Santa Leocadia ante el Pretor, Mariano Salvador Maella. Oil on canvas, 105 x 73 cm

The Museo del Prado has a sizeable collection of religious and secular decorative paintings commissioned by the Crown in the last third of the 18th century. Thirty-three of these works, by Bayeu, Maella (whose Saint Leocadia before the Judge, acquired in 2009, is displayed here for the first time), José del Castillo and Carnicero, will be on display from today in the new circular gallery on the second floor of the south wing. The gallery will complement the display of works by Paret, Meléndez and Goya to be seen in adjacent galleries.

In the final years of the 18th century, Spanish monarchs commissioned a significant number of secular and religious decorative schemes to which many of the oil sketches on display here are related. Their size, colour, exquisitely detailed technique and use of the Rococo style were highly appreciated in their own time and, aside from their use as models for frescoes and altar paintings, they were considered to have their own decorative purpose as cabinet paintings.

The selection on display here comes from the large group of paintings in the Museum related to these different decorative cycles. The chosen works cover the most popular subjects of the day, from allegories to religious paintings and secular subjects painted for the tapestries that adorned the Spanish Royal Residences. Small stories of galanterie and deceit set on the outskirts of Madrid are seen alongside beautiful, classical figures of gods and goddesses and allegories set in ideal landscapes, while elegant figures contrast with sober depictions of saints and apostles set within classical architecture.

The addition of this representative selection of late 18th-century paintings is a further step towards offering visitors the most rigorous and complete presentation of the Museum’s collections, an aim set out in the project “The Collection: the Other Extension”. This project is proceeding according to its pre-established schedule and the next important phase will be the presentation on 25 March of the new galleries of Spanish painting from the Romanesque to the Renaissance.

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