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Exhibition Museo del Prado – Fundación BBVA

Mythological Passions: Tiziano, Veronese, Allori, Rubens, Ribera, Poussin, Van Dyck, Velázquez

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 3/2/2021 - 7/4/2021

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The exhibition Mythological Passions, which will be on display in Room C of the Jerónimos Building from 2 March to 4 July with the sole sponsorship of Fundación BBVA, offers a unique opportunity to see one of the greatest groups of mythological paintings created in Europe in the 16th and 17th century.

Organised by the Museo Nacional del Prado, the National Gallery and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and curated by Miguel Falomir, Director of the Museo del Prado, and Alejandro Vergara, Chief Curator of Flemish and Northern Schools Painting at the Museo del Prado, the exhibition offers a survey of mythological love through the work of the greatest figures of European painting, represented by a total of 29 works.

Among the most important loans to the exhibition are a painting of Venus and Cupid based on a drawing by Michelangelo, Perseus and Andromeda by Veronese, and Landscape in a Storm with Pyramus and Thisbe by Poussin. Particularly significant is the loan of five of the so-called poesie which Titian painted for Philip II, the sixth being in the Prado’s collection. These paintings are shown alongside iconic works from the Museum’s own collection, such as Velázquez’s The Spinners and The Three Graces by Rubens, which gain further context through this project.

For Alejandro Vergara, Chief Curator of Flemish and Northern Schools Painting at the Museo del Prado: “Our intention with this exhibition is to come closer to ways of feeling and thinking learned from the classical writers which defined European culture in the 16th and 17th centuries. The idea that beauty, desire, love and sex are closely interconnected and that we are at their mercy, as with are with nature, is part of that culture.”

Mythological Passions offers an unrepeatable survey of mythological love through the work of the greatest representatives of European painting. In Greek and Roman mythology love, desire and beauty are closely interconnected and rule the lives of the gods and men. The texts that refer to those themes, including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Virgil’s Aeneid, were highly esteemed by Renaissance and Baroque artists who aimed to represent them with profound feeling. The works in the exhibition represent the culmination of a way of understanding painting, making them the object of veneration for centuries.

According to Miguel Falomir, Director of the Museo del Prado, “The presentation of the exhibition is of two-fold merit: firstly as it reunites one of the most beautiful, complex and influential series within European painting, and secondly due to the efforts of the staff in making it possible during the Coronavirus pandemic”. He also drew attention to this team effort in which the support and confidence of a sponsor of the generosity of Fundación BBVA has been fundamental.

Mythological Passions brings together 29 works: 16 from the Museo del Prado and 13 loaned from other institutions. Particularly notable is the fact that exhibition makes it possible to see the mythological paintings created by Titian for Philip II between 1553 and 1562 and known as the poesie for the first time in Spain since the 16th century.

This has been made possible thanks to the exceptional collaboration between the Museo Nacional del Prado, which houses Venus and Adonis (1554); the National Gallery, London, and the National Galleries of Scotland, which jointly own Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto (1556-59); and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which houses The Rape of Europa (1559-62). These four works are joined by the Danaë from the Wellington Collection, London, which has recently been identified as the first in the series, and Perseus and Andromeda from the Wallace Collection, London, completing the series which Titian himself termed poesie. They can be considered among the most important creations within the artist’s oeuvre, not just for their artistic quality but also for the way in which the artist approached the pictorial account of literary narratives.

The project is accompanied by a catalogue by the curators which includes contributions from leading experts on the subject. It also presents the results of the technical study of the poesie that was jointly undertaken by the collaborating institutions.

Curators:
Miguel Falomir, Director of the Museo del Prado, and Alejandro Vergara, Chief Curator of Flemish and Northern Schools Painting at the Museo del Prado.

Access

Room C. Jerónimos Building

Organized by:
Museo Nacional del Prado
National Gallery
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Exclusive Sponsorship:
Fundación BBVA

Multimedia

Exhibition

The Exhibition

The Exhibition
Venus kissed by Cupid
Hendrick van den Broeck, after Michelangelo
Oil on panel, 120 x 195 cm
c. 1550-1570
Naples, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte

In Greco-Roman mythology love, desire and beauty are closely interconnected and rule the lives of mortal men. The myths on these themes were highly esteemed by Renaissance and Baroque artists who aimed to represent them with profound feeling. The socially elite collectors who commissioned paintings on these subjects enjoyed their erotic content while delighting in their own classical culture.

Titian was one of the painters who most influenced the rethinking of the Greco-Roman tradition in the Renaissance, for which reason he is the principal subject of this exhibition. The two series of mythological compositions that he painted for the Duke of Ferrara between 1516 and 1524 and for Philip II between 1552 and 1563 (the latter termed poesie by the artist) are among the most celebrated and influential of their time. The six compositions painted for Philip II have not been seen together in Spain since the late 16th century. Titian’s work influenced Veronese, Rubens, Poussin, Velázquez, Van Dyck and other artists, for whom returning to themes interpreted by their predecessor was a way of marking their own contribution to a pictorial genealogy to which they considered they belonged. The imagination of all these painters has given rise to a mythological universe of enormous variety and beauty.

Venus and the reclining female nude

Venus and the reclining female nude
Venus with an Organist and a Dog
Titian
Oil on canvas, 138 x 222,4 cm
c. 1550
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

While the emergence of mythology in Renaissance painting was the result of the growing interest in classical art and literature, from the outset it revealed its own characteristics. One of the innovations of this period was the reclining female nude, which had not existed as an independent genre in classical art. Giorgione and Titian devised this new pictorial typology in Venice around 1500 and it would subsequently be continued by Michelangelo, Velázquez, Goya, Manet and Picasso.

These female figures, whose nudity associates them with Venus or nymphs, initially appeared in bucolic landscapes, emphasising a harmony between art and nature that is present in literary texts of the time such as the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Following this, they were depicted in domestic interiors. Their eroticism is nonetheless evident, as revealed by the fact that they were frequently to be found in bedrooms and private spaces.

Titian and Rubens

Titian and Rubens
Bacchanal of the Andrians
Titian
Oil on canvas, 175 x 193 cm
1523-26
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Titian was a strong influence for Rubens, particularly following the latter’s visit to Madrid from 1628 to 1629 where he studied the large collection of paintings by the Venetian in the Royal Collection (subsequently the founding collection of the Museo del Prado). Together with classical literature, it was Titian’s paintings that provided the principal model for Rubens’s mythological works, defined by the idea of a fertile natural world filled with nymphs, satyrs and other creatures dancing in sensual poses. The two artists shared an idea of mythology based on love and desire as generating life forces and both made ancient myths feel irrelevant and close to home.

The poesie

The poesie
Venus and Adonis
Paolo Veronese
Oil on canvas, 162 x 191 cm
c. 1580
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

The poesie are the six mythological works that Titian painted for Philip II of Spain between 1553 and 1562: Danaë (London, Wellington Collection), Venus and Adonis (Museo del Prado), Perseus and Andromeda (London, Wallace Collection), Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto (Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland/London, National Gallery), and The Rape of Europa (Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum). By using the term poesie Titian was both associating himself with poets and proclaiming his liberty to interpret written sources, principally Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but also to substitute them with his own imagination when dramatic logic required.

The poesie were conceived to delight the senses - their erotic intent is evident - but also as displays of Titian’s skills and as vehicles for giving visual form to complex aesthetic ideas, such as painting’s ability to transmit emotions, its superiority over sculpture and the rival merits of colorito and disegno.

The poesie are among the most influential paintings in the history of art, as evident in the works by Italian, Flemish and Spanish artists on display here.

Mythological passions in the 17th century

Mythological passions in the 17th century
Venus and Adonis
José de Ribera
Oil on canvas, 179 x 262 cm
1637
Rome, Gallerie Nazionali d'Arte Antica di Roma

In the 17th century a number of artists reinterpreted the classical, adapting and renovating them, as had happened since ancient times. While Rubens remained close to the classical spirit and its interpretation by Titian, Velázquez (whose work can be seen in the previous gallery) and Ribera translated these myths into a realist language, Poussin charged them with emotion and Van Dyck represented them with his characteristic elegance and sense of spectacle. All these painters shared the aim of presenting viewers with dynamic images relating to love and desire, emotions that could produce a turbulent combination of joy and suffering.

Virtual Tour

Thanks to Gigapixel Second Canvas technology, which offers the maximum image quality currently available for a virtual visit, virtual visitors can now explore the rooms of the exhibition Mythological Passions.

In addition to enjoying a non-guided visit around the galleries and works, this Virtual Visit also offers a short Guided Tour led by Alejandro Vergara, one of the exhibition’s curators.

This virtual survey of mythological love through 29 works by the greatest figures of European painting offers a maximised, millimetric level of zoom for 7 of the paintings - Venus and a Musician and Danaë and the Shower of Gold by Titian; The Garden of LoveDiana and Callisto and The Three Graces by Rubens; Venus and Adonis by Veronese; and The Spinners by Velázquez - which shows far more than the human eye can see, including brushstrokes, craquelure or the artist’s signature, as well as a short, text-based account of the works that provides interesting information about them.

Price: 2,50 €

Virtual Tour

Artworks

1

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (or Poliphilo’s Dream of Amorous Turmoil)

Francesco Colonna

Venice, Aldus Manutius, 1499

Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España

Venus and Cupid
3

Venus and Cupid

Hendrick van den Broeck, after Michelangelo

Oil on panel, 120 x 195 cm

c. 1550–70

Naples, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte

4

Venus and Cupid

Alessandro Allori

Oil on panel, 143 x 226.5 x 14 cm

c. 1570–80

Montpellier, Musée Fabre, Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole

12

Danaë

Titian

Oil on canvas, 129.8 x 181.2 cm

c. 1560–65

Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

15

Diana and Actaeon

Titian

Oil on canvas, 184.5 x 202.2 cm

1556-1559

The National Gallery, London, and The National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, with contributions from the Scottish Government, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Monument Trust, Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), Artemis Investment the Management Ltd, Binks Trust, Mr Busson on behalf of the EIM Group, Dunard Fund, The Fuserna Foundation, Gordon Getty, The Hintze Family Charitable Foundation, J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, John Dodd, Northwood Charitable Trust, The Rothschild Foundation, Sir Siegmund Warburg's Voluntary Settlement and through public appeal, 2009

16

Diana and Callisto

Titian

Oil on canvas, 187 x 204.5 cm

1556-1559

The National Gallery, London, and The National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, with contributions from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), The Monument Trust, J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, Mr and Mrs James Kirkman, Sarah and David Kowitz, Chris Rokos, The Rothschild Foundation, Sir Siegmund Warburg's Voluntary Settlement, and through private appeal and bequests, 2012

The Rape of Europa
18

The Rape of Europa

Titian

Oil on canvas, 178 x 205 cm

1559-62

Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

19

Perseus and Andromeda

Titian

Oil on canvas, 183.3 x 199.3 cm

c. 1554-56

London, by kind permission of the Trustees of the Wallace Collection

Perseus and Andromeda
20

Perseus and Andromeda

Paolo Veronese

Oil on canvas, 260 x 211 cm

c. 1575-80

Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts

22

Landscape during a Thunderstorm with Pyramus and Thisbe

Nicolas Poussin

Oil on canvas, 192.5 x 273.5 cm

1651

Frankfurt, Städel Museum

Venus and Adonis
24

Venus and Adonis

José de Ribera

Oil on canvas, 179 x 262 cm

1637

Rome, Gallerie Nazionali d’Arte Antica di Roma

Venus at the Forge of Vulcan
26

Venus at the Forge of Vulcan

Anthony Van Dyck

Oil on canvas, 220 x 145 cm

c. 1630–32

Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures

Resources for the visit

Brochure

Exhibition texts

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