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The Council of Indies
Padua, Juan Antonio
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Padua, Juan Antonio

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The Council of Indies

1753 - 1759. Marble Room 086

The Consejo de Indias (Council of the Indies) was an official Spanish government body. In the eighteenth century the extent of its authority was reduced to that of the highest tier of justice. Alongside a sizeable group of its members, this scene also includes Mercury in flight, Hercules on the right, and the idealised figure of an indigenous man in the foreground.

This relief or medallion and other three more (E000459, E000471 and E000472), are part of a set of twenty-eight (although a total of forty-four had been commissioned, not all of them were made). They were intended as decorations over the doors of the main-floor gallery at the Royal Palace. Their subjects follow an iconographic program developed by the Benedictine friar and well-known scholar, Father Sarmiento. Juan Bautista Sachetti, the head architect, and Juan Domingo Olivieri, the artist in charge of sculptural decorations, were to provide a suitable iconographic program for the New Palace, as requested by Philip V in May, 1743, and again by Ferdinand VI in June, 1747. Apparently their proporsal was not accepted, since Father Sarmiento was asked to submit another one. This second and successful iconographic program drew inspiration from glorious events in Spanish history, while the first one had been based on Ripa´s Iconologia. Ripa´s allegories were universal in character and could apply to any country. Father Sarmiento´s program, on the other hand, proposed symbols specific to the Spanish monarchy. The reliefs were placed on the four walls of the gallery according to their theme. The north or chapel side was for religious subjects such as the Virtues and the martyrdom of St. Vicent. The west side honored the sciences. The east side was reserved for military victories (the sieges of Sagunto and Numancia, and the battles of Covadonga, Clavijo, as well as the conquest of Mexico, etc.). The south side was reserved for political institutions. Each theme carried an obvious message. Religious scenes would encourage good behavior. The sciences would promote scholarship. Grammar, shown here, was one of the liberal arts included in the medieval Trivium, and was still a basic science in the 18th century. Virtues such as courage and heroism against the invader were illustrated by military scenes such as The Siege of Sagunto, which takes the side of the city´s defenders against the domination of Rome (Father Sarmiento strongly disliked the Roman colonists). Finally, political institutions such as the Council of Indies were very important during the Enlightenment to promote “good governance”. Alejandro Carnicero and the Salvador Carmona family were among the best artists involved in this project. The technical and artistic quality is very uneven, however, because the makers were not all equally skilled. Noticeable imperfections were probably overlooked, since the reliefs were not intended to be viewed up close. Documents about the building of the Royal Palace enable us to date these works. Records show that they were delivered by the sculptors between 1754 and 1759.

In general, the compositions followed Baroque/Rococo academic models. In his article about these reliefs, Lorente Junquera related them to Italian works. For instance, The Martyrdom of St. Vicent has similarities with a fresco depicting the martyrdom of St. Andrew in the Church of Saint Gregory on the Caelian Hill in Rome, painted by Domenichino, and with the Mannerist sepulchral reliefs in the basilica of Santa María Maggiore, also in Rome. Unfortunately, these works of art conceived by Father Sarmiento came to an inglorious end. On February 8, 1760, Charles III “… ordered all the statues removed… and stored temporarily in the palace basement…” and in 1862 the Historia del Museo del Prado by Mariano de Madrazo noted that the twenty-eight marble reliefs had been placed on the main façade of the museum, along the lower arcades (Text drawn from Gisbert, Isabel, The Majesty of Spain, Jackson, Mississippi, 2001, pp. 124-125).

The Majesty of Spain. Royal Collections From the Museo del P, Jackson, Mississipi, Mississipi Commission For Internati, 2001, p.124-125

Technical data

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Inventory number
Padua, Juan Antonio
The Council of Indies
1753 - 1759
Height: 88 cm.; Width: 124 cm.; Base/bottom: 19 cm.; Weight: 242.4 Kg.
Sobrepuertas de la galería principal del Palacio Real de Madrid
Royal Collection

Bibliography +

Lorente, Manuel, Los relieves marmóreos del Palacio Real de Madrid, Arte español : revista de la Sociedad de Amigos del Arte, 20, 1954, pp. 58-72.

Plaza Santiago, Francisco Javier de La, Investigaciones sobre el Palacio Real Nuevo de Madrid, Publicaciones del Departamento de, Valladolid, 1975.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de la escultura, Patronato Nacional de Museos, Madrid, 1981.

Tárraga, M. L., Los relieves labrados para las sobrepuertas de la Galería principal del Palacio Real, Archivo Español de Arte, 69, 1996, pp. 45-68.

Muniain Ederra, Sara, El programa escultórico del Palacio Real de Madrid y la Ilustración española, Fundación Universitaria Española, Madrid, 2000.

The Majesty of Spain. Royal Collections From the Museo del P, Mississipi Commission For Internati, Jackson, Mississipi, 2001, pp. 124-125.

Boletín del Seminario de Estudios de Arte y Arqueología, Boletín del Seminario de Estudios de Arte y Arqueología, LXXIV, 2008, pp. 203-208.

Azcue Brea, Leticia, El origen de las colecciones de escultura del Museo del Prado. El Real Museo de Pintura y Escultura, El taller europeo. Intercambios, influjos y préstamos en escultura moderna europea. I Encuentro europeo de museos con colecciones de escultura, Valladolid, 2012, pp. 73-108.

Azcue Brea, Leticia, Conferencia: Relieves del claustro alto del Palacio Real de Madrid en la coleccion del Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2016.

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, Escultura, 1857. Núm. 738.
738. Treinta y una medallas obaladas de medio relieve de mármol de Carrara que representan diferentes asuntos, muchas de sus figuras estan sin cabezas y sin estremos, y una partida por medio en que se ve San Isidro, pertenecientes a la Galeria principal de Palacio. Cuatro de ellas en desvaste. Largo 4 pies, 3 pulg. Ancho 3 pies.

Exhibitions +

Tha majesty of spain. Royal collections from the Museo del Prado & patrimonio nacional (La majestad de España)
Jackson MS
01.03.2001 - 03.09.2001

Location +

Room 086 (On Display)

Update date: 27-09-2019 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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