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Exhibition Museo del Prado - Fundación AXA

Return Journey. Art of the Americas in Spain

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 10/5/2021 - 2/13/2022

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The tornaviaje or return journey that lends its name to this exhibition provides an opportunity to view the artworks that found their way from the Americas into Spain and, by extension, into Europe during the Early Modern Age.

The aim of this show is to draw attention to this rich heritage from the New World that is housed in cultural institutions, religious spaces, and private collections chiefly in Spain through a hundred or so works. These objects, which arrived in different periods of the past, have become part of our historic and cultural heritage, though we are sometimes unaware of the reasons for their presence.

The exhibition is divided into four main sections. The first, 'Geography, Conquest, and Society', revolves around the concept of cultural landscape and examines the geography of the Americas, the conquest, and the peoples who inhabited these territories during the Early Modern Age. This section accordingly brings together religious works − Christian contributions that justified the conquest − of undeniable aesthetic value and pieces with views of cities where the urban layout and the market displaying local produce gave shape to a unique landscape. The various social strata who inhabited and went about their lives in these spaces are represented in paintings of noble families, clergy, viceroys, and, of course, native peoples − also with their own class differences − which illustrate this diverse society.

The two sides of the folding screen of the History of the Conquest of Tenochtitlan and View of Mexico City sums up the concept of this section quite well. One depicts the conquest of Tenochtitlan and the other, showing Mexico City inhabited by more than two hundred people, represents the historic moment of the founding of America and the vitality of the capital of New Spain and, by extension, the major capitals of the new continent.

The second section, 'Images and Cults, Away and Back', brings together an exquisite selection of oil paintings, sculptures, and drawings in order to analyse religious devotions, both American and Spanish, and the exchanges and hybridisations that took place. They give visitors an insight into the journeys and movement of devotional images as a result of the patronage of Spanish emigrants and a few viceroys who brought part of a shared memory back to their places of origin, especially their overseas experiences of faith. This section also highlights the constant sending of pieces of 'fine' painting from the most famous production centres of Lima, Upper Peru, Puebla de los Ángeles, and Mexico City, and includes works executed in Spain by important painters such as Murillo which illustrate the impact of the American imagery that played a part in devotional propaganda and the canonisation processes.

The third section, 'Art Crossings', focuses on one of the most productive art trades: the decorative objects that crossed the Atlantic bound for a variety of destinations. Here an assortment of furniture, including portable pieces and others intended for residences, enters into dialogue with a selection of personal effects, both household and religious, which is designed to encompass the broad range of types and illustrate the concept of 'treasure' we associate with objects from the Americas. The Indianos, emigrants who returned rich from the New World, provide the link between the distant lands from which these objects originated and the melting pot of Spanish towns and cities.

The fourth and last section, 'Legacy of the New World', features a group of apparently disparate works that are nevertheless related as references and reflections of the material dimension of Spanish American art throughout the Early Modern Age. It explains how the long tradition of pre-Hispanic art adapted to the new requirements of the Spanish kingdoms; how the indigenous master craftsmen interpreted the instructions and demands of the new society; and how, in turn, they incorporated languages and symbols from their own culture. Visitors are thus able to appreciate the richness of the heritage that arrived from the Americas and progressively became part of and shaped Spanish as well as European culture through a seamless change whereby America was embraced as part of our own Identity.

The research leading to this exhibition is also published in an accompanying catalogue.

The show is curated by Rafael López Guzmán, Professor of Latin American Art History at Granada University, with the collaboration of several specialists in visual culture of the viceregal period in the Americas.

Access

Room A and B

Sponsored by:
Fundación AXA
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