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Made possible by American Friends with the generous sponsorship of American Express Foundation

The Museo Nacional del Prado recovers Velázquez original composition for The Spinners Monday, July 12, 2021

One of the great masterpieces of European art, The Spinners by Velázquez, is presented with a new frame that hides the later 18th century additions to the canvas from view and allows the visitor to contemplate the composition as conceived by Velazquez.

The work is integrated into an innovative installation specially designed for the masterpiece and incorporates new technical features for conservation.

The recovery of Velazquez’s composition marks the first action of the “Reframing the Prado” project which aims to develop new solutions and adequate framing features for the best presentation of the Prado’s collection.

“Reframing the Prado” is supported by American Friends of the Prado Museum thanks to the generous sponsorship of the American Express Foundation. 

The Museo Nacional del Prado recovers Velázquez original composition for The Spinners

From left to right: Javier Solana, Head of the Board of Trustees of the  Museo Nacional del Prado; Tomás Fernández, Chief Financial Officer of American Express Europe; Miguel Falomir, Director of the Museo Nacional del Prado; Andrés Úbeda, Deputy Director of the Museo Nacional del Prado; and Christina Simmons, Executive Director American Friends of the Prado Museum. Photo © Museo Nacional del Prado.

The Spinners or The Fable of Arachne is a principle composition of Velázquez mature period with a complex meaning. The new framing system developed by the Prado Museum now displays the work in the best conditions for visitors. The project, supported by American Friends of the Prado Museum thanks to the sponsorship of American Express Foundation, helps the viewer understand original significance of the painting.

For Javier Solana, Chairman of the Board of the Trustees of the Prado Museum, “ the support and collaboration from institutions like American Express Foundation and American Friends greatly help the Prado undertake innovative projects to best  display these extraordinary collections for the public.”

Historic additions affecting The Spinners by Velázquez.

In the 18th century, the canvas was extended around its perimeter with wide band of canvas above the original composition (the archway and dormer window) and slimmer bands onto the right, left and lower edges. This type of intervention was frequently performed in the Spanish royal collections, but in the case of The Spinners it detracts from the perception of the painting as conceived by Velázquez. The scene in the foreground is distanced from the scene in the background, converting its mythological content, considered key to understanding the work, to a genre scene.

The Prado Museum, aware of this effect yet conscience to preserve the historical additions, reframed The Spinners in the past few years with a system that allowed the Velázquez composition to be seen. However, this system made access to the back of the painting difficult and since 2017 the museum has been developing an improved installation that permits access to review the work at all times and shows the original composition. This process now reaches a successful and optimal conclusion.

An innovative modular system to view the original Velázquez composition incorporates improved technical aspects for preservation  

The new system consists of a thin, modular wall which will cover the additions of the painting and frame the Velázquez composition. The system addresses the dual requirements of aesthetically integrating the work into the gallery and including technical advances for preservation and protection. The installation is undetectable to the viewer, providing the most natural experience between the visitor and Velázquez’s masterpiece.

The design unites aesthetic criteria and preventative conservation by incorporating elements which would protect the painting from adverse conditions and employing sustainable materials; it will serve as a reference for future museum installations.

Tomás Fernández, Chief Financial Officer of American Express Europe indicates, “we are thrilled to contribute to this innovative and special project for the Prado Museum. American Express is firmly committed to conservation of artistic heritage of Spain and Europe and we strongly believe in the role of private corporations in protecting our cultural legacy. We thank the Prado Museum and American Friends for their efforts so that we may continue enjoying this iconic artwork for a very long time.”

Christina Simmons, Executive Director of American Friends of the Prado Museum, highlights their involvement in projects of conservation for the Prado Museum, “ to support the institution and spread knowledge of its magnificent collections in the United States.” “We greatly appreciate the generous grant from the American Express Foundation. Their sensitivity and ongoing commitment to culture make this collaboration possible.”