Spanish Drawings from the British Museum: Renaissance to Goya
3/20/2013 - 6/16/2013
- Mark P. McDonald, Curator in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum
3/20/2013 - 6/16/2013
Room C. Jerónimos Building
In 1561 Philip II established Madrid as his capital. Two years later he laid the foundation stone for El Escorial, which was conceived as a monastery, the burial chamber of the Hapsburg dynasty, a library and the repository for Philip’s vast collections of art, relics and natural wonders. Completed in 1584, it required an enormous workforce including engineers, architects and artists from across Europe.
The time he had spent outside Spain during his youth, where he had seen the work of some of the best Flemish and Italian artists, shaped Philip II’s taste for art. Renowned Italian painters such as Federico Zuccaro, Pellegrino Tibaldi and Luca Cambiaso were chosen for their ability as fresco painters and they executed most of the mural decoration of the Escorial. Their drawing styles and techniques and how they used drawings to prepare their compositions had a lasting impact on the Spanish artists working alongside them, as well as on future generations. Other Spanish masters, such as Alonso Berruguete, spent time in Italy. What they experienced during their travels left a deep mark on their work and is visible in the drawings they made on returning home.
The main developments in prints and drawings in and around Madrid during the late 1500s and early 1600s are related to changes in techniques and practices in an environment receptive to innovation.
The masters who best reflect this transformation are the Italians who came to Spain as children, such as Vicente Carducho, or who belonged to the first generation born in Spain, like Eugenio Cajés. They inherited the belief that drawing was the key to the creative process and acted as an important link between their predecessors and a new generation of artists who would spearhead the golden age of Spanish drawing. From around 1650 we may speak of the existence of a style of painting distinctive to Madrid. Artists of this period, such as Francisco Rizi, Juan Carreño de Miranda, Francisco Camilo and Francisco de Herrera the Younger, used highly varied drawing techniques, with mixed media and larger sheets of better-quality paper. Drawings were put to many uses, such as planning theatre design, triumphal entries and architectural projects.
During the early 1500s Seville became the commercial centre of the Spanish Empire. Like Cordoba and unlike Madrid, it had no court to focus artistic activity and commissions therefore came mainly from the church or private patrons.
It is difficult to form a clear picture of workshop practice in 16th-century Seville. In fact it was not until the 1600s that the city became a centre of artistic production with artists like Francisco de Zurbarán and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo rising to great prominence. In 1660 Murillo and Francisco Herrera the Younger established an academy of drawing in Seville. It operated for fourteen years and taught many students, reinforcing drawing as the basis of artistic practice.
Other masters trained in Seville and went on to have brilliant careers in the capital, such as Diego Velázquez, Herrera the Younger and Alonso Cano. Although these artists’ mobility make it difficult to identity a regional style, dominant figures such as Francisco Pacheco in Seville and Antonio del Castillo in Cordoba had a tremendous influence on those around them.
During the 1500s and 1600s Valencia prospered thanks to its thriving commercial trade in the Mediterranean. For many merchants and travellers the city was the point of entry before moving on to other parts of Spain. From the 15th century onwards its wealth and cosmopolitan nature were expressed through extensive artistic patronage and it is no coincidence that it was one of the first places where graphic practices associated with Renaissance Italy took hold.
Francisco Ribalta and Pedro de Orrente established the general guidelines for drawing in Valencia in the first half of the 17th century. Their skill at handling wash sets them apart from artists anywhere else in Spain. From the late 1600s and throughout the whole of the 1700s Valencia produced prominent draughtsmen who trained at private and official academies of drawing, such as Vicente Salvador Gómez, Juan Conchillos and José Camarón.
José de Ribera deserves special attention owing to his outstanding activity as a draughtsman. Although he was born in Játiva (Valencia), he pursued most of his career in Naples, where he practiced drawing as a formal and independent exercise.
The French artists sent for to Madrid by the new Bourbon dynasty had a considerable part in shaping taste during the first half of the 1700s. However, artistic alliances began to be dissolved towards the middle of the century owing to the greater influence of their Italian counterparts and of the Bohemian painter Anton Raphael Mengs.
The event that had the most profound consequences for artistic practice and the professional recognition of the artists working in Spain was the founding of the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid in 1744 where drawing was a fundamental aspect of teaching. The dissemination of academic studies and the wish to bring art up to the standard of other European countries ensured drawing a solid position. By the late 1700s Spanish masters had a thorough knowledge of the latest artistic trends.
Although the drawings made in Madrid in the 1700s were chiefly academic studies or preparatory sketches for paintings or frescoes, this was not their only use. Other varieties were architectural drawings and those preparatory for prints.
Goya died in Bordeaux at the age of eighty-two leaving a body of work remarkable for its imagination, artistic vision and profound humanity. Through his drawings he explored fantasy, beliefs and human conduct and often grouped these works into series in order to explore more complex themes. Goya witnessed major social and political changes ranging from the terrible effects of the Inquisition to the French occupation. The independence of his political thought, his criticism of superstition and his rejection of intellection oppression reflect the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment.
Although his dedication to graphic art makes him an exception, he was far from being a ‘misunderstood genius’ and his work should be interpreted in the context of the scientific, social and artistic development that was taking place in the 18th century.
Goya expressed his most intimate thoughts in his albums, which are rich samplers of his imagery and provide an outstanding insight into his personal world and creative process. He made drawings for all his prints and carried on drawing until the end of his life with a steady hand and boundless imagination.
The collection of Spanish drawings in the British Museum is one of the best outside Spain and includes works of exceptional quality. It comprises around 200 works with sheets by artists from the mid-16th to the 20th century. The collection has grown in a sporadic manner. The first acquisitions in the mid-19th century reflect the growing interest in Spanish art in Britain, encouraged, among other factors, by the publication of the two volumes of the Handbook for Travellers in Spain by Richard Ford (1845) and of Annals of the Artists of Spain by William Stirling Maxwell (1848). Both writers were also collectors: Ford assembled a large group of prints and drawings, including some by Murillo that he acquired in Seville, while Stirling Maxwell collected paintings and drawings. Among the first Spanish drawings to enter the British Museum were works from the collection of the Viscount of Castel Ruiz, purchased at auction at Christie’s in 1846. They included The Apotheosis of Saint Francis of Assisi by Teodoro Ardemans and Saint Ildefonso receives the Chasuble from the Virgin by Antonio de Pereda. This first acquisition by the British Museum of drawings from a Spanish collection would be followed by further purchases from Spain during the 19th century. The Castel Ruiz collection constituted an important group of 30 works. Some were attributed to Italian artists at the time but have recently been re-assigned to the Spanish school including Queen Esther fainting by Mosén Domingo Saura. In 1850, four years after the auction of 1846, the Museum purchased a key group of Spanish drawings from the London print dealer and publisher Henry Graves, including The garrotted Man by Goya, Saint tied to a Tree by Ribera, and Carducho’s The Storming of Rheinfelden.
In the second half of the 19th century the growing interest in Spanish drawings in Britain coincided with an increasing appreciation of Spanish art in general, evident in the creation of collections that specialised in other fields such as Spanish painting and the decorative arts. Four of the nearly 60 works attributed to Murillo that belonged to Alleyne Fitzherbert, Baron of St Helens, whose collection was sold in 1840, entered the British Museum, two of them in 1873 as a donation from James Hughes Anderdon. The splendid group of Spanish drawings assembled by the Museum encouraged the arrival of further works and in 1890 the collection was increased with two key drawings by Luis Paret y Alcázar and one by Miguel Jacinto Meléndez, which considerably strengthened the 18th-century holdings.
Among the 1,000 drawings that the Museum acquired in 1895 were some of the most finest Spanish sheets from the collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch (1805-1893), a wealthy Scottish landowner and magistrate who lived in London. In 1860 Sir John Charles Robinson (1824-1913), director of the art collections at the new South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum) sold Malcolm his notable collection of drawings. The importance of that group can be reconstructed through the catalogue of Malcolm’s drawings that Robinson produced in 1869. Over the following years Robinson continued to advise Malcolm on his acquisitions, travelling to Spain where, among other items, he acquired a group of drawings with the help of José Madrazo, director of the Museo del Prado and founder and director of the Real Establecimiento Litográfico in Madrid. They included Head of a Monk attributed to Zurbarán and The Assumption of the Virgin by Herrera Barnuevo. In the introduction to the 1869 catalogue Robinson set out the criteria that had guided him in building up Malcolm’s collection. Of the four rules that he considered essential, two were as follows: “Aside from the attribution, only collect examples of indisputable excellence as works of art”, and “In the case of less eminent masters, only acquire the most outstanding and best preserved examples.” It is clear that he applied these criteria in the case of the drawings by Zurbarán, Herrera Barnuevo and others that came to the British Museum from the same source.
In the 20th century a series of important acquisitions and donations further enriched the collection. Drawings from the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872) donated by Count Antoine Seilern in 1946 through Philipps’s grandson and heir Thomas Fitzroy Fenwick included magnificent drawings by Spanish artists, among them Christ struck by a Torturer by Ribera and The Last Supper by Luis Antonio Planes. This donation also included four sheets considered at the time to be by Velázquez but now attributed to the Florentine artist Jacopo Confortini (1602-1672). In the second half of the century and coinciding with the decline in interest in this field, the Museum was less able to acquire Spanish drawings, thus losing the opportunity to enlarge the collection with works by Goya that were still available at that time. The superb group of prints by that artist in the Museum’s collection arrived relatively late, in 1975, from the collection of the Hispanist Tomás Harris. Since then, Spanish drawings have only been acquired sporadically although there have been some excellent additions including the noteworthy Design for an Altarpiece in a Chapel by Sebastián de Herrera Barnuevo. Despite this and due to the generosity of the Ottley Group that funds the acquisition of Old Master drawings, in the past few years some important drawings have entered the collection, including Study of a male Nude with one Knee on the Ground by Juan Conchillos y Falcó and Christ distributing Bread to his Disciples by Miguel Barroso and Diego López de Escuriaz.
The accompanying catalogue analyses the works on display in the individual entries and also includes a brief history of drawing in Spain from the 16th to the 19th century in the form of five introductory texts to the entries: “The introduction of graphic practices: Castile 1500-1600”; “Madrid, artistic capital 1600-1700”; “Andalusia 1550-1700”; “The drawing in Valencia 1500-1700. Ribera in Naples”; and “The 18th century and Francisco de Goya”.
The catalogue also includes an introductory essay that offers a general analysis of Spanish drawing with a focus on its critical fortunes, origins and distinctive characteristics, concluding with the history of the Spanish drawings collection in the British Museum. All the texts are written by Mark McDonald, the exhibition’s curator and the curator of the British Museum’s collection of Spanish drawings.