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Sacred Stories in the Museo del Prado

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 1/23/2012 - 5/26/2013

Entitled Sacred Stories. Religious Paintings by Spanish Artists in Rome (1852-1864), this display features five of the finest canvases of this type, all recently restored, by Madrazo, Rosales, Alejo Vera and Domingo Valdivieso. These artists achieved enormous fame in their own day, steering genre painting from a refined late Romanticism derived from Nazarene painting towards the new pictorial realism.Among the paintings on display in this gallery, the triumph of academic purism is evident in the work by Luis de Madrazo, The Burial of Saint Cecilia in the Catacombs in Rome, which reflects the enormous enthusiasm aroused by the recent discovery of the famous archaeological remains referred to above and which is the first painting of its type in this new genre. Madrazo’s canvas led on to other, increasingly realist compositions of an academic type such as Alejo Vera’s delicate composition The Burial of Saint Lawrence in the Catacombs in Rome, which takes Madrazo’s painting as its starting point but deploys a greater degree of realism. This evolution culminates in Domingo Valdivieso’s moving painting of The Descent from the Cross, with its powerful echoes of Italian sources. In his two, early religious paintings executed in Italy, Tobias and the Angel and Saint Catherine of Siena receives the Stigmata, the Madrid artist Eduardo Rosales represents the end of purist painting and points the way towards the formulation of a realist style in Spain that essentially looks back to Velázquez.

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Room 60: collections presentation gallery

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Exhibition

Paintings by Spanish Artists in Rome (1852-1864)

Paintings by Spanish Artists in Rome (1852-1864)
The Descent from the Cross
Domingo Valdivieso
Oil on canvas, 254 x 343 cm. 1864
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Together with Madrid and Paris, Rome was one of the principal centres for Spanish art in the 19th century. The unique significance of the Eternal City was the result of its centuries-old importance as a venue for the training of artists. By the 19th century, however, the period spent in Rome was considered the final phase in an artist’s academic training and marked the start of professional maturity.

The Spanish artists who came to Rome were generally the recipients of official study grants and were thus obliged to produce a large narrative composition that justified their funding. Some opted for historical episodes while others, influenced by the all-prevailing presence of religion in Rome, selected sacred episodes. From 1852 onwards, and following the discovery of the original burial place of Saint Cecilia and of the papal crypt in the catacombs on the Via Appia, there was a frenzy of interest in subjects from biblical history, which would acquire enormous appeal for almost all the artists based in Rome at that time. As a result, religious paintings with a historical/archaeological focus, among which scenes of the early martyrs were particularly favoured, became one of the principal areas of interest of the Spanish painters in Rome. Such compositions allowed them to comply with the requirement for erudite content with the degree of historical accuracy required by academic exercises, but at the same time to depict episodes profoundly imbued with the religious emotion that was inherent to the European mindset in the middle years of the 19th century. From this point onwards a large number of artists succumbed to the attractions of episodes from biblical history during their Italian soggiorno.

The religious paintings produced by Spanish artists in Rome marked a highpoint in the genre throughout the 19th century and were not only limited to Early Christian themes. Biblical history in its entirety, encompassing the Old Testament, the gospel episodes of the life of Christ and stories from the lives of the saints began to be depicted with this new historical rather than solely devotional focus. Artists thus included a wide range of archaeological details taken from sources believed to be absolutely reliable at this date and which allowed them to imbue their religious scenes with a high degree of realism. It was during this period of interest in historical realism in the mid-19th century that a major stylistic change came about in both Spain and the rest of Europe.

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