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The Museo del Prado is highlighting its collection of miniatures Tuesday, October 11, 2011

One of the most important collections of miniatures in any Spanish museum.

The Museo del Prado is highlighting its collection of miniatures

Presentation of the catalogue raisonné and restoration of Museo del Prado's collection of miniatures

In conjunction with the publication of the new catalogue raisonné of its miniatures collection, the Museo del Prado has organised the first exhibition of a significant part (36 miniatures and 3 small portraits) of its little-known collection of miniatures. At the presentation of the exhibition the Museum also provided details of the new publication, which offers the first compilation and analysis of the 164 miniatures and 16 small portraits that make up this interesting and significant part of its collection. The exhibition will be open to the public between tomorrow, Tuesday 11 October, and 26 February 2012 in the first room of the vaults that display the Dauphin's Treasure (Villanueva Building, First Basement Level), the most celebrated part of this area of the Museum's holdings.

The Prado will thus be offering the first display of works from its miniatures collection. Painted in gouache on vellum, small ivory panels or paper, miniatures represented the most intimate side of painting and in general related to the private realm. They also, however, acquired functions of State given that jewels containing miniatures were given by monarchs to ambassadors and foreign emissaries on the occasions of their ascents to the throne, royal weddings and the signing of treatises, concords and agreements. Miniatures were also used to commemorate successful military undertakings and the completion of special missions.

The accomplished miniature painter had to possess technical skill and precision in the use of the brush as the pigments were applied through the superimposition of dots of colour in the flesh zones, while the remainder was carried out in a technique comparable to oil painting. Both the small portraits and miniatures on display for the first time at the Prado are technically paintings, executed on various supports and in different materials but with the same function. Miniatures in the strict sense of the term did not exist in Spain until the 18th century so the function played by miniatures at other European courts was fulfilled in Spain by small portraits known as retratico or retrato de faltriquera, hence the importance of the three examples on display in the exhibition.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to appreciate the delicate technique used by the artists represented in this selection. Among the three images that should not strictly be described as miniatures but rather as small portraits, perhaps the most famous one is the oil on copper portrait of Juana Galarza de Goicoechea by Goya (1805), which belonged to the series painted by the artist on the occasion of the marriage of his son, Javier, to Gumersinda de Goicoechea y Galaza. Among the 36 works in the exhibition that can be defined as miniatures in the strict sense due to the type of support and materials employed, there are various examples by Spanish miniaturists, primarily dating from the nineteenth century. They include the portraits of Pedro de Alcántara Téllez-Girón y Pacheco, 9th Duke of Osuna (ca.1805) by Guillermo Ducker (ca.1799-1800); of the journalist Ramón de Navarrete y Fernández Landa by Cecilio Corro (ca.1844); of Isabel II, Queen of Spain by Juan Pérez de Villamayor (1863), and a Saint Michael by Manuel Arbós y Ayerbe (1865). Works by non-Spanish artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries include the Pair of female Portraits by Charles Guillaume Alexandre Bourgeois (ca.1800); the portrait of Francis I, Emperor of Austria, by Heinrich Friedrich Füger (ca.1790); and the portrait of Hans Axel von Fersen (ca.1784) by Niclas Lafrensen.

The display also includes an object that pays tribute to a prominent figure in the history of the Museo del Prado in the form of the recently acquired Nuptial Fan by Luis Eusebi of around 1790. The fan is painted in gouache on swan's skin and has ivory sticks with mother-of-pearl inlay. It is exhibited here for the first time. The Italian Eusebi (1773-1829) was a leading miniaturist and fan painter and above all an art historian who worked for the Real Museo de Pinturas from the time of its foundation in 1819 onwards. Specifically he was in charge of the area known as Stewardship of the Royal Museum. While responsible for the registration of works, management of costs and security, Eusebi's responsibilities were in fact close to that of a Curator as throughout his life he wrote the catalogues for the Royal Museum and actively participated in the preparation of strategic planning for the institution's artistic activities. This fan is one of the few works by him known today.

The present installation of the miniatures is accompanied by a video in which enlarged images reveal the techniques used in their creation and the range of colours.

The catalogue raisonné

The catalogue raisonné of the Museo del Prado's collection of miniatures is the result of a lengthy and exhaustive research project undertaken by the specialist Carmen Espinosa, the author of this publication, in collaboration with technical staff from various departments of the Museum. It will become an important reference text and one that will serve to highlight on a national and international level an art form that experts still consider insufficiently known and studied today.

The catalogue provides a complete compilation and documentation of the 164 miniatures and 16 small portraits in the Museum's collection. This collection was started in 1877 with the entry into the Prado's collection of two miniatures acquired by the State ten years earlier. From then on and through a number of donations, bequests and acquisitions the collection has continued to grow and is now one of the most important in any Spanish museum.

The catalogue starts with an introductory text that includes a study of small portraits painted on playing cards, copper and tin plates. It explains their devotional, domestic and official functions, the latter as gifts of State when incorporated into jewels between the 16th and late 18th centuries. The next text focuses on miniatures painted in tempera and gouache on vellum and on ivory panels which gradually came to replace the earlier small portraits. These works are grouped into schools, within which each miniature is located chronologically on the basis of its date. Works signed by or attributed to the same artist or circle are organised into groups that are headed by a brief biography of the artist. Most of the miniatures are reproduced life-size in the catalogue. At the end of the text is a list of signatures that will be extremely useful for scholars and specialists in this field.

The Spanish school is the one most extensively represented in the Prado's collection, with 76 works, a number that has enabled the author to fully assess the importance of Spanish miniatures and to locate a considerable number of Spanish miniaturists among the leading names in Europe. From now on, artists such as Guillermo Ducker, José Alonso del Rivero, Luis de la Cruz y Ríos, Florentino Decraene, Cecilio Corro, Juan Pérez de Villamayor, Manuel Arbós and Antonio Tomasich will occupy the position that they deserve within the Prado's collection while their output is now much better known, given the exceptional quality of some of the miniatures in the Prado. The collection also includes a significant group of works by Austrian, Italian, French, English, German and Portuguese artists dating from the second half of the 18th century to the early 20th century. Prior to the publication of this catalogue raisónne and in conjunction with its preparation, almost all the works included in it were cleaned and/or restored by technical staff at the Museo del Prado.

Technical study and restoration

Both the technical study and restoration of the Museo Nacional del Prado's collection of miniatures as well as the video that accompanies the present exhibition can be accessed on www.museodelprado.es.

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