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Temporal presentation: The Plácido Arango donation

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 7/7/2015 - 11/22/2015

To mark the donation by Plácido Arango Arias of 25 works from his collection to the Museo del Prado and in order to celebrate this generous gesture with the public, nine of them will be on display with the aim of offering an idea of the exceptional quality and variety of the donation as a whole, which will enter the Museum permanently on the conclusion of the lifetime use agreement reached with the benefactor.

The works now on display from July are: Pedro de Campaña (Room 52c), The Route to Calvary and The Descent; Luis Tristán (Room 9b), Crucifixion; Francisco de Zurbarán (Room 10a), Saint Francis in Prayer; Francisco Herrera the Younger (Room 9), The Dream of Saint Joseph; and Francisco de Goya (Room 66), Bulls of Bordeaux.

This initial selection illustrates the importance of the donation, which both fills gaps in the Museo del Prado’s collection and increases the quality of the holdings of artists already represented in it.

Exhibition

Pieter van Kempeneer

Pieter van Kempeneer
The Descent from the Cross
Pieter van Kempeneer (1503-c. 1580)
Oil on oak panel, de 25 x 19,5 cm. c. 1570

Until now, the Museo del Prado had no painting by Pieter van Kempeneer, a painter born in Brussels who is documented in Seville from 1537 onwards, having spent some time in Italy (Bologna, Venice and Rome). Kempeneer was active in Spain until 1563, when he returned to his native city. His production is characterised by a fair number of altarpieces and devotional works, some of which are in a small format, in which he reveals himself as an excellent draughtsman with an original narrative sense, the result of his profound knowledge of both Flemish painting and also of some of the principal figures of early Roman Mannerism, such as Perin del Vaga and Polidoro de Caravaggio. 

In his most complex compositions, like the one which concerns us here, Kempeneer designed his groups in the manner of a frieze. The arrangements of the figures, many of them with their heads raised and their hands performing rhetorical gestures, became expressive formulae which he repeated in many of his works.

Christ on the Way to Calvary was painted in about 1547 as part of a private altarpiece for the church of the convent of Santa María de Gracia in Seville. The central panel, The Descent from the Cross, is preserved at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, and another tondo, The Resurrection, is in the Várez Fisa collection. The subject matter of the three works formed an appropriate iconographic grouping for a 16th century funerary chapel, and the commission for the altarpiece in fact came from Elvira de la Barrera, the widow of the Sevillian juror Luis Fernández, to whom the set was dedicated. The two tondos were cited in 1547 as pending completion, providing documentary evidence that allows the group to be dated.

Works designed in a circular format are rare in Kempeneer’s production and otherwise fairly infrequent in the Spanish art of the time. The Calvary which crowns the Altarpiece of the Purification at Seville Cathedral (1555) is also painted on a wooden tondo, as are the images of St Peter and St Paul on the St Nicholas Altarpiece in Córdoba Cathedral (1556).

Enrique Valdivieso has explained that such works were the production that could be assumed by an aging artist engaged in work that did not require a great physical effort. Besides drawing and providing compositions for the Tapestry Factory of his native city, Pieter van Kempeneer was also able to accept commissions for small-format works in which he transferred the monumentality of his earlier compositions to new expressive formulae, with a special emphasis on the representation of landscape and the details of the figures and objects accompanying the scene.

The panel from the Arango collection is one of the most emblematic and carefully executed creations of the 1570s. The central part of the composition resumes the central idea of the print by Marcantonio Raimondi, present in earlier versions of The Descent from the Cross. Here, however, the centre of the field of vision is opened up to create a complex representation of Mount Calvary, shown as a narrow promontory, stepped and rocky, outlined against a very open landscape beneath a broad sky. Rising precariously on the sides of this hill are the tall crosses bearing the two thieves. The minute and precise brushwork shows us another side of Kempeneer, that of a painstaking practitioner of piccola pittura.

The work is signed in Latin next to the bones which, contravening tradition, appear not at the foot of the cross but some distance away: Hoc opus faciebat / Petrus Campaniensis.

Luis Tristán

Luis Tristán
Calvary
Luis Tristán (1585/90-1624)
Oil on canvas, 173 x 155 cm c. 1613

This image of the dead Christ on the cross, flanked by the Virgin and St John, is regarded as one of the finest canvases among the many Calvaries painted by this Toledan artist. It is also a significant example of his painting, often indebted to the compositions and figurative models of his fundamental master in Toledo, El Greco, but also to the Caravaggesque Tenebrism that characterised Tristán’s second and definitive formative period in Rome, where he lived from approximately 1606 to 1612.

Back in Toledo, the painter dedicated himself above all to religious works, following many of El Greco’s compositions and models. This is appreciable in the Calvary, with its elongated figures, expressive hands and small heads standing out against the dark background, where some of the urban landmarks of Toledo, in this case the city walls and the Bisagra Gate, have been included in the manner of El Greco.

Otherwise, the compact modulation of the brushstrokes and the use of contrasting lighting can be explained by Tristán’s Roman training. Characteristic of the Toledan artist is the representation of the cross by two barely hewn wooden beams and a broad sign in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

The probable date of execution, always problematical in the case of Tristán, has been linked with a commission from the monastery of Sisla (Toledo), where he undertook in November 1613 to paint a “dead Crucifix with the Virgin and St John”. Its subject matter, quality and dimensions make this Calvary a fundamental piece for the collections of the Prado. Although the institution has half a dozen works by Tristán, all of them important, there was no example among them of one of the artist’s most singular contributions to the Toledan art of the period, represented in this case by an example of exceptional quality and size.

Francisco de Zurbarán

Francisco de Zurbarán
St Francis at Prayer
Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664)
Oil on canvas, 126 x 97 cm. Signed in 1659

We identify St Francis by his habit, the clearly emphasised cord, and the wound in his right hand. He raises his eyes to heaven, holds a skull in his left hand, and has a crucifix resting on a book opposite him. All this defines the act of prayer in which the saint is immersed as the direct result of meditation.

St Francis at Prayer was painted in Madrid in 1659, in the last years of Zurbarán’s life, and constitutes a paradigmatic example of the thematic interests, narrative formulae and descriptive technique which characterise this final phase of his career. Since 1650, the painter had taken a determined path towards greater chromatic openness and tonal unity, which meant the elimination of the strong lighting contrasts that had previously characterised his work. This change reflects a wish to update his style and adapt it to the new interests of the public, and it becomes patent when we compare this piece with earlier representations of the saint. Although he continues to play with the dramatic effect and descriptive possibilities of contrasts between lights and shadows, the tenebrism has here been greatly tempered, the modelling has become softer, and the composition is invaded by light, multiplying the chromatic range. By contrast with the dark and homogeneous backgrounds predominant until then, the saint stands out against a luminous blue sky.

On that road to stylistic renewal, however, Zurbarán still preserved the principal qualities to which he owed his fame. Both the saint and the objects next to him are rendered with extraordinary precision and realism, and the scene is extremely successful at transmitting an intimate, withdrawn and devout atmosphere. Unlike more static earlier works, this one emphasises the temporal dimension: the succession of the book, the skull, the hand on the breast and the raised eyes eloquently describes the phases leading from meditation to prayer, and displaces the action from the interior of the picture (the book and skull) to the exterior, the heaven at which the saint is gazing. The picture, which was owned by Aureliano de Beruete, allows the Prado to incorporate a work of the highest quality that represents one of the subjects most directly associated with Zurbarán’s fame and reputation.

Francisco de Herrera the Younger

Francisco de Herrera the Younger
The Dream of St Joseph
Francisco de Herrera the Younger (1627-1685)
Oil on canvas, 208,3 x 195,5 cm. c. 1662

While St Joseph is sleeping, an angel comes to him and points to the dove of the Holy Spirit, whose appearance in the heavens creates a luminous burst of glory. Beneath it are some angels bearing a mirror and flowers, an allusion to the fact that Mary remained a virgin despite being with child. Next to the saint, we see a bag with an adze, a brace and other carpenter’s tools.

The dream of St Joseph was a relatively frequent subject in Golden Age Spain since it brought together the interest in the saint fomented by St Teresa with the deeply rooted devotion to the Virgin. The scene is usually shown as taking place in an interior, frequently a carpenter’s workshop. Herrera the Younger, however, makes it an exterior scene, a change with important consequences from an aesthetic point of view since it allows the artist to demonstrate his finest skills. Since his return to Spain before 1654, the painter had achieved extraordinary fame and renown with large compositions in which one or several figures were backlit against bursts of glory that dissolved forms while filling the picture surface with light and colour, though this was by no means inconsistent with a total command of draughtsmanship and composition. This work, with its perfect union of form and content, belongs to that group, which inaugurated High Baroque painting in Madrid and Seville. Nothing could better express the ethereal and impalpable nature of dreams, miracles and mystery than this pictorial style, likewise ethereal, luminous and impalpable.

The extraordinary virtues of this picture were recognised from an early date. This is clear from a commentary by Antonio Palomino in 1724, who saw it in its original setting, St Joseph’s Chapel in the church of Santo Tomás in Madrid, “where there is also a remarkable picture of the dream of Saint Joseph (…) on the pinnacle of the altarpiece, which I hold to be among the most delicate work and in best taste that I have seen by him.” This reference obliges us to date the work after 1660, when the painter settled definitively in Madrid. With this piece, the Prado’s collection is joined by one of the masterpieces of the Spanish High Baroque, contemporary with the paintings by Murillo, Claudio Coello and Herrera himself that are kept by the museum, and which demonstrate the ability of the finest artists in the country to create a strongly original and distinct language of their own.

Francisco de Goya

Francisco de Goya
[Divided Bullring]
lithographic stone: lithographic crayon and scraper, black ink, wove paper, 325 x 417 mm. [Impression]. 1825
printed at the lithographic establishment of Gaulon, Bordeaux

Bulls of Bordeaux (four prints)

  • The Famous American Mariano Ceballos, 1825
  • [Brave Bull], 1825
  • Spanish Entertainment, 1825
  • [Divided Bullring], 1825

Although Goya had already shown an interest in lithography while in Madrid, it was in Bordeaux that he fully explored the expressive possibilities of this new medium. In November 1825, a year after his arrival in the city, he made the four prints of the Bulls of Bordeaux, of which 100 copies were run off at the workshop of the celebrated lithographer Cyprien Gaulon. The lithograph suited the needs of the octogenarian Goya in that it could be executed quickly, since it consisted of drawing directly on the stone, and spontaneity was therefore its essential quality. The style of these lithographs is very close to the one he used at the same time in the two Bordeaux drawing albums. In both media, Goya gave free rein to his capacity for invention on the basis of certain lived experiences, sometimes more or less distant memories, like the bullfighting scenes, and sometimes rather closer, like the popular characters he had seen in the French streets.

The strokes of the lithographic crayon on the stone, of different thicknesses and intensities, combined with the effects of the scraper, used to make white lines, gave rise to vibrant compositions in which he once again represented a bullfight characterised by the violence and irrationality that go hand in hand with it. The multitudes that had appeared in The Disasters of War, and very particularly in La Tauromaquia, come very much to the fore in these prints, often with deformed physiognomies and terrified faces.

These prints are the expression of Goya’s character, faithful to his aesthetic and ideological convictions, and always ready to continue experimenting. It may be that their success was delayed, as had occurred also with the engravings of La Tauromaquia, by the combination of their formal freedom and their tragic character. Today, however, they are regarded as one of the high points of the art of lithography and of Goya’s oeuvre.

These four works, which, as we have said, constitute one of the crowning achievements of Goya’s graphic work, were not to be found in the collections of the Museo del Prado. The donation of these works to the museum, which is known to possess the finest collection of work on paper by Goya, therefore fills a gap in our collections that will allow us to contextualise the artist’s late work.

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