasty. The second introduces us to devotional expression in the context of the Church through Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross, a paradigmatic example of Mary’s affinities with Christian humanism and the devotio moderna movement. The third combines her political astuteness and artistic intuition applied to the promotion of Habsburg political strategies. Works by Titian such as Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg and the mythological series of the Furies, painted to decorate her palace at Binche, are typical cases in this regard.

These works of art provide us with an example of the political intent that lies behind some of the principal artistic commissions initiated by Mary of Hungary, who followed the model of Maximilian I in the use of art to reinforce Habsburg dynastic interests and to support and promote the rule of her brother, Emperor Charles V.

This section thus introduces us to one of the leading figures on the European political stage in the first half of the 16th century, who was also one of the most important female art patrons of that period.

III. Isabel Clara Eugenia

III. Isabel Clara Eugenia
La infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia. Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder. h. 1615. Oil on canvas, 113,5 × 175,8 cm. 2n floor. Room 80

Isabel Clara Eugenia (1566–1633) and her activities as a patron of art have a three-fold connection with the collections of the Museo del Prado: as the eldest daughter of Philip II and a key link in the chain of dynastic succession; as co-sovereign first and subsequently governor of the Spanish Netherlands; and finally as artistic mediator between Spain and Flanders during her years of rule in the latter, particularly regarding the promotion of Peter Paul Rubens’s art.

For all these reasons, this itinerary will first focus on the creation, evolution and dissemination of her image, starting with the earliest portraits of Isabel by Alonso Sánchez Coello which depict her as a Habsburg princess, and concluding with the images by Rubens that present her as co-sovereign and later as governor of the Southern Netherlands. 

In the second place, we will look at some of the works that Isabel Clara Eugenia and Albert of Austria commissioned during their reign, such as Denis van Alsloot’s Celebration of the Ommegang in Brussels and Jan Brueghel the Elder’s The Archduke and Archduchess attending a Hunt. As Alejandro Vergara, senior curator of Flemish and Northern European Painting at the Prado has noted, they are revealing of these rulers appreciation of painting not only for its beauty but also for its efficacy in manifesting their political and ideological identity while defining their relationship with the surrounding context. 

In addition to the commissioning of artworks and artistic projects, Isabel Clara Eugenia’s patronage encompassed the promotion of artists such as Rubens and her role as cultural mediator between Spain and Flanders. This section concludes by introducing us to two of the most important examples of this aspect of her activities: the oil sketches for the tapestry series of the Triumph of the Eucharist and the painting Three Nymphs with a Cornucopia, which constitute good examples of the circulation of works of art and artistic influences between the courts of Brussels and Madrid promoted by this female governor of the Spanish Netherlands.

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