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Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado

Houston 12/16/2012 - 3/31/2013

Portrait of Spain is installed according to themes within three distinct eras of Spanish history: 1550 to 1770; 1770 to 1850; and 1850 to 1900. Masterpieces by the leading painters of the day from each of the four centuries include works by Francisco de Goya, El Greco, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Jusepe de Ribera and Diego Velázquez. Artists who worked for the royal court and directly influenced the development of painting in Spain are also well represented, with superb paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo and Titian.
Javier Portús, Chief Curator of Spanish Painting until 1700 at the Museo Nacional del Prado
Supported by:
Organized by:
Museo Nacional del Prado
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston



1550-1770. Painting in an Absolutist State

1550-1770. Painting in an Absolutist State
King Philip IV in Hunting Garb
Diego Velázquez
Oil on canvas, 189 x 124 cm, c. 1633
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Outstanding portraits, mythological scenes, devotional paintings and still lifes by artists including El Greco, Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Zurbarán exemplify the splendor of Spain’s Golden Age, when the empire was at the zenith of its global power, and offer a glimpse of courtly life under the expansionist Habsburg (1516–1700) and later the Bourbon (1700–1808) monarchs, who ushered in the Enlightenment to Spain. The use of portraiture and mythological themes as expressions of royal power; the role of religious imagery in painting; and the symbolism employed in still-life imagery to espouse the virtues of a civil society all factor in the development of Spanish painting during this time.

1770-1850. A changing world

1770-1850. A changing world
María Antonia Gonzaga, Marchioness of Villafranca
Francisco de Goya
Oil on canvas, 87 x 72 cm, c. 1795Oil on canvas, 87 x 72 cm, c. 1795
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Against the tumultuous backdrop of the French Revolution; the Napoleonic Wars and France’s invasion of Spain; and the onset of a series of devastating civil wars, Spanish artists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries turned to chronicling a variety of levels of Spanish society. Preeminent among the artists during this unpredictable time was Francisco de Goya, who was painter to the courts of Charles IV and Charles V and who later in life graphically depicted the casualties of war and madness. In this exhibition, Goya’s work is represented by major Neoclassical portraits, including those of Manuel Silvela and the Marquesa de Villafranca, and an important selection of prints from the artist’s three extraordinary series: Los Caprichos, Los Disparates and Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War).

1850-1900. The Dawn of modern Spain

1850-1900. The Dawn of modern Spain
Nude Old Man in the Sun
Mariano Fortuny,oil on canvas, 76cm x 60cm, ca. 1871
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Following the civil wars, the emergence of a fledgling Spanish national identity in the mid-19th century was supported by a period of relative economic prosperity. A move toward Romanticism brought with it a focus on genres that reflected the ideals of middle-class taste of the period, including landscapes, portraits, historical and religious scenes and nudes. Featured in this section are the works of Federico de Madrazo, known for his history painting and his portraits (and as a onetime director of the Prado); Eduardo Rosales, who looked back to Diego Velázquez in pursuit of a new Realism in Spanish painting; Mariano Fortuny, whose fascination with Orientalist themes reflected his exotic travels and international career; Aureliano de Beruete, one of the earliest Spanish painters to identify with the Impressionist movement; and Joaquín Sorolla, whose realist paintings depicting the lives of fishermen and farmers explored the effects of sunlight and shadow and pushed Spanish painting toward the threshold of modernity.


Museum of Fine Arts. Houston

Established in 1900, the MFAH is the largest art museum in the region. The museum’s main campus is located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District and comprises the Audrey Jones Beck Building, designed by Rafael Moneo and opened in 2000; the Caroline Wiess Law Building, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and opened in 1958, with an extension completed in 1974; the Glassell School of Art; and the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi and opened in 1986. The Beck and Law buildings are connected underground by the Wilson Tunnel, which features James Turrell’s iconic installation The Light Inside. Additional spaces include a repertory cinema, two significant libraries, public archives and a conservation and storage facility. Nearby, two remarkable house museums—Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, and Rienzi—present collections of American and European decorative arts.

Related activities

In conjunction with Portrait of Spain, the MFAH has organised a range of educational activities that will introduce visitors to Spanish culture. For detailed information, please consult the events calendar


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