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The Palace of the Planet King

The Palace of the Planet King

The Palace of the Planet King

Madrid 7/6/2005 - 11/27/2005

To commemorate the fourth centenary of the birth of King Philip IV (1605-1665), the Museo del Prado has organised this exhibition on the pictorial decoration of the Buen Retiro Palace, a building erected during his reign at the instigation of his favourite, the Count-Duke of Olivares. Philip, the fourth ruler to bear this name, was referred to in writings of the age as the Planet King on account of his association with the sun, the fourth element in the hierarchy of the planets.

The Palace was decorated with an extraordinary collection of paintings that were commissioned in Madrid, Rome and Naples. In just ten years (1633-1643) some 800 works by Spanish, Italian and French artists of the stature of Velázquez, Zurbarán, Ribera, Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Lanfranco and Domenichino were acquired for this residence, many of which later became part of the Prado's holdings.

The exhibition, which is divided into five sections, evokes the concept of pictorial series with which the different rooms of the Buen Retiro Palace were decorated in the seventeenth century. Particularly notable among the spaces was the Hall of Realms, the most representative and significant room in the Buen Retiro Palace, whose decorative scheme can be viewed as an ensemble here for the first time since it was dismantled in the eighteenth century.

Located on the east side of Madrid, the Buen Retiro Palace was originally an extension to a small royal lodging known as the Royal Apartment, attached to the monastery of San Jerónimo. Within a short space of time (1633-1640), the palace complex gradually took shape with the successive addition of new features: royal apartments, two open courtyards for jousting and bullfights (the Principal Court and the Large Court), the Hall of Realms, the Emperor's Court, the Servants' Court, the Casón or ballroom and the theatre, known as the Coliseo, where plays often requiring elaborate stage machinery were performed.

One of the salient aspects of the residence -which was occupied for only a few weeks of the year- was its park and gardens. The Queen's Garden, adorned with an equestrian statue of Philip IV (now in front of the Royal Palace), was particularly beautiful, as was the Large Lake, intended for boating and staging water spectacles.

The complex was destroyed during the War of Independence except for the Casón and the north wing of the Principle Court, which has since been extensively remodelled and now houses the Museo del Ejército (army museum). The gardens became what is now the Parque del Retiro, although virtually nothing is left of their original layout. There survive some exterior views of the Palace but unfortunately there are none of the interior.

Sponsored by:
Comunidad de Madrid



The Ancient Rome cycle

The Ancient Rome cycle
The Hunt of Meleager
Nicolas Poussin
1634 - 1639. Oil on canvas, 160 x 360 cm.

One of the most important series of paintings executed for the Buen Retiro Palace was the Ancient Rome cycle, which comprised at least thirty-four pictures. The guidelines for the paintings were established by the circle of the Count-Duke of Olivares, and the commissions were coordinated by the Marquis of Castel Rodrigo, ambassador to Rome, and Olivares's brother-in-law the Count of Monterrey, Viceroy of Naples.

The painters chosen by them included a broad representation of the most prominent artists active in Rome and Naples in the 1630s: Ribera, Poussin, Lanfranco, Domenichino, Finoglia, Romanelli and Stanzione, among others.

At least three different series have been identified. The first portrays Roman public entertainments-including athletes, gladiators, chariot races, animal fights and mock sea battles-and was designed to establish a link between the recreational uses of the Retiro Palace and ancient practices. A second group depicted scenes from mythology and ancient history, with themes relating to Bacchus and the Lupercalia festivities. A third series dealt with significant moments in the public life of an emperor: military victory, the highest expression of his authority, and the funus or ceremonies associated with his death.

Some of these works are on display for the first time and have been restored for this exhibition.

The Count-Duke, furies and buffoons

The Count-Duke, furies and buffoons
Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, on Horseback
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez
ca. 1636
Oil on canvas, 313 x 239 cm.

The main driving force behind the project to build and decorate the Buen Retiro Palace was the Count-Duke of Olivares (1587-1645), Philip IV's favourite and First Minister until 1643. His post of palace governor involved him directly in the design and execution of the architectural complex and its pictorial decoration. Velázquez's impressive equestrian portrait of Olivares presides this section, reminding us of his central role in the undertaking.

Also shown are Tityus and Ixion -known as the Furies or the Condemned- executed by Ribera. Of unquestionable political significance, these pictures came before the History of Rome paintings in the sequence of decoration in the Palace.

The section is completed with four of the six portraits of buffoons Velázquez painted for the Buen Retiro, which were hung in one of the rooms in the Queen's quarters. Some of the models were court actors, such as Pablo de Valladolid. Their presence in the Palace was linked to the Buen Retiro's conception as a place of recreation where the theatre was considered one of the most important leisure activities. The two paintings that do not survived showed Francisco de Ochoa and Cárdenas the Toreador Jester.

The Hall of Realms

The Hall of Realms
The Surrender of Breda or The Lances
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez
1634 - 1635
Oil on canvas, 307 x 367 cm.

The Hall of Realms, a large rectangular space in the centre of the northern wing of the building (now the Museo del Ejército), was the most representative and significant area of the Buen Retiro Palace. It derives its name from the coats-of-arms of the twenty-four realms of the Spanish monarchy painted on the ceiling. It was originally intended as a throne room, though festive events were also staged there. The monarch presided over the ceremonies from a seat of honour at one of the room short ends.

The room was very sumptuously ornamented. The walls, painted with grotesque decoration, were hung with pictures full of symbolic and political significance designed to glorify the King of Spain. On the north and south walls, between the windows, hung twelve battle scenes commissioned from court artists (such as Velázquez, Maíno and Cajés) celebrating the great victories won by the armies of Philip IV throughout his empire. Only eleven now survive. Above the doors and between the battle paintings were ten scenes from the life of Hercules by Zurbarán. Hercules was an allegorical model of the virtuous and heroic prince and was linked dynastically to the Hapsburgs, who considered themselves his descendents. The equestrian portraits of Philip III and Margaret of Austria were arranged at one end of the room, flanking the throne, and at the other end were the portraits of Philip IV and Isabella of Bourbon, also on horseback. Between them, above the door, hung that of Prince Baltasar Carlos. These portraits, painted by Velázquez, underlined the concepts of hereditary monarchy and dynastic continuity.

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