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With the support of American Friends of the Prado Museum thanks to the sponsorship of The Engh Foundation

The Prado Museum opens its north Ionic gallery with a permanent display reviewing over twenty centuries of sculpture Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Museo Nacional del Prado has architecturally refurbished the space of the north Ionic gallery, located next to the Central Gallery on the first floor, to increase the visibility of sculpture and decorative arts in its permanent collection. The resulting display gallery includes 56 outstanding works spanning from Ancient Egypt and the Roman world to the Renaissance and Baroque.

The intervention recovers the essence of the proposal of Alejandro Sureda who in 1881 conceived this space for sculpture exhibition.

The Prado Museum opens its north Ionic gallery with a permanent display reviewing over twenty centuries of sculpture

From left to right: Leticia Azcue Brea, Head of the Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts of the Museo Nacional del Prado; Miguel Falomir, Director of the Museo Nacional del Prado; Christina Simmons, Executive Director. American Friends of the Prado Museum, and Manuel Arias, Head of the Department of Sculpture of the Museo Nacional del Prado, in the Ionic gallery. Photo © Museo Nacional del Prado.

The new exhibit proposal of a selection of sculpture and decorative arts, offers the visitor a more panoramic, complete and suggestive approach to this artistic discipline and an overview spanning from Ancient Egypt to the Baroque. The refurbishment of the north Ionic gallery is supported by American Friends of the Prado Museum thanks to the sponsorship of The Engh Foundation.

The 56 works selected provide an eloquent recreation inspired in the style and manner that they formed part of important historical collections and span a chronology of over 2,000 years. Portraiture is one of the main themes in the gallery.

The presence and importance of sculpture in the Prado Museum dates back to its origins. Once the Royal Museum of Paintings was founded in 1819, already in 1826, the official sculptor, José Álvarez Cubero, was commissioned to visit the Royal Palaces to select works to be incorporated into the Museum. This task was continued by sculptor Valeriano Salvatierra bringing sculptures in different consignments, and exhibiting some of them. In 1838 the institution was renamed the Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture and the following year the rooms for this subject were officially opened.

In the second half of the 19th century, the sculpture collection continued to expand and, above all, included works awarded at the National Fine Arts Exhibitions. In 1862 the German archaeologist and scholar Emil Hübner published an extensive catalogue of the classical sculpture of the Museum, bringing about a new impulse by proposing a classification that placed it within the panorama of the most important European collections.

In addition to the rooms dedicated to exhibit sculptures on the ground floor of the Juan de Villanueva building, the architect Alejandro Sureda conditioned, between 1878 and 1881, the two first floor, front façade galleries, open to the Paseo del Prado and articulated, on the outside, with large columns of Ionic order. The sculptures were placed on plaster pedestals, a material that was also used for wall designs with the names of national and international sculptors, which remain in situ today. These spaces were used for sculpture galleries until 1919.

This installation carried out by the Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts of the Museo Nacional del Prado under the leadership of Leticia Azcue Brea and the Head of Department, Manuel Arias Martínez; recovers one of them, the one located on the north side, architecturally reconditioned, evoking the exhibition value of that traditional formula of a “gallery”. The sculptures are displayed in a suggestive space bathed with natural light, where you can enjoy them and observe in contemplation, their artistic prowess and particular color range.

The selection covers a wide chronological sequence, which begins with two Egyptian heads, a representation of this artistic period which is very small within the collection, which is complemented, at an expository level, with two other works that the Prado has permanently deposited in the National Archaeological Museum.

The enormous variety of models tell us about the validity of classical language and of its reinterpretation. The portrait has a very special role, where stereotypes, idealization and realism coexist in the display. The desire to know the faces of illustrious people goes back to the Greco-Latin past and this can be seen in very significant examples, from versions made in Rome of Greek philosophers and writers, such as Homer, Xenophon or Sophocles, to portraits of great historical people of their time, like the empress Julia Domna, through elaborate portraits of ladies or Roman interpretations of Egyptian iconography. It is an idea recovered in the Renaissance, as it can be seen in an important collection of large medallions intended for architectural decoration and inspired by numismatics, or large-format reliefs in colored marble such as that of Lucio Vero. Renaissance compositions show us sculpture-in-the-round portraits such as those of Julius Caesar or Cicero, or idealized compositions such as Hermes-Antinous, to conclude with the intense face of a Medusa from the end of the 18th century. Emperors, empresses, kings, philosophers, poets, Roman ladies, muses and other mythological characters, allegories and even detailed animal representations, among others, give a precise idea of ​​a fraction of the rich and varied collections of the Prado Museum.

The collection is completed with outstanding porphyry vases, the imperial material par excellence, and with an evocation of travelers through Italy with a view of the "Grotto of Posillipo in Naples", a place of pilgrimage related to the tomb of Virgil.

All of these sculptures remind us that, in their day, they belonged to some of the most prominent figures in the history of international collecting, such as Cristina of Sweden, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza or José Nicolás de Azara, and that they were acquired, for the most part, by the Spanish monarchs for the decoration of their palaces and royal sites, from where they proceeded to the Prado Museum in the 19th century.