Bartolomé Bermejo: The first Genius of Spanish Painting
The monographic exhibition of Bartolomé Bermejo is no doubt the best prologue to the acts of homage to the bicentenary celebrations of the Prado Museum inasmuch as this artist is for many people the first genius of Spanish painting. A genius who has risen up from the centuries-old living together in Spain of Christian, Moslem and Jeewish, cultures, all of them dominated by religious fanaticism, and who has reached artistic excellence when he absorbs the XVth century Italian and north European ideas and techniques. Bartolomé Bermejo’s greatness is rooted in his particular capacity of continuing to be faithful to himself and, at the same time, assimilating better than anyone else the most advanced foreign artistic influences, confronting them with his strong realism and religious expressionism, employing his capacity for idealizing human forms and creating deep, translucent colours which are only comparable with the transparencies of the great Masters of Art of northern Europe. There is no doubt that the originality of the Spanish Renaissance rises up from this duality between an art rooted in an absolutely theocratic society and the taste for foreign artistic currents enjoyed by eminent patrons of Art who favoured the important transit of Flemish and Italian artists who brought with them the new concepts of the Ars Nova.
We therefore celebrate that the London National Gallery has programmed this exhibition for 2019; the year when the National Gallery of Art of Washington will organize the exhibition of Alonso Berruguete. Both exhibitions give to these two Spanish geniuses the glory they deserve, rescuing them from oblivion. Two geniuses not sufficiently acclaimed in the international world who are imbued with an absolutely personal interpretation of the Renaissance models and whose closeness to us and capacity for communicating with the spectator are the reason why their works of art seem to us so contemporaneous.
The exhibition is organized with the habitual thoroughness of the Prado Museum, showing 17 of the 18 works which constitute Bartolomé Bermejo’s catalogue, including three outstanding works about which I take the liberty of expressing the thoughts they have inspired in me.
The Saint Michael triumphant over the Devil with the Donor Antoni Joan (1468) of the National Gallery is definitely a pièce majeure and represents better than any other the decline of the gothic principles which give way to the Renaissance. This work is pervaded by a sense of melancholy so characteristic of transitional periods and shows the ostentatious pomp expressed in its rich colouring as well as in its fluctuating shapes, so as to make the spectator feel a purely aesthetic experience; it is a work lacking in intensity regarding the traditional values concerning religion and warfare which still held their sway in the Hispanic kingdoms and attains all its greatness thanks to the beauty of its forms. An Archangel Saint Michael whose origin we may probably find in the one painted by Hans Memling in the triptych The Last Judgement (1466), but which I prefer to compare with another work which, though it is of a later date, has a similar meaning: Young Knight in a landscape (1510) by Vittore Carpaccio, in the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum. Both scenes seem to be episodes of the same story, with a soldier in armour as the only protagonist, surrounded by a symbolical vegetation which defines the aesthetics of the medieval knight who has lost all his war function, the decline of an arch-type which was treated for the first time in such a masterly way by Simone Martini in her Portrait on horseback of the Condottiere Guidorriccio da Fogliano (1328).
The Saint Michael Archangel by Bermejo symbolizes the triumph of the new values brought to life in the representation of the scene where the beauty of the saint overwhelms the stereotyped ugliness of the demon. This devotion of Bermejo to beauty in itself as an expression of Divine Grace placed in contrast to the horrifying monster, symbol of evil and heresy, represents, in its artistic aspect, something absolutely new in the Hispanic environment which the painter himself only occasionally offers; as, for example, in the central panel of the Triptych of the Virgen de Montserrat in the Cathedral of Acqui Terme. In these two exceptional works the passionate sentiment of tragedy, so Spanish as northern, surrenders before another one which is purely aesthetic, more Italian in style, rather colder, and even announces a certain mannerism which I would even attempt to relate to works of the Pre-Raphaelite movement of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) and Edward Colley Burns-Jones (1833-1898) with special reference to Saint George killing the Dragon. In this respect, it will not be by chance that at the end of the XIXth and beginning of the XXth centuries Bermejo was rediscovered and converted into the Spanish Gothic painter par excellence.
The triptych of the Virgen de Montserrat (1483-1489), whose central panel is outstanding due to the modernity of its composition, inasmuch as that following the models of Bouts, the landscape shares protagonism with Our Lady and the donor. A painting dominated by two converging lines leading to a maritime view which is, in my opinion, more Italian than Flemish and reminds one of the Mediterranean with its bright light and its calm, and is in perfect accord with the nationality and activity of the donor, the well known Italian merchant settled in Valencia, Francesco della Chiesa. The landscape, though rendered in great detail in which Bermejo carefully represents the multi-coloured flowers and two monasteries built according to a complicated architectural style, mixing romanesque and gothic features, is composed in an idealised way and quite different from the standard rocky models of other Virgen de Montserrat paintings.
In this work Bermejo conquers us with an idealised conception of beauty in harmony with the diaphanous light which bathes the whole composition transmitting spiritual values. The beauty of Our Lady attracts the spectator like a magnet and symbolizes Divine Grace; the two paths represent the essential part of the message, the camin di nostra vita, the dilemma of Man’s life, to which the painters of the North continually refer. The path which sets forth from the Virgin Mary symbolizes our advancing decline which frees us from the material world and leads our soul towards a calm and silent sea which, after merging with the sky, ascends to eternity amongst the glorious clouds. The other collateral path rises up to a ridge and leads us to a cliff, a precipice which may threaten the end of our life. Two interpretations of a scene which nowadays conveys us to a universe belonging to Dalí where the elements, both real and symbolical, only make sense thanks to the subjective interpretation granted by the spectator.
La Piedad Desplà, painted for the Cathedral of Barcelona in 1490 under the patronage of the Archdeacon Luis Desplà is for many people Bermejo’s Masterpiece employing in this work all the resources which as a genius of painting he has experimented throughout his life. It is his last known work and the climax of his artistic talent.
This large work (175 x 189 cm) breaks into the spectator’s scene with an absolutely present-day rotundity and immediacy due to the highly correct combination of the protagonism given to the Virgin Mary, deeply sunk in grief, and to an immense landscape which serves as a frame and, at the same time, grants overwhelming greatness to the scene.
Our Lady captures immediately our attention by her agonising expression to the point that the recumbent Christ would seem a secondary figure if it were not for the gash on his side from which flows thick and deep garnet coloured blood which the Virgin Mary seems to show to us so as to move us even more. The composition reflects certain iconographies and above all the aura of melodramatic expressivity of Roger Van der Weyden. I would, however, like to point out analogies between this work and the Pietà of Villeneuve-les-Avignon by the French painter Enguerrand Quarton due to their predominantly horizontal forms, and specially to the particular position of Christ with regard to the Virgin Mary. Luis Desplà, portrayed as the donor, situated in a masterly fashion two steps behind the Pietà, seems to be imagining the scene, deepening its dramatism with his profoundly self-absorbed expression. Saint Jerome, on the Virgin Mary’s other side, is a supreme feat of artistic virtuosism thanks to the sumptuous folds of his garments, the colour of his cloak and his special expression of a scholar deeply absorbed in his Bible; all this, in fact, duly accentuated by the spectacles which the saint wears in his careful reading and by his delicate hand which seems to point to an episode in the book.
If the Pietà moves us by its dramatism, the landscape gives a cosmic greatness which manifests to us the immensity of God’s work and the reason for Christ’s sacrifice. It is difficult to find a precedent, the closest ones being the Crucifixión painted by the Flemish artist settled in Valencia Louis Allyncbrood, and the San Jorge painted in Mallorca by Pedro Nisart; both paintings have high horizons and the sea is protagonist; they remind us of the landscape of the Virgin Mary of Montserrat. It is, however, the kind of atmosphere found in some landscapes by Memling which is closest to this painting by Bermejo, although none possesses the immensity which years later will appear in the work by the great Master of landscape, Joachim Patinir, or in the water-colours of Lake Garda, painted by Dürer on his first trip to Italy in 1510, or later on, in 1529, in the magnificent Battle of Alexander (1529) by Albrecht Altdorfer. In all these works we reach a virtuosism in painting representing the universe in all its extent which combines a telescopic and a microscopic effect, reaching in the case of the Pietà de Desplà an intellectual content due to the symbolism expressed in each of the scenes described in the composition. In the foreground there are all the flowers and plants, each with their own symbology. In the middle-ground two paths lead, one to Babylon, the city of evil, sunk in a storm, the other to Jerusalem, bathed in a luminous dawn, both cities separated by a mysterious flock of birds. All this is an enigma which is impossible to solve, but which doesn’t lessen an inch of the realism of the scene.
In conclusion, I can only express my deep satisfaction and my most sincere congratulations to the Prado Museum, the Museo d’Art de Catalunya and specially to Joan Molina Figueras, for the great result of this exhibition which shows ever again that Art, with its capacity to create enthusiasm and express our culture, can smooth out our differences and explain so many things... Manuel Azaña has said indeed: El Prado es más importante que la República y la Monarquía juntas.
Carlos Herrero Starkie
Link to the Prado Museum - Bartolomé Bermejo's exhibition
A Watteau for Auction at Christie’s, New York
In Christie`s-New York October Old Masters Auction and coinciding with Tefaf Fall, there appears a work which has captured my attention more than any of the rest. What, however, was most surprising was that it starts at an estimated price of only 60.000-80.000 dollars. This is a portrait by, in my opinion, the greatest genius of French painting and without doubt one of the most outstanding artists of world painting: Antoine Watteau.
Few figures can even approach the level of pictorial sensibility of Watteau and very few have been able to reveal visibly in their work the essence of the epoch in which they lived, in Watteau’s case, the Regency of the Duke of Orleans after the death of Louis XIV, initiating the century during which the highest level of refinement has been reached and which was, at the same time, affected by a premonition of abyss and barbarism, reflected in the arts in a melancholic optimism; a century which had many features similar to our past XXth century, with its blind faith in progress and knowledge combined with a permanent sensation of a fatal destiny and the lack of adaptability of the individual persons to social changes. Very few artists attain a Master`s level in their work from which to represent the culture of a period or a nation at a specific time. Velazquez is perhaps one of those, with regard to the Spanish XVIIth century, also imbued with that aura of sadness and melancholy of the decadence of the Austrias; Van Dyck, during his English period, also knew how to express to the same extent this premonitory aspect of decline of certain values that only men of genius with a sensitive soul and the finest technique have been able to capture. Goya and Picasso, endowed with a personality and artistic resources so different from Watteau’s, both capture the catastrophic magic of their respective epochs, and closer to us, Hopper and Bacon are those who have known best how to represent the loneliness of ordinary persons, which was the deep-rooted illness of our modern, falsely optimistic society of the second half of the XXth century.
Yet Watteau’s pictorial work, like that of Velazquez, has perhaps something which is more desirable for the collector, since his artistic life was cut short by an early death. How many indisputable Watteaus are there in the world? The maximum number must be about 100 paintings, almost all gathered together in the Recueil Julienne, and fortunately many more drawings. Therefore the appearance in an auction of a painting by Watteau should be hot news, but unfortunately it is not all the more so, bearing in mind its low estimate at 60000 to 80000 $.
This doubtless should make us think...
What’s happening in the Art Market? Why is a world organization so supposedly well informed, so flagrantly mistaken? Why is the present Market so opposed in such a disrespectful way to the stamp that the History of Painting has given to a Master such as Watteau? Is it a question of taste? Or of the state of condition of the work? Is it because it is not a work sufficiently representative of the artist? As it is a portrait and that few people nowadays like to have the effigy of an unknown person in their sitting-room...
All this, may be correct, though certainly not entirely so, and, in any case, what does it matter? It is a Watteau!!!
And the Museums... How many of them haven’t even got a drawing by this Master? Are they waiting for Godo, that is to say, waiting for the work to come in a perfect state of condition, something almost impossible for a Watteau, and that it is comparable to his most eminent works like his Pèlerinage à l'île de Cythère which inspired so deeply Proust, or his famous Gilles, both in the Louvre; meanwhile they allow an opportunity such as this to pass by disregarded, with arguments which, in my opinion, are questionable since this picture is the unique and unrepeatable testimony of the best interpreter of the Century of Enlightenment. They are all mistaken... I don’t mean the Louvre, or the Gemäldegalerie of Berlin, obviously, but definitely the non-European Museums, almost all of which haven’t a single work by the artist. They should all take advantage of the opportunity presented to them in this Market dominated by private collectors who are ever richer and supposedly better informed, though massively imbued with the taste of our time which seems to reject what is sensitive, subtle, hidden, merely suggested yet beautiful, and for that reason they completely ignore the century of delicacy in favour of immediacy and what causes an impact in Art.
While I am writing this blog, I am even more convinced that the IOMR ought to be present at the bidding of the auction and therefore I am conscious of the great contradiction to our interests to spread information on this opportunity. But does that matter?... Paris vaut bien une messe...and Watteau certainly deserves it... Anyway we ought not to be successful because our resources, which are strictly concentrated on other projects, do not allow us to surpass the estimated price announced by Christie’s and that would mean that the work would have been badly sold. That is not fair for Watteau. We would, however, be delighted if one of our wealthy friends and patrons of IOMR would acquire it.
But let us get back to the picture and try this time, if our love of Watteau allows us, to be more objective. In this attempt to free ourselves from our passion, let us analyse whether the objective reasons that have driven an auction house as prestigious as Christie’s to assign to this picture such a low rating are really valid at the present moment.
The first and most important reason is the at least questionable state of condition of the work because this affects the work itself. The painting has zones which show erosion to the extent that in many places the imprimatura is evident and the top layer of the marvellous transparencies, so characteristic of Watteau’s clothes, has disappeared and we can glimpse drawing underneath and flashes of light. There is also, undoubtedly, overpainting due to two restoration campaigns which, at first sight, do not appear excessive. But none of all this conceals the composition. The drawing and the colouring, although lessened, are there: Watteau’s fluid paintbrush is still there; the melancholic expression of the portrayed lady captivates us just as much, and the dog which gazes at us with a fixed stare so typically Watteau’s has not lost a whit of its strength; the other hound pokes its snout affectionately in the delicate hand of the lady, seeking a caress and creating a fusion of delicate communication which so captivates us in Watteau. Furthermore, the state of condition of almost all Watteau’s paintings is, to say it benevolently, precarious when not actually bad, to the extent that Museums almost prefer not to intervene in restoration. Their colouring does not usually correspond to the tone of the time of creation, and usually have excessive craquelés due to the use by the painter of too much material (obtained by blending ground pigments), though, in other areas, the contrary is what occurs, caused by using too fine transparencies which consequently disappear, leaving visible the imprimatura, as is the case of the painting we are now commenting. Its state of condition is therefore not an exceptional case, nor does it prevent us from perceiving the enormous quality of the work.Though it is a fact that from the present market’s point of view works in an excellent state of condition are what above all are appreciated ,in Watteau’s case, however, it is almost impossible for a work to appear thus and anyway we have flagrant cases like the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo, with a much more important loss of the original paintwork, which reached 400 million dollars this year, precisely at Christie’s.
The second reason is based on the fact that XVIIIth century painting is considered at the lowest rating of contemporary taste. This prejudice is absolutely real at present, though, in my opinion, the works of the great Masters should be considered above the artistic tastes in fashion during every epoch. The great Masters have a quality granted by history and that is their value.
Lastly, the third reason lies in the fact that we are dealing with a portrait, a subject which is not at all the preferred object of contemporary taste and furthermore is not representative of Watteau’s great Masterpieces which are, without any doubt, his Fêtes Galantes. In my opinion, this portrait goes beyond the special iconography of a portrait, in strictu senso, inasmuch as Watteau paints a huntress with her hounds, her shotgun and her trophies. The picture bases its excellence in the way he paints the interplay between the primary and secondary elements of the painting. The dog on the left which gazes out fixedly is what gives all the mystery to the scene and the communication with the portrayed lady, shown by the other hound, is what confirms Watteau’s similarly fine delicacy in the highly sought-after Fêtes Galantes. In my opinion, the composition in itself is a feat of originality, with the woman seated at one side, and the intimate communication between its elements, the sky, and the hounds, which is more characteristic of a genre picture than of a portrait; this is the touchstone which describes the autographic character of the work. On the other hand, we find ourselves facing one of the two indisputable portraits by Watteau which, according to Christie’s catalogue, is the only one representing a woman resting after a hunt. All this should increase its artistic value and in a normal world which respects quality and uniqueness, these criteria should be reflected in its market price.
In conclusion, this work is an opportunity for anyone who wishes to enjoy a unique work in his collection or hanging over his mantelpiece in his house, as well as making a magnificent long-term investment; and no doubt for Museums which don`t have a Watteau in their rooms, it is a real bargain. I would recommend them not to mind bidding high. I would, however, advise those who have only a short-term vision, both art gallery owners and investors, they should only be interested if the work keeps within the estimated value because its prospects of revaluation unfortunately may be smaller than what is desirable.
Carlos Herrero Starkie
Notes on a Lamentation of Christ by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
It is no doubt unusual for a work of Art by Goya, already included in all the pertinent catalogues raisonnés, to be selected for study by IOMR since our mission is precisely that of rediscovering forgotten works of Art, and restoring to them their recognized authorship and lost splendour.
In the case we are now commenting we are facing a picture representing a Lamentation of Christ whose authorship is unanimously assigned to Goya in the catalogues by Gudiol 1970 n8 /1980 n5; Gassier & Wilson1970 n8/1984 n12; De Angelis 1974 /76 n19; Camón Aznar 1980 pág. 42; Xavier de Salas 1984 n9; J.L. Morales 1990 n6 / 1997 n3; Arturo Ansón "Goya y Zaragoza" 1995 pág. 61; catalogue online Fundación Goya y Aragón, año 2012. All these authors coincide in dating this work between 1768 and 1770, just before his journey to Italy, and in considering it one of the devotional paintings young Goya carried out at Fuendetodos. This would coincide with his origin of having belonged, according to Gudiol, to a family of Fuendetodos.
We all, however, know that Goya’s work has lived for the last twenty years, through a period of constant revision urged by the Prado Museum; and even works as deeply part of Goya’s oeuvre as the portrait of Marianito, in the Albuquerque collection, or El Coloso belonging to the Prado itself, which has now been down-graded to an anonymous work, or La lechera de Burdeos, recently investigated for doubt regarding its authenticity as a Goya, although up to the present it has not lost its attribution to the Master. Furthermore, as a result of the exhibition Goya and his Aragonese roots 1746-1775 held in Zaragoza in 2015, Manuela Mena, Head of Dept. of XVIIIth century Art, Prado Museum, ratified the recent revision of Goya’s work carried out during his youth. On the one hand, she has supported the opinion of the recognised professors Juan Carlos Lozano and José Ignacio Calvo that certain specific works assigned up to that date to Goya’s authorship, such as the pechinas of San Juan el Real of Calatayud and the Hermitage of La Virgen de Muel painted before his journey to Italy as well as the pechinas of the church of San Juan Bautista of Remolinos and the groups painted belonging to the palace of Sobradiel carried out immediately afterwards, were not painted by Goya; yet various new discoveries corresponding to the period of Goya’s return from Italy acquire the status of works effected by the hand of the Master, principally due to reasons based on his style and pictorial technique. All this leads us to the conclusion that there is a predominant idea among contemporary scholars which rejects attributing to the young Goya works previous to his journey to Italy, dated the end of 1769 when he was already 23 years old and when we may suppose him to have gained some artistic experience mainly because they consider that there do not exist sufficient reasons to make a pronouncement on his authorship. Such a situation is the cause that this period, which is biographically relatively well documented, is almost completely an untracked land from an artistic point of view since there are scarcely any works to represent it. From this restricted viewpoint only three works are recognised as belonging to the period, including one which is lost.
We are thus lacking a project of catalogue raisonné which would make Goya’s oeuvre up to date, and the institution responsible for this task can be no other than the Prado. This project could encourage curators to give their opinion regarding works historically considered by Goya and would grant security to collectors and the Art market, who are too dependent on experts who are often reluctant to respond in writing or even to emit their judgment orally. We have two fortunate examples of cataloguing projects on artists as prolific as Goya in the Corpus Rubenianum and the Rembrant Research Project.
With regard to the Lamentation of Christ we are now commenting, I cannot conceal my first impression as a lover of Goya’s work when I first held in my hands this small picture; it was like a hunch, feeling that this work goyeaba at one’s first glance. After this intuition, I embarked on an exercise of attribution, doubtless not free of risks, and set myself to analyse in depth the reasons which, according to my understanding, were the basis for my initial enthusiasm.
May this analysis serve as an example of how a collector-connoisseur observes, has an intuition and connects an artist with a specific work of Art:
The immediacy and reality with which the painter treats the scene so that one may feel it close to life and real, where the artist reveals the human pathos of death with no conventional mannerisms, excluding figures of the celestial world, such as angels, which might confuse his pure sense of reality so that what first surprises one in the picture and what, in fact, makes it closer to Goya and therefore reminds one of the engraving, Desastre Nº 26 No se puede mirar and Nº 14 of the same series, Duro es el paso in which Goya treats death with a completely contemporary closeness.
The sensation of vigour, dynamism and natural movement shown by Saint John, the assistant who covers Christ with a shroud, is dressed according to modern times and reminds us of so many peasants in the tapestry cartoons and the series of engravings and of whom we only find precedence in the spontaneity of some of the lads of Luca Giordano. All these figures are in contrast to the monumental strength of the soldier or apostol, who stands immobile behind Christ; this figure presents certain similarities to the ones painted in the frescoes of the Church of the Cartuja Aula Dei and to certain classical sources, probably inspired in the Hercules of Farnesio; the hieratical character of the torso and neck of the recumbent Christ, free of any mannerism, representing death simply as it is, with scanty concessions to any conventionalisms typical of Corrado Giacchinto’s style, and whose dead countenance slightly set in relief by light is so typically goyesque that it reminds me of the picture of the etching Agarrotado (1778) and the moribund person in the picture San Francisco de Borja y el moribundo impenitente (1788); such a work as this, full of changes of rhythm and dramatic movement, typical of Beethoven 's symphonies, we do not find in other painters of Goya’s period, least of all amongst those of Zaragoza totally influenced by the Rococo movement and Italian Classicism and yet, we decidedly perceive it in Goya’s paintings in all its epochs when he endows his work with this lively spirit which makes him the best documentalist of his time and even a forerunner of the cinema.
The creation of a sense of space , fostered by the fusion and interaction of resources perfectly integrated in a work of such small dimensions presupposes to some extent a technical feat which does not save it from certain errors which are also typically Goyesque and characteristic of an artistic spirit not yet mature. This question is perhaps that which most facilitates the comparison of our picture with his work during the years 1771-1773, such as Anibal, Santa Bárbara, the frescoes of the Cartuja de Aula Dei and the recently discovered Huida a Egipto . On the one hand, the holy men, so correctly diffused and subtly illuminated with an inner glow which seems to spread out from the background at the right, with a halo which is more akin to Tiepolo than to Giacchinto and certainly similar to the figures which appear under an archway at the left of the Desposorios de la Virgen at the Cartuja Aula Dei, (1774); furthermore, in the background, to the left, some soldiers who are merely sketched, render a sense of distance to the scene; these figures are given importance in a marvellous way by a feature which Goya frequently uses, marking them out with a pale line as in the sketches of Aníbal (1771) and in the Santa Bárbara (1772) which surprise us. On the other hand, the recumbent Christ, placed in an almost foreshortened position, and represented with a tomb-like rigidity, appears natural and very different from the mannerist code which ruled the artistic circles which Goya frequented and which only in the way he would cross his legs, there could be perceived a certain mannerism of classical sources, or even derived from Bernini (Cupid and Psyche). All this, as Goya does in his engravings, giving priority to the foreground, as well as imbueing a sense of reality and immediacy which is so inherent in Goya’s painting and whose closest precedent can only be found, perhaps, in Tiepolo. The composition is the result of a great technical originality following what Goya himself said in his brief autobiography, written in Bordeaux, that in his youth, after copying the Masters and the models of Luzan, he let himself be led by creativity.
The combination of a light which rises up within the picture towards the exterior, out of that deep darkness already so characteristic of Goya in the seventies on his return from Italy, created by certain transparencies painted in oil over the reddish imprimatura in harmony with the flashes of another vertical light overhead which is separate from the rest of the scene and which falls on the Cross and above all on Christ, specially on his lifeless features and on the brutal spasm of his body, such as only Goya would do; all this is what definitely gives the sense of drama to the picture and is our touchstone when we study the authorship of the work.
The colour palette is an essential element of the picture, as long as it does not correspond to the cold, mother-of-pearl tone dominating the rococo Giacchintoesque style, followed faithfully by José Castillo, the Bayeu, the Gonzalez Velázquez and Maella; on the contrary, it is dominated by a range of warm colours much closer to Luca Giordano and to late Baroque Neapolitan painting. In this work earth-coloured tones can be appreciated under a greyish nocturnal sky, which is partially lightened by streaks of blue. Both these tones blend with the reddish imprimatura that surges up from the canvas, (This effect would be strengthened by an opportune cleaning of the picture), favouring the funereal atmosphere and setting corresponding to the Lamentation of Christ. What, however, really captures the attention of the viewer is the contrast between the typically Giordanesque yellow and blue of the cloaks of Mary Magdalene and Our Lady which stand out all the more thanks to the red touch of St. John’s sash, creating a special foreground view which gives this particular goyesque closeness and scenographic sense.
From a technical point of view the way he illuminates the salient pleats of clothes so as to draw attention to them, alternating real chains of light with hollow shades, giving the composition the monumental grandeur which we always appreciate in any work by Goya. Finally, the special bravura when he treats with only four brushstrokes St. John’s red sash, reminds me of the one he painted in the full-length portraits of the Duchess of Alba years later.
All this makes us believe that we are facing the work of a genius, not of a mere follower of Italian rules, but rather of someone intent on creating the reality of a scene, just as he would have seen it if he had been present like a privileged spectator. In this sense Goya was doubtless a forerunner and this picture, if its dating is confirmed, would be the first in which Goya shows his authentic artistic individuality, marking his distance from not only his Masters Luzan and Bayeu, but also from Corrado Giaquinto and even Tiepolo, surpassing them all in originality and modernity.
Carlos Herrero Starkie
View the image/ Discoveries
In Homage to the Prado Museum on the occasion of its Bicentenary: Goya and Modernity
The opportunity of studying at the IOMR a Lamentation at the Death of Christ, attributed to Goya, has given rise to finding myself facing this genius of Spanish painting and making me conscious of the outstanding importance of the Prado as an institution, not only for preserving the works it treasures, but for safeguarding and spreading the spirit of Spanish painting. I have returned to the halls which hold most of Goya’s masterpieces with the special predisposition to value how the Prado has assumed its historical responsibility to transmit the visual message, both particular and universal, of Spanish pictorial genius which we find par excellence in Francisco Goya, its most modern painter and thus confirming even more the extension and the immense vitality which the Prado Museum exerts in the international artistic field.
In no other Museum do we have the chance of contemplating almost the entire Corpus of an artist as occurs in the Prado with Velazquez, Goya and, to a certain extent, with Rubens and Titian. In no other museum does one feel a more complete sensation of the pictorial taste of a nation when one visits the Prado, how the Spanish artistic genius develops, how it breaks models, and how the great foreign Masters influence it, and in fact how develops a national artistic identity. In no other Museum does one perceive a similar clash of Titans, not only because of the excellent way each Artist is exhibited, allowing us to visualise the real landmarks in the history of our painting, but also showing how they are united by means of a common slant which makes them belong to the same root, much more than to a school, inasmuch as, since they are unique and unrepeatable figures, they do not have disciples, but only followers; this perhaps is because their talent is essentially rooted in their spirit, in their capacity to anticipate and in their revolutionary character which guarantees that eternal modernity which is their distinctive feature. It is for this reason that we say Velazqueño or Goyesco as if their followers have no personal identity since they lack the aura which distinguishes the Master. In the Prado, the foreign schools turn around the Spanish genius since their two main axes, the Flemish and Venetian schools, are inexhaustible sources which have nourished Spanish painting. On this firm coherence rests the identity as well as the universality of the Prado and in this respect it differs from the MET, the National Gallery of London, the National Gallery of Art of Washington and the Louvre.
The Prado fosters its own identity concentrating itself on enriching its own idiosyncrasies rather than filling the vacant spaces which are evident in some of its foreign schools, especially its Dutch and English schools. Since the Prado received in 1991 the legacy of Manuel Villaescusa, most of its purchases, save in the case of great exceptions such as The blind man and the Zanfonia by Georges LaTour (2001), Wine and the Feast of San Martin by Pieter Brueghel, the elder (2000) and Our Lady and the Pomegranate by Fra Angelico (2010), have been guided by the wish to encourage in scholars, the connoisseur or simple visitor a greater knowledge of Spanish painting. I shall only mention the works which directly come to mind: The flight to Egypt by El Greco (2000) which shows clearly his amazing pictorial change on arriving in Spain: The Pope’s barber by Velazquez, acquired because the Prado lacked a work belonging to his Roman period; Goya’s Italian notebook (1993) which has facilitated a deeper study and cataloguing of Goya’s young period; The Resurrection of St. Lazarus by José Ribera which explains his youthful work, only recently discovered (2001); the portrait by Goya which without doubt most enchants us, La Condesa de Chinchón (2000); the purchase of a panel by Alonso Berruguete whom many consider the first representative of Spanish artistic genius, and yet there was no example of his work in the Museum (2017). The Prado has not neglected artists considered less important and, just recently, has acquired, amongst other purchases, the small picture A woman asleep, magnificent example of eighteenth century melancholy by Luis Paret (2013), or the portrait which best represents the elegance and candour of Agustín Esteve (2017) and one of its latest acquisitions, the wonderful portrait of the Marquesa de la Espeja by Madrazo (2018), outstanding painting of the Spanish XIXth century. To this vision corresponds the Prado’s objective of connecting with the historical past of its collections incorporating El salón de los Reinos of Buen Retiro Palace*, in the artistic triangle constituted by the Prado, the Thyssen and the Reina Sofía Museums which can only be compared with the Museumsinsel of Berlin. Perhaps the idea of opening itself to the present and future of Art is what guided its most daring projects; some of these culminated in success such as that of inviting Caí Guo-Quiang to develop a completely innovative project as was his spirit of painting and others which failed, however, at their outset, such as the idea defended by Miguel Zugaza of receiving permanently the Guernica, a project which many of us considered the best homage to the eternal modernity of the Prado, but which weighty considerations such as the state of condition of the picture and its being the principal icon of the Reina Sofía Museum rendered inadvisable.
For all these reasons and coinciding with the bicentenary of the creation of the Prado Museum we must offer a just homage to all its directors and curators, with a special mention to its patrons for how they have carried out their role of guardians of the temple of Spanish painting. This recognition should be reflected in an increased patronage since, incredible though it may seem, this immense heritage counts on ever diminishing state support*; moreover, the world of business and the Prado are also distant one from the other. Perhaps we ought to seek in that area the clamorous lack of external financing. In this respect it is admirable to socialise Art with the purpose of making Art reach everybody and everywhere, but, in my opinion, one of the Prado’s priorities should be to strengthen the links with Spanish business firms, arousing the interest of their leaders in Art, in the significance of the Prado and Spanish painting in the world today; making them see the benefits they may obtain, not only financially, but also in the valuation of their image, as well as in the cultural enrichment of their employees so as to strengthen their creativity and capacity of observation. This difficult activity of convincing is not simply a question of tax exemptions, but rather of arousing individual emotions, appealing more to one’s heart than to one’s mind and this can’t be done in the office, nor at cocktails, nor in lecture halls, or press conferences, but rather sharing with these leaders the collection, inviting them to the Prado to enjoy enthusiastically the masterpieces exhibited. We must not forget that Art has always been linked with patronage and without patronage it would have been difficult for Art to reach excellence.
If there is an artist to whom the Prado has devoted all its attention for the last few years that is Goya, and the reason for this is largely due to the fact that Manuela Mena, with her strong personality, has been head of Goya’s department since 2001. Now, doubtless, a few months before her retirement, is the time to recognise that, beyond all discussion, Goya’s fame has been greatly reinforced due to the number and the quality of the acquisitions of his works made by the Prado during the last twenty years, the countless conferences that Manuela Mena has given, spreading knowledge of Goya’s genius and, although here we are embarking on troubled waters, we must appreciate her systematic study of his paintings, drawings, and graphic works, bringing up-to-date Goya’s catalogue; in short, her turning the Prado into the indisputable and, by all generally accepted guardian of the quintessence of Goya. There are, of course, those who will agree and others who will definitely disagree with the removal from the catalogue of certain works by Goya, with the use and abuse of his name as the creator of modern artistic currents, but no one can criticise the care, sensibility and closeness with which the Prado has approached Goya during the last few years.
In this respect, on my return to the halls which exhibit the works by Goya I could not fail to be surprised by what is for me fundamental in a Museum; namely, the way in which these treasures are exhibited, a subject which is often neglected by institutions in spite of the fact that this is one of the aspects where the creativity and sensitivity of those responsible are clearly manifest. The Prado has been able to combine in a masterly fashion both the aesthetic and didactic criteria without following a strictly chronological order in its presentation. The Goyas to which one has the tendency to approach first, on entering by the Jerónimos door, are two of his closest works to us and of great modernity, the El dos de Mayo and Los fusilamientos de la Moncloa el 3 de mayo. In both pictures the scene occupies our vital space as if we were part of it. From here we pass to a rectangular hall where all his frightening black pictures are exhibited; these are the origin of the veta brava which is so Spanish and the source of the European expressionist movements. In a room situated on the floor above, as if pertaining to another painter, at the end of a central gallery where the Rubens and Italian baroque paintings hang, we arrive at a room over which presides the family of Carlos IV, which, noblesse oblige, marks clearly the end of one of the principal outlooks of the Prado Museum. In other rather narrow adjoining rooms we find Goya, the portrait painter of the aristocracy and the majas; the latter, we must admit, claim, with all their rights, but with no success, the privilege of enjoying a more intimate space, even a room reserved for themselves , as they had in their previous abode, Godoy’s Palace, which, like the Prado, was accustomed in the old days to exhibit Masterpieces. Finally, we have to go up one more floor, by lift, to reach the celestial world of Goya and his cartoons. There we instantly have a premonition that we shall be immersed in something superior, difficult to explain, Goya’s play with light; an almost scientific study of how humans become alive by means of light; in this case, simple everyday scenes are transformed into vital axioms. This is something which Goya will continue to do till the end of his days in different ways, in his portraits, his caprichos, his disparates; he will give form, better than anyone else has ever done, to the dark inside-out world which are our dreams, our nightmares transferred to real life in the disasters of war where reality is greater than fiction. The Prado has treated with special care these rooms and for this reason we say that it looks after Goya, it loves him, it feels that he belongs only to the Prado and that is why it understands him better, empowering in a real triumphant exhibition these cartoons of tapestries; although they are not the most significant collection which can facilitate a comprehension of the modern Goya, it certainly is the one which allows us to approach the daylight world of his painting, and to some extent, get closer to him though not yet penetrate his anguish. Everything here is broad daylight, the neutral colour of the walls, the general daylight which bathes the rooms, the diaphanous texture in which the work is presented to us in a world of perspectives, combining axes, forming pendants, creating groups of cartoons which correspond to specific commissions and different subjects. We even remember how well appeared in the Pardo Palace the tapestries for which these cartoons were made. What better homage could be offered to the Age of Enlightenment, so optimistic in all its fragility; and how wise that we should have been induced to view just before, in an inverted chronological order, his horrors of War and the black paintings, in a sequence which I would describe as Picassian, contemplating the beginning of Goya’s work after having lived through his conclusion, in a new kaleidoscope outside time or type.
I would finally like to express what remains in my mind when we finish our visit to a museum like the Prado or after contemplating the work of a painter like Goya. We have enjoyed sensations which remain in our visual memory; now we must think over them and entertain ourselves with the ideas transmitted by the painter, interpret them and, in my case, wander about in that Proustian wilderness which spurs my sensitivity to seek new slants that Goya, the painter, may have in common with other painters. The first question I ask myself then is:
How does Goya outshine other great geniuses?
Goya is considered by all one of the great artists consecrated by the History of Art, by lovers of painting and by simple visitors who once in a while walk around a Museum. There is not an instant of doubt. Everyone knows his name which is synonymous with modernity, change, rupture, as are equally El Greco or Picasso. His revolutionary character is only comparable in painting to that of Giotto, Leonardo, Michelangelo, El Greco, Rubens, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Velazquez or Picasso, in the sense that all of these felt the need and broke up against the conventionalisms of their epoch, creating a new language. In Goya, however, there is something which makes him closer, more up-to-date, or to say it somehow, make him the last of the Old Masters, the only one who was able to imagine the future, who brings along with him the development of later painting of the XIXth and XXth centuries. In this sense, most of the isms trace their origin back to him: romanticism, realism, impressionism, expressionism, surrealism, even dadaism... Perhaps only cubism, due to its conceptualism, seems to have escaped, though, of course, the expressivity inherent in Picasso gives him an eminent space apart.
Goya inaugurates a new way of transmitting a pictorial message giving priority to expression as opposed to the natural form which is usual in the external world, whether this is describing a personage or the action effected in the picture, thus involving the spectator who becomes the principal protagonist of the scene. This brings us to the immediacy of his representations, which are so alive and real. On the other hand, Goya is always present in the picture, his mind dominates all his work and an authentic need to express himself lies underneath, something which is doubtless the key to an analysis of his modernity. Like Picasso or Pollock, Goya reveals his subconscious and shapes it in his picture in an almost Freudian exercise which gives greater force to his expressiveness.
Goya’s personages may sometimes lack strict corporal likeness and, even when he was still painting cartoons for tapestries, the figures may appear just like puppets and nevertheless how real they are to us. Everything about them is energy, light, movement, and expressivity. This is something which we appreciate continually in all his work. Reality is not perceived for what it is, but rather for how we feel it and in Goya we always feel it very present.
Another constant in Goya is the almost bestial expression hovering between panic, surprise and furious impact encountered in the expressionist pictorial world and specially in Münch; it represents in some ways disagreement, a declaration contra mundum something which is tremendously contemporary; it will turn into disillusion, from satire to the grotesque, without any censure and in accordance with its new language, like Picasso later on with Demoiselles d’Avignon or his Guernica.
How shall we describe the light which floods all his work and becomes the touchstone of his originality in pictorial technique. A natural morning light which rises up from the suffocating sun of Spain which bathes the everyday scenes of the tapestry cartoons. A nocturnal light, dramatic and full of premonitions like that of the Fusilamientos de la Moncloa el 3 de Mayo, sometimes zenithal as in one of his first caprichos, Vuelo de brujas painted for the Palace of the Dukes of Osuna. A light which creates space as in Velazquez, but more expressive and perhaps for that reason less natural, because it is a light which goes beyond its purely pictorial function and is bent on transmitting a message to the spectator.
It is in this intimate fusion between the viewer, the artistic work and the spirit of the genius that lies the problem of the modern understanding of Goya’s painting. He never tried to adapt himself to the taste of his epoch; not even when he paints cartoons does he completely adapt himself, although he follows Meng’s and Bayeu’s instructions. In his work there always underlies that special halo of expressivity so typically Goyesque and, even when he paints portraits, he never manages to disconnect from himself. Many of his portraits of royalty have a particular smorfia which instantly distinguishes them from those copied by Esteve, which are always a bit rigid and have rather mouse-like features. Only children and the portraits of friends are free of this rather caricaturesque style. This tendency is emphasized when Goya becomes deaf after a long illness and there rises up in him the need to give visible form to the thoughts which assaulted his mind during his recovery in Sanlucar de Barrameda, underlying strange, incongruous dreams, which human reason cannot explain and which gives rise to Goya’s most modern phase. His art evolves, on the one hand, on his questioning reality, in so far as he perceives it through his satirical and grotesque spirit and, on the other, in revealing to us our human subconscious. His genius takes shape and his work becomes ever more introspective and profound. He paints and engraves caprichos as a diversion, but in all of them he transmits a message. Goya, unlike Velazquez, has an absolute need to express himself through his pictorial language and to give his opinion about the world surrounding him. In this period his work reaches the climax of his modernity in art. Just as Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock will do later on, he frees his subconscious in painting made for himself alone. For this reason Goya’s works belong to the world of dreams and are perceived as nightmares, and as expressions of a fantastic universe, lived or imagined in the introspective world of a deaf person. A deafness which was like a premonition as his dreams foretold the most terrible reality to mankind: war, cruelty, panic...
In conclusion, it is no exaggeration to affirm that in the history of Western Culture, with the exception of our protagonism in the discovery of America and the importance of our language, there is no other aspect in which Spain has exerted greater influence than in the development of the visual arts. El Greco, Velazquez, Goya and Picasso are considered today the pillars on which is founded the conception of Modern Art, inasmuch as they constitute the spiritual poles which gradually separated the world of natural shapes and forms from the pictorial world, ever more autonomous and dominated by the mind of the artist, which acquired at the end of the XIXth century, a universal dimension which turned it into its principal innovative force and has impelled Art onwards to our present day.
For this reason the Prado, as the shrine of the flame of modernity, manifests a privileged position in the recent history of painting and its bicentenary is a magnificent opportunity to recognise the true value of this artistic genre in its present day creative context, in which for the first time its historical supremacy in the world of the visual arts is placed in doubt due to the appearance in the digital era of new alternative media and in consequence the progressive loss of pictorial talent among our youth. We ought to bear this in mind because as long as the Prado maintains this flame alive it will continue to be the source of inspiration for future artists and the principal safeguard of pictorial genius in our contemporary world.
Carlos Herrero Starkie
* Yesterday the government announced that it would contribute in four years 30 million euros to finance the extension of the Museum. We shall wait to celebrate the inclusion of this magnificent news in the next State budget.
Dialogue between Old Masters and Modern Art
The IOMR has the firm intention of participating in the polemic debate which is raging at present between classical Art and Modern Art. For this goal we must sharpen our eyes so as to find associations, exchange of ideas, elements in common so as to be able to appreciate similarities, sometimes created on purpose, sometimes occurring only by chance or discovered when one tries to analyse their origin.
Visual Art contains a special language and vocabulary based on elements which are commonly valid in all the epochs. Space, material, volume, colour, tone, texture, scale, balance, light and movement are elements which are common to all works of Art and we would add mass and sense of gravity as special elements in Sculpture. As for the approach and the particular combination each artist may have regarding these elements there lies the consequence, no doubt, of his talent, inspiration and on them will depend the final artistic result of his work, marking tendencies according to every epoch, country or artistic movement.
Following on these elements common to modern and classical Art, although consisting of artistic interpretations almost completely opposite, we may extract from what is apparently antagonistic the common grounds of the two Arts, which is what we are interested in pointing out. Thus, taking Picasso, for example, as the supreme modern genius, consecrated during his lifetime and historically, with a greater capacity for looking back to the past, we distinguish (among many others) a link between his “rose” period and the work of Louis Lenain which consists of a similar use in his compositions of different scales and masses for the persons depicted though they do not correspond to a natural reality but are used only to attract the spectator’s attention. The persons in both works are as if turned into stone and have a sort of halo of sadness. Another parallelism in Picasso, which Miguel Zugaza calls “geometrical”, we find in his relation to Ingres’ painting, due to the importance both artists give to the line, to the outline of the persons depicted, to the edges of objects; an element, certainly, which is very decisive in the valuation of the quality of a work of Art by those of us who consider ourselves “Connoisseurs”. It is needless to mention the widely commented link between Picasso and Velazquez, their obsession with space, with their conception of void and also with the solidity and sense of gravity of objects.
On the other hand, there also exist sociocultural factors and the dynamic force itself liberated by the creativity of genius which indicate its own landmarks and tendencies, distinguishing, in my opinion, a classical form ( in the widest significance of the term), based, to a great extent, on the technique and manual skill of the artist and, on the other hand, what we may call modern Art which grants priority to the concept and to creative process, giving less importance to the final result. These two ways of conceiving Art are not exclusive of an epoch or a territory, but are, of course, perfectly identifiable and only on very few occasions do we find artists imbued, to the same extent, with both qualities: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Picasso and Anselm Kiefer are magnificent examples of this special symbiosis.
Thus the modern tendency in Western Art evolves by means of a progressive simplification in the forms which tend to illustrate the visual appearance of things, giving greater importance to the concept of the work of art, under the influence of its daily use, which leads finally to the elimination or even breaking up of the form, thus creating a new visual language, as opposed to the classical one, much more intent on reflecting the natural existence of the external world. From the Renaissance we perceive various artistic currents which are opposed to the traditional Art which had risen in Italy and the territories of northern Europe, and it was in Spain, due to its special idiosyncrasy and attachment to the concept, as opposed to the form, that we find a greater association with modern and contemporary Art where simplification and conceptualism have become a rule.
In the history of Art various geniuses stand out for their revolt against what is traditional, for their anticipation and their capacity for creating rupture and, when they are great figures, they create new forms and become in themselves new landmarks. Phidias, for being the first to humanise Art; El Greco, for his exaggerated expressionism; Velazquez, for his ability in painting what is apparent and in creating a new concept of aerial perspective in which the emptiness of space is revealed; Rembrandt, for his mystery and rough impressionistic technique; Vermeer, for being the first to reflect mimetism between a person and his environment by means of an almost “pointilliste” technique and the use of light and space which was absolutely revolutionary at his time; Goya, for being the first modern painter in all the meaning of the term; and Picasso, for inventing a new language and for hurling the Stone which smashed to pieces the concept of Art held up to that time. All of them are consecrated geniuses, creators of tendencies and recognised as such in the history of Art.
In post-war and contemporary Art, artists like Pollock, Rothco, Bacon, Kiefer or Zao Wou Ki, to give as examples artists consecrated during their lifetime, must still face History in order to clarify to what extent their work is relevant. In their capacity to renew the artistic panorama and, at the same time, to be integrated and link up with the great Masters of the History of Art, lies the very essence to be considered great for all eternity. Artistic geniuses, both classical and modern, whose creative personalities, their need to express themselves and their will to break up forms and create new ones, do not vary essentially among themselves. For this reason it is important to distinguish common grounds, to discover geometric similarities which in their volcanic creativity, link Alonso Berruguete with El Greco, Goya, Münch, Picasso and Pollock, or that which with its insinuating melancholy is distinguished in a Giorgione, Tiziano , Van Dyck, Watteau, Turner and Zao Wou Ki, or the translucent colour of a Van Eyck, El Greco, Rothco, or the fully integrated introspection of the viewer of a Velazquez, Manet, Picasso or Bacon, and the intimate association of a Vermeer with a Hopper, both enclosed in a tomblike silence, because each of them responds in a particular moment to the same type of artistic sensitivity. For this reason it is important to analyse the capacity of the Old Masters to be forerunners, but also, conversely, to look backwards to the traces of the past in the modern genius. In our opinion, in this ambivalent potential to invent and to look back to the past, lies the touchstone for distinguishing the Masterpiece which will survive as such throughout ages.
In short, the authentic genius must feel free and has always been independent; this isolation, this, in certain cases, almost autistic nature of the genius is essentially what, in my opinion, protects and safeguards him against influences and, doubtless, for this reason he would hide himself, as Vermeer and Van Gogh, or, in another context, as Rimbaud did. In fact they hid themselves so as not to be corrupted and to continue to be authentic. On occasions, the artist may only appear a genius in some of his works which, thanks to History’s judgement and his almost divine character, will be considered Masterpieces. This lack of comprehension which has usually plagued some geniuses during their lifetime may be even greater in the present world which in one moment globalizes everything, spreads knowledge universally so as to influence it and not to let anything escape; but the authentic Genius is the one who, in many cases, without having even sought it, establishes the guide lines and rhythm of Art, the Art which survives; the genius is that which opposes what is established from his artistic wealth and the freedom of his creativity so as to surprise us all, crushing and subduing us by something really great due to its novelty and depth. To Art critics, to Art collectors, to viewers of Art, it corresponds the humble, though fundamental, task of comprehending these forerunners, of analysing their reasons, their classical or contemporary backgrounds, something which to the genius, as Picasso affirms, is of little importance because of their obsession with their work, their stamp, a work which surpasses themselves and society and is engraved forever in history. Thus, the present challenge consists in knowing how to distinguish what is unique, what is outstanding, what will really remain as Art in a world which has the pernicious tendency of trying to govern the artist’s creativity and his inspiration by means of imposing styles closely linked to the luxury market, to high prices, promoting brands, all of which belong much more to the decorative arts than to Art itself, where the quest for beauty, the urgent need to express oneself, to break with the present and to create something absolutely new, are the principal forces which impel it, and not its commitment to society or to the taste of collectors.
The IOMR proposes “revenir à nos moutons”, to the classical parameters of the great eternal Masters , searching for common grounds and where one can link with those whom we consider the points of reference in the history of Art, with the purpose of counteracting the present tendency of banalising Art, that anything is worthwhile, and, on the contrary, of raising up the category of Art, but not to influence its creative process, which must, above all, be free and intuitive, but to give a critical, personal and totally partial opinion of the Present Artistic World.An opinion which may hopefully favour the discovery of this Genius who, we have just said, wanders freely on his own, or of those works which have been ignored or not sufficiently valued and which due to being imbued with the lustre of the past, perhaps for just that reason, have today been laid aside.
For this purpose the IOMR counts on the inestimable collaboration of Veronica Lasa, who is herself a painter and a Bachelor of Fine Arts and contributes to the project the fresh sap, and, in a way, the Alter Ego that this project requires with its interest focused on the daily needs of contemporary art, that is to say, first-hand knowledge of the world today, a world full of labyrinths, spirituality and anxiety, which confuses us with its variety, with its kaleidoscopic nature.
A portrait attributed to Dürer captures my attention during London’s Old Masters Week
London, Wednesday 4th July 2018
I am writing this blog in Gatwick airport without knowing yet how Sotheby’s Night Sale auction has developed. When the blog is published tomorrow we shall have been able to verify the prices effectively reached by the pictures here mentioned. I prefer however, to maintain the authenticity of my commentaries without giving the up-to-date information which all readers can check in Sotheby’s Auction Results.
Included amongst the auctions which are taking place in London this week, I would like to point out first of all a work presented in the Sotheby’s Night Sale of June 4:
Portrait of a man attributed to Albert Dürer (lot 11).
This work appears to me in itself exceptional, its attribution to Dürer cannot be disregarded and therefore the most up-to-date scholars of this genius should declare their considered opinion on this matter. Sotheby’s catalogue gives us Anzelewsky’s view (1971) that it is an autograph work by Dürer and I wholeheartedly share his arguments. Brodo Brinkmann, however, in 2005 suggests Martin Caldenbach as an alternative attribution, a painter who has left us very little work which, in my opinion, is definitely inferior to the quality revealed in the picture under discussion. According to my humble understanding as a connoisseur, the face, dominated by those eyes whose specially marked lacrimal and pupils pierce the spectator’s heart, is very similar to the ones depicted in the portraits painted by Dürer. It is indeed difficult to find other artists who paint with that profundity the look of a man in anguish.
On the other hand, in our picture, the very transparent pigments perhaps a bit worn, employed by the painter in a fluid way, allow us to see the way in which the Master uses a concise and free, but extremely assured drawing to make the features of the person depicted more individual, using as well relatively sketchy, though equally true, brush-strokes; all this induces us to think that the portrait may have been done directly ad vivo and represented a person very close to the Master. Nevertheless, the lack of quality in the treatment of the sitter’s hair, above all in the part surrounding his head, the absence of any trace of naturalism in the way the fur collar is represented, in a rough and clumsy manner, with dull repetitive brushstrokes on a monotonous background which has no depth or play of transparencies, all this calls my attention for its striking contrast to the quality shown in the countenance and makes me think that the Master might have painted only the face of the sitter, leaving the rest unfinished. The lack of quality in the depiction of the suit and the background is so astonishing that even the work-shop of any Master would have painted them better and the use as support of vellum on walnut would corroborate to some extent this hypothesis, since the painters of this epoch frequently used this support in their preparatory work. Studies by means of infra-red and x-ray are obligatory if one wishes to ascertain the lines of the excellent underdrawing of the portrait. If the underdrawing were limited only to the face, and we could have rubbed out the rest of the picture, the portrait, in my opinion, would gain greater strength and would appear to us less confused, better composed and more convincingly attributed.
To whom should it be attributed? This decision corresponds to the great authorities on Dürer, but, as a simple lover of the art of portraiture, I wonder which painter can render that look which reveals a nature both introspective and irascible? Who would be able to express equally well the tremendously complex human nature indicated by the person portrayed? To my way of thinking only Dürer, or perhaps another great portraitist like Michel Sittow could have done it, but never a lesser artist.
In this respect, allow me to express a simple opinion. When a work shows such outstanding aspects of quality, our study of its attribution should be as positive and brave as possible, not simply negative and ultraconservative, which is a comfortable position to adopt and without doubt saves us from the responsibility that attribution imposes. In my opinion, and even at the risk of being mistaken, the attribution of a work to a Master is the faithful recognition of his inherent and everlasting quality. Attribution to various Masters forms part of the historical richness of Art. This play of attributions increases our love of Art and the economic value of the work should correspond principally to its exceptional quality which is evident and not placed in doubt. These are, of course, merely wishes of a connoisseur collector, a lover of Art and artistic genius. In real life nowadays to catalogue a work as by a great Master is to grant it economic value, and, except in the case of documented works, its attribution may change in the course of time and thus its economic value may fluctuate, though not its artistic value which is only subject to its state of condition and is even superior to the variable tastes of every epoch.
It is now 8 p.m. and the work will probably have been already sold. I prefer not to check and to continue believing in my own reasoning. In my opinion, if one has the financial capacity, this is a type of picture for which one can confidently bid. Though this may appear presumptuous, I sincerely hope that the buyer has paid about a million pounds because this would mean that the market trusts that this work may really be a Dürer; a much better investment, though this may seem paradoxical, than if it had remained at around the more prudent estimation given by Sotheby’s of £300.000 to £400.000 because for really good works the higher the price paid the greater the prospects of its being revalued.☆
I only wish to add two short notes, one referring to Baron Van Dedem’s collection (lots 22 to 38), also presented by Sotheby’s, which due to their very high quality and good taste should have sold very well, (in particular the sketch by Rubens, worthy of being shown in the Prado’s present exhibition on the subject), and the other one on the magnificent picture attributed to Ribera (lot 56) whose exceptional quality in both pictorial technique and composition gives me absolute confidence in its attribution. I have not, however, completely understood why Sotheby’s does not grant full attribution to this work and gives it a relatively low estimation (£100.000 - £150.000) in spite of it being evident that the painting required the determination of a restorer who understood well the work of this Master.☆
Lastly, in Christie’s auction two works caught my attention: on the one hand, Our Lady with the Child by Gerard David represents in a sublime manner the aesthetic values of this great painter: tenderness, intimacy and softness; On the other hand, Portrait of Rubens’ daughter, Clara Serena, an authentic testimony of the tragic sentiment Rubens felt for this most beloved daughter who died a few months, or perhaps days, after being painted. This is a work which strikes us deeply and I hope the great collectors will comprehend it and that its undeniable quality will counteract certain doubts existing regarding its capacity to rise high during the auction due to a lack of absolute unanimity amongst Rubens’ scholars on its attribution, in spite of the fact that it would be included in the Corpus Rubenianum as an autograph work by Rubens. Although this painting gathers together in itself all the virtues of a Rubens, the collectors, frequently more investors than lovers of painting, are more eager to bid in unanimity with the experts than to follow their own feelings inspired by this great work☆☆.
☆Note written on the day after Sotheby’s auction on 4th July 2018.
The portrait attributed to Dürer starting at an estimated price of £300.000 /£400.000 was sold at £1.150.000. The Ribera portrait starting at £100.000 to £150.000 reached £430.000.
☆☆Note written on the day after Christie’s auction on 5th July 2018.
The painting Our Lady with Child by Gerard David was sold at the excellent price of £4.886.250 nearly 3 times the estimate but the “Portrait of Rubens’ daughter” unfortunately was not sold.
Visit to Tallinn for the inauguration of the exhibition “Michel Sittow. Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe”.
My trip to Tallinn on the occasion of Michel Sittow’s exhibition has been a wonderful opportunity to experience the efficacy of a small and recently constituted country like Estonia, which, indeed, is firmly rooted in Europe thanks to its capital city Tallinn, formerly Reval, having belonged to the Hanseatic League, historic precedent of the European Union. Following on these considerations, I feel particularly pleased to observe directly the enthusiasm their inhabitants show at belonging to the EU, no trifle matter in these times of growing European scepticism. I cannot therefore fail to thank Peter Van Den Brink for having given me the opportunity of knowing this magnificent country and of enjoying an insuperable group of paintings by Sittow.
Concentrating myself on the exhibition itself, I would like to draw attention to the imagination shown by the organizers in their use of space, situating the pictures at the innermost centre of the exhibition, within a great oval, and outside of this we can read all the historical and biographical explanations regarding Sittow and his epoch. We reach this octagonal hall after descending a stair-case and following its surrounding wall which rouses in me an impatient urge to arrive at the paintings, which was amply satisfied a few moments later on viewing them all together. This solution exhibitionwise helped visitors to enjoy the pictures shown like gems set in a wonderful greyish-blue background with only the painting’s label showing and thus enhancing its view in an incomparable setting.
Sittow was a peripatetic painter like many others of his time and travelled in 1484 from his native city, Reval, to Bruges in order to train with Hans Memling and afterwards work for the various European courts. His historic fame is due to "Isabel la Católica", as he was her favourite painter together with Juan de Flandes, and to the circumstance that his only two documented works were included in "Margarita of Austria’s" collection, when she acquired many of the panels of the celebrated altarpiece of Isabel la Católica. Thus Sittow is the paradigm of the travelling artist who arrives in Spain in 1492 attracted by the vitality of the kingdom of Castilla and where he remains until at least 1502 when he travels to Flanders to be the painter of "Felipe el Hermoso", (Philip the Fair) and almost certainly to London where he paints a portrait of Henry VII. In 1506, on Philip’s death, he returns to Reval and in 1514 he travels to Copenhagen in order to do a portrait of King Christian II and afterwards returns to the Low Countries as Court Painter of Margarita and to Castilla to collect debts and probably be painter of the Regent, King Fernando el Católico. On the latter’s death, he returns to Reval where he dies in 1525.
Comparison with Juan de Flandes is a passionately enthralling exercise for anyone who has a connoisseur’s eye which is accustomed to the alternative attributive options arising when one compares the two famous panels of the polyptic altarpiece of "Isabel la Católica", representing The Ascension of Christ (cat.4, private collection) and The Assumption of Our Lady (cat.3 National Gallery of Art, Washington), both documented as by Michel Sittow and painted between 1500 and 1504, with the rest of the panels attributed historically, though not documented, to the painter Juan Flamenco. Their differences, generally speaking, lie in that Sittow has a more independent style, his paintings are much more sculptural in his hand-writing and his personages have more serious expressions, following the models of the first generation of Flemish painters, specially Roger van der Weyden and, according to what Peter van den Brink suggests during the visit to the exhibition, are close to other contemporary Flemish artists like Jan Provost. Juan de Flandes, nevertheless, has a softer style, similar to the second generation of Flemish painters, such as Hans Memling and Hugo van den Goes and to contemporary Flemish painters like Gerard David. Both coincide in their carefully meticulous finishings which we appreciate in their gleaming jewels and brocades and in how they use light for outlining the faces, though we must point out that Juan de Flandes is rather repetitive whereas Sittow’s faces nearly always maintain their own individuality.
Following on Peter van der Brink’s commentary, we remain pending to go deeper into the attributive debate already opened by Matthias Weniger regarding the oeuvre of painters belonging to Sittow’s generation due to searching for new works by Sittow which may arise, specially religious compositions painted during his prolonged visits to Tallinn and Flanders before his journey to Spain and during the period when he was painter at the court of Margarita of Austria. Regarding the Spanish period, debate is focused on his participation in works also attributed to Juan de Flandes like the altarpiece of Saint John the Baptist in the Cartuja de Miraflores Monastery and in the altarpiece of the Chapel of the Condestable Alvaro de Luna in Toledo Cathedral; the panels of this altarpiece representing Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene as well as the two Saint Johns are certainly imbued with the gravity and monumentality granted to Sittow’s work. We know many facts of his life, including that he was paid 50.000 maravedíes by Queen Isabel, which gives one an idea of the importance Sittow must have had before 1492 when he was about 24 years old, and nevertheless the work firmly attributed to him during this epoch, up to the present, does not exist.
As a portrait painter Michel Sittow, thanks to his technical quality but, above all, due to his capacity to represent human beings, admits few comparisons. His portrait of a gentleman, dated 1510, at present in the Mauritshuis Museum of the Hague (cat.14) has the strength and the psychological acumen of the portraits by Van Eyck, the sharpness of the few portraits that we know of Jean Fouquet and the depth of the self-portraits of Albert Dürer. The immediacy of Sittow’s portraits is far superior to that of his contemporaries, Gossaert, Joos Van Cleve or Juan de Flandes, who are technically insuperable and have an inherent humanity, though they are often rather repetitive; he is even superior to the portraits of Memling himself, one of whose works is included in the exhibition (cat.7 National Gallery of Washington), an absolute gem of pictorial virtuosism, but lacking in soul, as if one were just representing, and that indeed splendidly, the human body. If we search for comparable examples which may approach the expressive strength and modernity of Sittow’s portraits, we can only find individual masterpieces such as Quentin Metsys’ portrait of a woman (1520) and the portrait of Jean Clouet by Guillaume Budé (1535) both in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, also the portrait of a young student in the Boijmans Museum of Rotterdam which has an equally scrutinising look, similar to the possible self-portrait of Sittow, Young man in a red cap in the Detroit Institute of Arts (1490)-cat. nº 2.
Included among the unbeatable group of works by Sittow which I have seen, I would like to point out the two which have conquered me:
Let us begin with the supposed portrait of Mary Tudor (1514)-(cat.9 of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Gemäldegalerie, Vienna). Facing it, I feel immediately the shock of modernity in the way he concentrates all the spectator’s attention in the face by means of a beam of light which falls directly from the left that reminds me of Antonello de Messina and Leonardo, effacing her absolutely frontal position.
The very original design of the composition, based on a series of fine geometrical, almost cubistic lines which form the portrait, could be the development of a composition derived from other painters like Roger van der Weyden, in his portrait of a Woman (1484) in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, or Petrus Christus in his portrait of a Girl (1470) in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, but with a difference which makes this work, if possible, even greater: to portray a person facing front is indeed a real tour de force. A perfectly rounded head-band outlines the oval of her face, meticulously adorned with a superbly embossed gold necklace which ends in a square décolletage which cuts out a mauve coloured dress, now unfortunately darkened. The sitter’s way of looking downwards, as if lost in thought, rendering that air of introspection, so characteristic of Sittow, gives the picture a sign of intimacy suggesting prayer. The soft lines and the point of light on her nose, the excellent technique the painter demonstrates in his rendering of gold work and jewels are done without the least sign of repetitiveness, all this is a true touch-stone of the quality of Sittow in this work.
Another exceptional work considered by connoisseurs as one of the best Flemish portraits of the epoch is the portrait of Diego de Guevara by Sittow, 1515/1518 (cat. 13) in National Gallery of Art, Washington, which is part of a diptych whose twin side is a Madonna and Child, 1515/1518, now in Berlin the (Gemäldegalerie Berlin (cat 12)) and which is situated just beside it in the exhibition. In Guevara’s portrait we find an expression of infinite sorrow and melancholy of the sitter, an extremely authentic and spontaneous, though controlled, feeling of pathos, which can only be compared with what we feel viewing Christ’s Descent from the Cross by Roger van der Weyden in the Prado Museum where José de Arimatea has evident similarities to Guevara. We are thus facing a devotional portrait where the painter does not try to express individuality or human personality, as seen in the aforementioned portraits of the Detroit Museum or the Mauritshuis, or in the portrait of a man (cat.16, private collection, on loan to the Hertogenbosch Noordbrabants Museum), but rather, in accordance with Roger van der Weyden, this is where Sittow seeks to express the depth of religious feeling as something essentially human. Sittow, with the exceptional simplicity which characterises great Masters, in this diptych, sets up against Death, representing Guevara’s look, life, personified in this wondrous Virgin and Child, full of sweetness and majesty.
Without any doubt, one of the principal achievements of this exhibition is to have managed to hang side by side both these pictures because precisely here, in the way Sittow represents the greatness of human sentiment, resides his own stature.
Arnao de Bruselas and Roque Balduque: two Brabant sculptors who triumphed in Spain
The discovery by the IOMR of a relief work representing the prophet Nataan rebuking King David by Arnao de Bruselas and another one of a Lamentation at the death of Jesus Christ by Roque Balduque offers us a magnificent opportunity to give its corresponding importance to the transcendental influence which the artistic currents of the Brabant region have exerted on the development of Spanish Renaissance sculpture, specially two of the richest and most important movements of sculpture which have developed in Spain from the 1530’s: the Navarre-Aragonese-Riojan school and the Andalusian school. This important group of artists coming from a Brabant, already flourishing from the concluding years of the XVth century onwards, became even more fertile during the first half of the XVIth century. In my opinion this is a field of study which should arouse the same interest among researchers of the Low Countries as in Spain where it has always been an object of unanimous recognition.
At the beginning of the XVIth century the exquisite Flemish tradition in sculpture , whose origins spring from Claus Sluter, educated in Brabant and from the work-shops specialised in small altar-pieces of high quality developed in Brussels, will survive and even have a second blossoming in Spain, promoting a symbiosis between the wealth of Italian artistic canons, brought by their artists imbued by the mannerism of the North, and the strength of the local Spanish religious temperament; all this will lead to what is the polychromed sculpture of the Spanish Renaissance, the origin of an artistic tradition, which is almost unique in the European artistic panorama and which will survive until well into the XVIIIth century. This resolute Spanish artistic interest in religious expression by means of polychromed sculpture, born at the outset of the XVIth century, gained greater strength from other currents, such as the Romanism of Gaspar Becerra at mid-century and will continue to evolve till there in the school of Navarra with its Master Ancheta, the school of Seville with the great Martinez Montañés, the school of Granada, with Alonso Cano and Pedro Mena as principal leaders, the school of Castile, always favouring the Italian influence brought by the Eagles of the Renaissance and Gaspar Becerra with his Michelangelesque nuances, who reaches his apotheosis with Gregorio Hernández and concludes in the XVIIIth century with the Murcia school magnificently represented by Francisco Salcillo.
The influence of the artistic movements of Brabant in the kingdom of Spain was not a novelty. During the XVth century Castile was one of the principal importers of Flemish panels and later of painters like, Michael Sittow (1492), Juan de Flandes (1496), favourite painter of Queen Isabel, and Juan de Borgoña, specially patronised by the Church, so that in painting the Hispano Flamenco style and in architecture and sculpture the Isabelino style prevailed, whose greatest exponent was Gil de Siloé, also called Gil de Amberres, a native of Brabant, according to the majority of his distinguished researchers.
This influence was accentuated during the first thirty years of the XVIth century during the reign of Charles V, by the political union of Spain and the northern territories and the notable increase of commercial relations with Spain due to the consolidation of the discovery of America, much more than the monarch’s support whose artistic taste was more closely linked to Italian art than to Flemish style, as may be observed in the unfinished work of Charles V’s Palace at Granada and his own special predilection for Titian.
Therefore, the main causes of the emigration to Spain of Flemish talent in sculpture-making at the beginning of the XVIth century were the religious fervour of the Spanish people, in addition to the wealth of a powerful Church who paid much better, a growing lack of interest for sculpture as a form of artistic expression precisely in the Northern regions caused by a change in the aesthetics of the altar-piece and, above all, due to the growth of a certain repulsion for the representation of sculptures as images of religious cult and a gradual cultural separation in the Brabant. So the kingdom of Spain becomes providentially the principal magnet for European sculptors who seek the important artistic commissions of Charles V and, specially, of the Spanish church; at the same time a profound crisis is created in the Brabant sculptural medium where there only remain active dynasties such as the Duquesnoy or the Verbruggen. During this period their domination in the sculptural field disappeared in favour of painting which prevailed and produced great figures like Frans Pourbus the Younger and Rubens and Van Dyck in the following century; the foreign artists came to Spain like a windfall. From Italy were Pietro di Torrigiano, Domenico Fancelli, Giovanni da Nola, Giacopo Fiorentino, Juan de Moreto and the Leoni family; from Burgundy and Loraine, Felipe Bigarni, Michel Perrin, Nicolas Lyon, Gabriel Joly, Jacques Bernal, the Breaugrant brothers, the Beauvais brothers,the Imberto family and Juan de Juni; from the Territories of the Lower Rhine, Rodrigo Alemán, Simón de Colonia and his son Francisco de Colonia and Alejo de Vahia; from the Brabant zone the most documented were Copin de Holanda, Guillen de Holanda, Cornielles de Holanda, Juan de Bruselas, Domingo de Amberes, Arnao de Bruselas, the Bolduque brothers and Roque Balduque among a number of minor artists. They all brought to Spain, who was just emerging from the Reconquista and from discovering America, the technique which the Spaniards lacked since manual work was exclusively reserved to the moriscos and a virtuosism which amazes the comitents. They established the organization of work in a studio and the idea of specialization of crafts, which had only been initially developed in special cases such as Gil de Siloé and, finally they promoted the recognition of the Master’s hand in works of art, as the sign of the final quality which works must have and which only in the XVIth century begin to figure in contracts in Spain.
Arnao de Bruselas, the most representative sculptor of the Navarre-Aragonese-Riojan school.
If in a first instance we concentrate ourselves on Arnao de Bruselas, the author of the relief representing the prophet Nataan, recently discovered and profoundly studied by Professor Jesús María Parrado del Olmo, we shall realize that he was without any doubt the most representative sculptor of the Navarre-Riojan Renaissance, a region which, as Georges Weiss declares, assembles in scarcely 100 square kilometres a group of the richest and most original examples of European Renaissance sculpture which is maintained in altar-pieces and shows signs, to some extent, of protobaroque style. The figure of Arnao de Bruselas stands out as a result of a documental discovery which vouches that he worked as an official for Damian Forment from 1536 for four years. This would credit him with working at the Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada in 1537. Furthermore, he is attested to have worked in the churches of Genevilla (1549), Alberite (1550), in the imperial church of Santa Maria de Palacio in 1553 and in the Monastery of Veruela in 1556. Success with these projects permitted him in 1557 to embark on the contract of the Cathedral of La Seo at Zaragoza and later on the contract of Aldea de Ebro in 1564 before his death in 1565. These works are meticulously documented and have been carefully studied by historians of Riojan art, specially by Professor Julián Ruiz-Navarro (1981) and later on by Francisco Fernández Pardo and Jesús Parrado del Olmo .They have been managing to assemble the corpus of his work, entirely concentrated in that area of Spain, which is completely coherent, of high quality and may be considered as a result of the fusion of the author's Flemish roots with the influence of Damiant Forment and of Alonso Berruguete whose genius he attempts to emulate.
We are aware that Arnao de Bruselas is active as a sculptor of images in the work-shop of the Beaugrant brothers and Andrés de Araoz. That is the reason why many of his works before being documented were attributed to Andrés de Araoz who signed the contracts with the clients. Araoz was a entallador who was very active in the Basque-Navarre zone; as a sculptor his artistic gifts were more limited than Arnao’s whose difference between their respective talent was distinguished clearly by Georges Weiss in the altar-piece at the church of Genevilla. The confusion of the work of Arnao with that of the Beaugrant brothers who had a work-shop in the Basque-Navarre zone , which competed with Araoz's and the Beauvais' studios, is a different question altogether. The Beaugrants were very well studied by José Angel Barrio Loza regarding their altar-pieces, with paradigmatic examples like the Piedad of the parish church of Ezcaray, which show an entirely Flemish style without autochthonous influences and an exquisite technique characterized by the excessive movement of his compositions, in rounded and blown up clothing, highly dramatic expressions full of the mannerism of the north ; the opposite of Arnao who is more Italianate and favourable to local influences. Though we have evidence of the work carried out by the Beaugrants for Margaret of Austria's court in Malines in 1526 and from 1529-1532 in Bruges where he makes the famous Franc Fireplace, regarding Arnao de Bruselas we can only assume that he came from Brussels as indicated in the contracts discovered in Spain. In them it is stated that his first documented works were effected as a craftsman in Damian Forment’s work-shop where he was surely introduced by the Beaugrants on the occasion of the construction of the altar-piece for the Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada in 1537; due to Forment’s sudden death in 1540 Arnao had to finish it basing his work on the highly appreciated designs left by the Valencian Master. In accordance with Parrado del Olmo's considerations, Arnao de Bruselas worked as an independent "imaginero" during long periods of his life which allowed him to have freedom and artistic independence which he openly enjoyed, and which was sought after by the great contractors of the zone, the Beaugrants and the Araoz. In fact, Arnao acts like another great sculptor of French origin, Esteban Jamete, who worked as a travelling sculptor in Toledo and Andalusia until he settled down in Cuenca.
Arnao de Bruselas' style, in his first epoch, reminds one of Damian Forment's with its balanced and leisurely rhythm, and very Italianate whose best examples are his sculptures in Santo Domingo de la Calzada (1537-1540’s). The altar-pieces of the churches in Sonsierra, Abalos and Elvillar belong to this period in which he worked with the Beaugrants around 1545. In 1549 he worked at the church in Genevilla contracted as "imaginero" by Andrés de Araoz; he also worked on contract for the churches of Lapoblación (Navarre) and Busto where, although he still followed the designs of Forment, we can already appreciate signs of Berruguete.
Arnao's second period coincides with his artistic meeting with Alonso Berruguete. Although we do not believe he met personally him, as we only know that Berruguete was in Zaragoza in 1518 on his return from Italy, but probably Arnao may have entered into contact with his style through the Castilian polychromer, Andrés de Melgar, who worked with Alonso Berruguete and who had an important collection of drawings by the Master. Melgar polychromed many of the sculptures of the altar-piece the Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada and of the church of Lapoblación. From him Arnao de Bruselas will receive his expressionistic mannerism, his original designs, the helical line, the serpentine figure, the rotatory position of figures with hunched shoulders, the importance of foreshortening, half-open lips, frowning brows, longing expressions, grasping hands , which we shall see at the end of the 40's and, above all, from 1550 onwards, but always reserving to certain persons in their compositions an air of solemnity, a sense of majesty which is in contrast with the nervousness of the rest of the figures. He might also have received the influence of Berruguete through Burgos which exerted a strong impact on the sculpture of Rioja and is also very open to the influence of the school of Palencia, particularly of Manuel Alvarez, who worked, when scarcely a youth, on the choir-stalls of the Cathedral of Toledo. Finally Arnao could have also received the influence of Gregorio Pardo, the son of Bigarni, who entered Forment's studio and worked actively in these territories. We cannot overlook the increasing movement of his figures which would point towards a possible influence of Juan de Valmaseda and the excessive movement of his Madonnas, so characteristic of his style; moreover we have evidence of Valmaseda's activity in Burgos during that period. We know that during this second period Arnao rents a residence - workshop in Logroño in 1552 and he carries out works in the churches of Aberite and in the Imperial church of Santa María del Palacio (1553); the latter is one of his principal masterpieces and its altar-piece is insuperably beautiful, not only due to the design of its compositions which are more tranquil and foretell a change of rhythm in his style and carving, displaying a most refined technique, but also due to the magnificent polychromy carried out by Francisco Fernandez Vallejo who, as a matter of fact, was the artist who made the polychromy of the relief recently discovered by us.
From 1556 onwards Arnao begins his third artistic period, a a result of a visit to Zaragoza and his almost certain meeting with Gaspar Becerra who was returning from his journey to Italy, imbued with the canon and rhythm of Michelangelo. During these years Arnao de Bruselas carries out the reliefs of the chappel of San Bernardo at the Monastery of Veruela in 1556 and the trascoro of the Cathedral of La Seo de Zaragoza in 1557. These are Masterpieces in which Arnao softens the movements of his scenes where his personages acquire a greatness and a stature thanks to the form in which there are presented to us, in the foreground, with a slight contraposto which blends delicately with the folds of their robes which become continuously soft and flowing, and their faces show Michelangelesque expressions of self-absorption and contemplation. His compositions give special importance to the inter-play of looks and corporal gestures which announce in a restrained way the Baroque. Our relief is a magnificent example of this epoch in which Arnao de Bruselas made his last works: for the Cathedral of La Seo of Zaragoza, the Monastery of Veruela and for the church of Aldeanueva del Ebro. Professor Jesús Parrado del Olmo, in his study of our work, describes how the characteristics of the relief are specially related to San Vicente Mártir of the cathedral of La Seo of Zaragoza and to various reliefs in the Monastery of Veruela.
Roque Balduque, origin of the Golden Age of Sevillian Polychrome Sculpture
The second relief presented in this article is by Roque Balduque according to the study made by Professor Parrado del Olmo. This is a sculptor born in the capital of northern Brabant, Bois-le Duc, nowadays Hertogenbosch, or Den Bosch.
There exists a certain discussion regarding whether he may have belonged to the same family of sculptors, the Bolduque, who emigrated to Spain in mid XVIth century; according to García Chico, part of this Bolduque family remained in Medina de Río Seco where their supposed brothers, Juan Mateo, Pedro and Diego, who first appear in 1558 in documentary form, as having created in Castile important altar-pieces in the Romanist style of Gaspar Becerra. Following on García Chico’s research, we may presume that one of the members of the family must have chosen to make his way in Sevilla where, in typical Andalusian fashion, they modified the name to Roque Balduque. In any case, in 1538 he appears in documents, much earlier than the Bolduque family, as resident of Sevilla and married to Isabel de Bolduc, though his first works only appear documented from 1550 onwards. Anyhow his artistic importance in this city was decisive and for this reason artistic scholars are unanimous in considering Roque Balduque together with Isidro de Villoldo as the creators of the Andalusian School of Sculpture and Roque Balduque as the first representative of the Golden Age of Sevillian Sculpture, followed by Juan Bautista Vazquez the Elder and reaching its climax with Martínez Montañés.
Roque Balduque’s widespread reputation and artistic transcendency are due to the commission by the Archdiocese of Sevilla, documented in 1554, to make a series of sculptures of Our Lady for the many parishes and sororities of the city. The Madonna of Nuestra Señora del Amparo of the Magdalena parish, where it is known he resided , and the Mother of God, Our Lady of all the Saints of the Omnium Santorum, the most important sorority of Sevilla, are two examples of the Renaissance splendour displayed by these most beautiful Madonnas who, steeped in melancholy, offer an air of modernity hitherto unknown in this land and who nowadays constitute in themselves a prototype recognised throughout the world as the finest representatives of Sevillian art; Madonnas who spend the winter in the parish churches and once a year, during Sevilla’s Holy Week, are taken out in procession by the various fraternities as the sign of identity of a unique cultural heritage . Roque Balduque is also the creator of many images of Christ amongst which stand out the Christ of the Concatedral Santa María la Mayor of Cáceres, work similarly documented, and the Christ of Veracruz in Alcalá del Río; the latter is only attributed to Roque Balduque, but is no less exceptional. In all these works we perceive a gentle and beautiful dramatism which is also observed in the recumbent Christ of our relief “Lamentation at Christ’s Death” where Christ appears to be asleep rather than dead.
Roque Balduque’s participation in various reliefs in both wings of the altar-piece of the Cathedral of Sevilla is also documented; this is certainly one of his first works and gives one an idea of the importance this sculptor must have had in the city. The reliefs Saint Paul’s conversion, Jesus amongst the doctors, The Conversion of Saul and The Last Judgement are all by him. As Parrado del Olmo declares, various styles have been assigned to Roque Balduque which he employs according to the institution from whom he had received the commission; his sculptural images are sometimes carved according to a more primitive pattern, even ignorant of the Flemish mannerism, such as the Madonna in Nuestra Sra. de la Cabeza and the relief of Santa Ana, la Vírgen y el Niño of the church in Alcalá del Río where a deliberate rigidity is perceived which follows closely the lines of the feminine figures of the recently discovered relief. In all of this, however, there is a tendency to create the prototype of a beautiful Virgin Mary, with perfect oval face and features which reminds us even, in its stately majesty, the Madonnas of Bellini, whose countenance is subtly framed by a cloak of finely gathered folds. Included in his ample work, duly documented, but partly lost due to the ravages of the Napoleonic wars and the Spanish civil war, one cannot fail to mention the imposing High Altar-piece carved in wild pine and not polychromed in the Concatedral Santa María la Mayor of Cáceres, where he collaborated with Guillén Ferrán between 1547 and 1551 and whose reliefs work have certain similarities to the Lamentation at Christ’s death which we are presenting here and which both coincide in being carved in similar wood.
Finally, Roque Balduque is recognised as being one of the first sculptors who exported works of art to territories overseas. It is almost absolutely certain that the Virgen del Rosario of the Convent of Santo Domingo in Lima was carved by his gouge which caused his iconography of Our Lady to spread so successfully through the Hispano-American territories, where his influence on local iconography is amply recognised. In 1561 he died leaving various disciples who followed faithfully his style and spread even more his iconography amongst the people; the most important of his followers was the Dutchman Juan de Giralte who concluded Roque’s unfinished works due to his sudden death; other followers were Juan de Villalba, Pedro de Heredia and Domingo Ortega who sculpted Madonnas & Christs which are considered today typically Sevillian works, but whose origins lie 3000 kilometres to the north, in what is nowadays one of the principal cities of Holland, Hertogenbosch, which is also the birth-place in 1516 of a genius of painting, El Bosco, who has left us a message which is poles apart from Roque Balduque.
In my opinion, the enormous capacity for adapting themselves of these artists, how they were able to capture the Spanish religious fervour, making this alien message their own, contributing their technique and artistic talent and absorbing the autoctonous influences, assimilating a culture which at least initially must have seemed foreign to them; and they did all this so perfectly that centuries later they are considered great Spanish artists, though forgetting which was their original country.
In this respect, since the IOMR has a centre in Helmond, a city now belonging to northern Brabant, it feels bound to recue from oblivion these illustrious artists who left behind them their culture, their family, though not their genius nor their talent, in search of new opportunities. Artists who enriched with their artistic gifts a country which at that time was rising up after centuries of struggle to reconquer their country from the Moors and at the same time determined to discover America; a nation which received them and gave them a project which inspired them to embrace their culture and create works of art which have reflected the harshness of the Spanish spirit and for this reason have not been completely understood or valued in its native country. CHS
RUIZ-NAVARRO PÉREZ, Julián: Arnao de Bruselas: imaginero renacentista y su obra en el valle medio del Ebro. Logroño, 1981.
RAMÍREZ, J. Manuel: Retablos Mayores de La Rioja. Logroño, 1993.
VARIOS AUTORES: La escultura en la ruta jacobea: Arnao de Bruselas. Retablo Mayor de la Imperial Iglesia de Santa María del Palacio (Logroño). (coordinación de Francisco Fernández Pardo). Logroño, 2005.
MORTE, Carmen: Damián Forment: escultor del Renacimiento. Zaragoza, 2009.
HERNÁNDEZ DÍAZ, José: “Iconografía hispalense de la Virgen-Madre en la escultura renacentista”. Archivo Hispalense, nº 3, tomo 2, 1944, pp. 3-45.
HERNÁNDEZ DÍAZ, José: “Roque de Balduque en Santa María de Cáceres”. Archivo Español de Arte, tomo 43, 1972.
ESTELLA, Margarita: “Notas sobre escultura sevillana del siglo XVI”. Archivo Español de Arte, tomo48, 1975, pp. 225-242.
BERNALES BALLESTEROS, Jorge: “Esculturas del círculo de Roque Balduque en Sevilla”. Actas del Primer Congreso Español de Historia del Arte. Trujillo, 1977.
BERNALES BALLESTEROS, Jorge: Esculturas de Roque de Balduque y su círculo en Andalucía y América. Anuario de estudios americanos, 34, 1977, pp. 349-371.
MORALES, Alfredo J.: “Datos acerca de la intervención de Roque de Balduque en el Ayuntamiento de Sevilla”. Archivo Hispalense, tomo 61, 186, 1978, pp. 179-182.
VARIOS AUTORES: El retablo mayor de la catedral de Sevilla: estudios e investigaciones realizados con motivo de su restauración. Sevilla, 1981.
RAMOS ROMERO, Marcos: Medina Sidonia. Arte, historia y urbanismo. Cádiz, 1981.
PALOMERO PÁRAMO, Jesús Miguel: El retablo sevillano del renacimiento: análisis y evolución (1560-1629). Sevilla, 1983.
BERNALES BALLESTEROS, Jorge y otros: “El arte del Renacimiento. Escultura, pintura y artes decorativas”. En: Historia del Arte en Andalucía, tomo V. Sevilla, 1989.
TORRE RUIZ, Mª Faustina: “Una probable obra de Roque Balduque”. Atrio 4, 1992, pp. 31-33.
ALBARDONEDO FREIRE, Antonio J.:” Un crucero del taller de Roque de Balduque, procedente de San Isidoro del Campo en la colección del Museo Arqueológico de Sevilla”. Laboratorio de Arte, 19, 2006, 85-99.
ALBARDONEDO FREIRE, Antonio J.: “El Calvario del Cabildo bajo de la casa consistorial de Sevilla, una obra atribuible a Roque de Balduque”.Laboratorio de Arte, 24, 2012, pp. 793-804.
Commentaries concerning TEFAF 2018
Tefaf 2018 has a very special importance for IOMR in as much as it permits us to share with our patrons and friends a collection of first class works.
At first sight, many changes as regards other years, mainly due to the absence of two galleries which are emblematic of Tefaf, as are Johnny Van Haelften’s who, people say, is semi-retired, and that of Fabrizzio Moretti, for unknown reason... By the way, I thought it was a very good idea to have two previews, one on Thursday 8th only for collectors and curators and another one on the following day, in general. This permitted avoiding the crowding of other years at the preview.
From the point of view of the design and presentation of the stands, I would point out the modern minimalism and good taste of the Rob Smeets Gallery, where a Velazquezian greige blends the walls in with the floor, making his always correctly selected masterpieces stand out in contrast and thus creating favourable surroundings for individual viewing. But, above all, it is Tomasso Brothers’ stand which captivates us. An absolute ode dedicated to the Grand Tour is offered to us in the exceptional and privileged space traditionally reserved for Johnny Van Haelften, where walls covered with painted paper representing Pompeian frescoes are the background for a splendid collection of marbles of the XVIth and XVIIth centuries, among which I would point out a pair of monumental sculptures by the Baroque artist of the Medici Court, Gian Battista Foggini, which were in fact sold on the first day of the Fair, together with a Roman bust of the XVIth century, representing a middle-aged man whose exceptional patina evokes poetically in us the spirit of the irremediable passage of time.
As it has occurred to me many times with Tefaf, on my first visit I cannot conceal a certain disappointment which is partially relieved by various masterpieces which call my attention: A Gian Domenico Tiepolo 's portrait of the highest pictorial quality, and in a state of condition not frequently found amongst Venetian XVIIIth century works of art; a portrait by Joaquín Sorolla representing very well his Art, and where one can appreciate his mastery of the paintbrush in representing an instant, which is so characteristic of this Master amongst Masters; a superb Bernardo Caballino which makes us evoke an Italianate Zurbarán, and an enormous equestrian portrait of the Count Duke of Olivares, which will cause a great impact to any lover of the Spanish XVIIth century , a work of art by the still not well known great Flemish painter, Gaspar de Crayer. This picture, worthy of being exhibited in the Velazquez Room of the Prado Museum, en pendant to the equestrian portrait of the Duke of Lerma by Rubens, merits a special digression since it represents a magnificent example of how the privileged and intuitive eye of a picture gallery dealer like Mark Weiss restores the value corresponding to masterpieces which have been disregarded by auction houses. This portrait appeared at the end of 2017 in the Paris market at an absurdly low price. Mark Weiss courageously bid up to over 700.000 €. It was presented at Tefaf in a top state of condition and, bearing in mind its absolutely certain provenance from the Collection of the Marqués de Leganés, it will certainly become a landmark for this important court painter of the Cardenal Infante don Fernando whose fame has been historically lessened due to being a contemporary of Rubens, Van Dyck and Velazquez, men of genius in painting who caused a revolution in the concept of Art at that time.
On the second day of my visit to Tefaf 2018, following on the commentaries made to members of IOMR, I discover various works of art which rouse in me a feeling of passion for this Fair. Such sudden changes of mood are frequently felt by collectors and curators visiting a particular Tefaf. We start off at Richard Green’s stand where various scenes of the beaches of Normandy by Eugène Boudin catch our attention; a landscape by Monet confronts another one more weakly painted by Alfred Sisley. All this leads me to transmit to my companions how one can distinguish the quality of a work, why one work captivates us and why other works do not enchant us so much; the importance of scrutinizing certain details which often determine the stamp of the artist; how a characteristic Boudin is that of a beach crowded with people enveloped in a breeze which blurs colours and outlines, creating a sensation of space in depth; how Monet’s sky and sea, blended together in myriads of colours, take the shape of a moment of light in a morning which, however, is not expressed in the same way in Alfred Sisley’s picture, hanging next to it, with its rougher brush-strokes and solid, prosaic colouring. As we leave this stand, at the corner, an impressionist landscape by Gustave Caillebote suggests to me to insist on the importance that this painter and patron gives to shadows in his works and how this picture, thanks to its diagonal line of perspective, reminds one of certain compositions of the Dutch Golden Age of painting and specially of Meindert Hobbema and Jacob van Ruisdael.
We continue our visit and we stop facing a Lucas Cranach, a high quality portrait, but considered by the vetting committee as painted by Cranach the Younger and Studio. This permitted me to wonder how one distinguishes the hand of the Master from that of the Studio. In this case the work has all the characteristics of a Cranach, due to the sinuosity of the line which draws the physiognomy of the sitter, the stereotyped acuteness of his look lacking in psychological depth, due to the flatness of the colouring dominated by the aquamarine blue of the background which makes the outline of the flat face of the person stand out without making the slightest concession to naturalism. Nevertheless, if one continues scrutinizing the picture, on reaching the person’s hands, the quality of the lines seems to fail, the outlines become clumsy, the lines of the fingers are not drawn with adequate rotundity and they haven`t got the slightest strength or expressivity and therefore do not carry out any function in the portrait. The hands are, without any doubt, the cause that the vetting committee would have considered that the picture was partially made by the studio.
We arrive at Michael Goedhius’ stand, a picture gallery dealer for whom I feel special admiration because he is a true lover of Art who was able to reconvert himself twenty years ago. After being a distinguished reference in the world of Oriental Archeology, Assyrian and Mesopotamian Art, he became an authentic head hunter of contemporary Chinese talent. This type of symbiosis and personal conversion, based on the intuition which leads one to anticipate change and have the capacity to distinguish artistic genius, whatever the epoch or country to which it belongs, is something very difficult to find nowadays. In Goedhuis’ stand, a drawing by Emilie Pugh effected with a technique which is both ancestral and modern, based on the use of burnt incense, invades my field of vision. The subject is an abstract representation of the invisible energies of the Cosmos, of continuous movement which is not visually perceived. The work arouses in me a sudden presentiment evoking in my mind Leonardo and Rustici, inclining me potentially towards a dialogue on contemporary Art with the most innovative genius of History and, for that very reason, capable of representing in the best way the energies inherent in the human being, Nature and Cosmos.
Now already at the point of terminating our visit, a work attributed to the Master of Half-length Figures catches our attention. It is a portrait of a young woman carried out with a magnificent trompe l’oeil technique, with enamel colouring and very detailed brush-strokes, characteristic of the early Flemish painters. There is, however, something in this picture which transcends the stereotyped nature of painting by the Master of Half-length Figures and which grants a special uniqueness to this work: the beseeching nature of the young girl, is naturalistic, and reminds us of Jan Gossaert and turns it into a most desirable work for a collector who appreciates these nuances.
On Wednesday I managed to visit Tefaf for the last time so as to rescue from oblivion the works which are always disregarded due to my not keeping to a desirable and correct order during the previous visits. In fact I am surprised that on my successive visits to Tefaf, I always find novelties worth mentioning. Three pictures enchant me: a small Corneille de Lion, the portrait of a French King; another one by the Genovese painter Alessandro Magnasco who is a forerunner of the typical XVIIIth century scenes plenty of small figures; and a Masterpiece by Jean Baptiste Oudry, the great French painter of hunting scenes at the end of the XVIIth century. Regarding the Corneille de Lion picture I am deeply touched by the delicate melancholy expressed by the King, a symbol of French sentiment. With Magnasco the scenes of everyday life are doubtless those in which he shows himself a greater genius and innovator. In these pictures his brush strokes are comparable to those of Guardi and indeed I would say that his pictorial calligraphy is more neurotic than the one of Watteau, demonstrating a modernity which has not yet been sufficiently studied. The Oudry picture in the Stair Sainty Gallery, a true sanctuary of French painting, is a real Masterpiece, according to all the meanings of the term, which moves between a classicism which was dying out and the first rays of dawn of the XVIIIth century Rococo, the most unmistakably French style, as recognisable then as it is now out of fashion; which makes you realise that in not more than a generation everything has changed...
Christie’s announces for this spring the auction of the famous Rockefeller collection in the centre of New York City. To this effect, they have organized a travelling exhibition consisting of a selection of what they consider its best works. Starting at Hong Kong, it will stop off in London and Los Angeles till its final destination in Rockefeller Center. Needless to say, in view of the display of the communications media and the good health of the Art Markets, we imagine record prices will be met.
In compliance with Peggy’s and David’s will, the funds obtained will go entirely to benevolent institutions in which they participated in the past. In this way, the auction gains double its value; on the one hand, it will allow the new purchasers to enjoy the aesthetic pleasure and the possession of works recognized as masterpieces and with this transaction what is most noteworthy and where it is clearly demonstrated the philanthropic nature of this family which is to finance initiatives benefiting Science and Education, thus giving the most direct social service.
In the ample review which Christie’s suggests we should read in its web is described the birth of this collection which shared the principles of the MoMa inauguration, the feverish purchases of the Guggenheims, Hay, Whitney and so many anonymous North American buyers who sought in the recently liberated Paris the basis on which to establish the growing Museum of Art of their own country. An important part of this auction corresponds to the collection which belonged to Gertrude Stein who, together with her brother, with Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway and so many other writers, musicians and painters of the “lost generation” crossed the ocean to drink of the artistic movement in the between-wars Paris and contributed to strengthen the myth of the “Avant-Gardes” whose claims still survive nowadays and which in the culture of the western world have almost the category of a religion.
From the lengthy catalogue of this collection the eminent auction house has emphasized a list of works as its highlights and on these I shall allow myself a moment’s reflexion. At first sight, with reference to the visual arts, this selection covers the limited range of twenty years’ production, saving the presence of Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe, both disciples of the subtle colourist William Merrit Chase, a fervent lover of Venice, of the Venice of Francesco Guardi and Giorgione, where he stayed for long periods of time, leaving us a wonderful legacy of "vedute" and portraits immortalised in that city.
If we start making comparisons, I think of the exquisite selection of masterpieces belonging to all the epochs that Henry Clay Frick did which any lover of the arts may enjoy just approaching 70th street, facing Central Park. Also, going a little higher, entering deep into Harlem, we find the extraordinarily wide collection of works of Archer Milton Huntington in his Hispanic Society, which covers such an ample range of periods, although obstinately centred in Hispanism. It is, no doubt, certainly true that both these collectors belonged to a previous generation when Utopias were still considered mere intellectual exercizes and did not guide the artists’ paintbrushes.
Nevertheless, going back to the auction, in the lots devoted to porcelain and Art and Crafts, I see objects belonging to different centuries living together. This increases the resounding volume of my claim: Does the Pontificate of “Avant-Garde” artists employ a sort of dictatorship, since having been born between doubt and the trick played by Paris and then made legitimate by the purchases of North American magnates, is it capable of arriving at the present day as a blinding deluge so that we are prevented from differentiating between the essence of the Artistic object, a daring search made by German idealism for the Marxist idea of added value, which has nothing to do with that object, but is a mixture of sociology and the technical capacity for reproducing works of art?
One of the attributes of the “Avant Garde” movement, which it obstinately insists in presenting as its variable external appearance, is its immediacy (hence also its liability to appear out of date), assuredly derived from the cult of speed which dominated the XXth century. It is enough to remember the speeches of Marinetti and D’Annunzio, the race in space, the development of photography, cinema, television, etc..., antagonistic inertias against the true, slow and attentive communion with the objects the genius of humanity has given us, irrespective of dates.
Because I am conscious that the angle of vision is wider on the complete map of time, including the future, I wish that this XXIst century were less urgently pressed for time.
Facing the ceramic plate of little fishes by Picasso, I remember an episode known to everybody. On that afternoon when Ernest Jünger, wearing the regulation uniform of the Wehrmacht, paid his visit to the studio of the “witch”, the following was the definition that came to the mind of the entomologist of Heidelberg when he opened the door. After showing to him the works which were there, Picasso confessed to him:”My pictures would cause the same effect if I wrapped them up and sealed them after finishing them, without showing them to anybody. This is about declarations made immediately”. No doubt this affirmation inspired Piero Manzoni to close the tins and to present on 12 August 1961 in Milan his eschatological contribution to the Arts, foreseeing, quite correctly, that it would end up in a Museum. Thus, open and shut, “abracadabra”, Tracey Emin, nearly forty years later, was kind enough to turn down the sheets of “My bed” and was on the point of winning the Turner Prize of 1999.
I would have liked to find in the “highlights” of the Rockefeller auction a panel of Cimabue, a warm evening by Claude Lorrain, or a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence together with another perhaps by Thomas Eakins, the most North American of the painters, since Singer Sargent and McNeill Whistler were Europeans, as DeNittis was French. Some of the innumerable list of masterpieces which were at the disposal of such powerful collectors.
But I shall have to conform and be thankful for the good health of the Arts, once we have collected the money, ascribing to these works of Art their value in cash and even admiring them as they grow greater in our esteem. Just the same as happened with that slight walking figure of Giacometti which as soon as it got into the tight-fitting corset of the thousands of dollars, it seemed to us a youth of much better appearance.
Because there are hours in the day when the shadows produced by objects, due to the particular angles directed by the sun-beams, seem to us “more real” than the objects themselves to which these shadows belong.
The “Avant-Garde” posed fundamental questions to our intellect and opened new paths along which we could continue our search, but it comes accompanied by great noise. This is the task of sifting which we are force to do now, if not, History will take charge of doing it.
We know that a river at its birth spouts up with a thousand skips and gambols, but when it reaches maturity and is loaded with the water of all its tributaries, we see it flowing slow and majestic along the plain.
Art is like a great river which carries on its back, impassive and in silence, centuries of wise decisions
-Miguel Angel Ruiz
Art Contemporary in Spain in ARCOmadrid
The IOMR Institute attends the annual meeting of Contemporary Art ARCOmadrid
Happiness sometimes runs freely through art fairs, sometimes it lies still and sometimes it overflows completely; this edition had a bit of everything: “very contented” picture gallery owners, like the Portuguese Pedro Cera who had sold all the works by the United States conceptual artist Adam Pendleton; curators bored on seeing the stream of creativity at a standstill, but with not entirely negative results; collectors like Jorge Pérez, a Cuban-Argentinian patron who came to the rescue on account of the controversy on freedom of speech in Spain by buying works in a few hours’ time in dozens of galleries; and also the public which always flows enthusiastically voicing different opinions on the artist’s imagination and intelligence, virtues which from our IOMR’s point of view were present this year at ARCO.
Visual arts today advance along the path of provocation and a proof of this statement is Folkert de Jong with his work “The Immortals 2012” (Luis Adelantado Gallery). This is a superb work as regards size, colour and figures, made from polyurethane foam which renders it absolutely unchangeable, like all plastics which are precisely so human for being so contaminating and everlasting as they are.
This work leads us to Flemish painting of the XVIIth century, to Rubens and his “Three Graces” due to his composition, to Watteau for his colouring and his delicate neck-line. Indeed, if we close eyes a little we might be viewing a Spanish polychromed altar-piece of the XVIth century.
Another discovery made in ARCO were the examples of masterly veiling by oil on wood of the abstract painter Adolfo Estrada in his work “Painting 1741” 130 x130 cm. (Dan-Brasil Gallery). In this painting one can see the traces of the Old Masters which, although this is a thoroughly abstract painting, has a profundity of colour and subtly transparent brush-strokes, which is the veiling done by a great Master, as belonging to another epoch. We do not wish to fail to point out in this blog a work by a Brazilian artist Lucía Koch who has been presented in ARCO in such a spectacular fashion by US Gallery Christopher Grines with her work “In No more things”. They are photographs of the insides of cardboard boxes, empty packages and bags which reflect the light architectonically and are based on the novel by Paul Auster “In the countries of last things”. Koch explores the feeling of emptiness, vacuity, when things become obsolete and only leave their space behind, letting us see the inevitable fall of a materialistic society. At the same time as we were filled with the conceptualism of these photos, we experienced again in this fair an outburst of happiness at being able to enjoy internal spaces which have windows proudly open to light, despite being poor and naked. Koch’s work transported us immediately to Vermeer and the camera obscure causing in us the astonishment which Art, from the earliest times until today, only occasionally provokes in us.
- Verónica Rivas
Colloquium - dinner with the Spanish painter, Lita Cabellut
Seldom has a meeting had such an impact on me. I met her a few days ago in her home/studio in the Hague, Lita, the great Spanish Gypsy Painter.
Her house, with very high ceilings, low sofas and endless Persian rugs, consisting of wide, open spaces, yet all together warmly welcoming, is an ode dedicated to Velazquez, to air seen in perspective, to the grey of Christian Dior, filtered by the light which falls like a cascade through the countless skylights, sometimes lead-coloured, sometimes blurred, leaving traces in the “greige” of the floor which remind us of the “Meninas” and of some of Sargent’s pictures. This light also enters through French-shaped windows, forming a horizontal space with diagonal rays of light. Lofty windows open onto a patio where the murmur of fountains and the scent of plants evoke Spain, Seville. Little remains now of the factory which it was in the past and which Lita transformed in only six months. She, very proud of her work, showed me a book which is an illustrated account of this transformation and which demonstrates the many-sided nature of her genius, as well as her endeavour, determination and her great love of details.
Lita is seated in her drawing-room in a position which is so characteristically hers that it will be fixed for ever in my eye-sight; she presents herself like Mother Nature and perhaps there is something atavistic in her manner of showing herself and this is what attracts us like a magnet. Our meeting is most like the meeting of two copious rivers on the same bed along which they flow and will continue to flow until they reach the sea. From the very outset it was love at first sight between two twin souls. She is overflowing with passion, self-assurance, sensitiveness, full of drive to achieve projects, responsible undertaking, but also a great professionalism, in short, a lavish amount emotional intelligence. Our conversation continues for several hours rolling in an ocean of artistic interpretations, common grounds, correlations and parallelisms which range from Piero della Francesca to Vermeer, from Velazquez to Goya, Bacon, Klimt,... all this under the vertex of her work which integrates the traces left by the Old Masters. We talk about how Art is purely evolution from which no artist can stand aloof; a work made by all humanity in which there are landmarks indicated by genius, culminating points and more monotonous periods; we also talk about respect for the past and about the occasional arrogance of the ultra-modern artists.
We decide to enter her studio and view her pictures. There they are like military banners, portraits of personages of universal importance and world power; her sweeping brush-strokes, representing a modernity corresponding to their proximity to us, along with her courage in showing to us reality without humbug, emphasizing occasionally the individual characteristics of a genius such as Charlot or Einstein, but above all, the universal nature of a personage who is the emblem of an epoch, a caste, a lineage, a country, or a race... Everything in her work has the overwhelming stamp of the Old Masters. From Goya of the Black Paintings period until Klimt, who is actively present in some of Lita’s ladies due to her way of swamping the canvas with a thick material colour which by the movement of the robes steeped for years in this hue, shapes the style of the personage, its class, or spirit from whom bursts out a face like a vapour; this is a touch-stone of Lita and sometimes reminds us of Bacon in his way of shaping the figures or alternatively, allows us to perceive an example of Japanese style, filtered to a certain extent by Dutch XVIlth century tradition and specially by Vermeer. All of them indicate a wish to paint what is behind the personage, his spirit, that which is not seen and this is what makes Lita identify herself with the Old Masters, great Magicians of communication.
Lita concludes showing me what she is today proudest of all, and which is a reinvention of herself, a change of language. Because in Lita even what is most complex is made simple. From her profound, stimulating faces rises another picture, which is its echo, or trail, free of lines and bonds, where only colour rules, without any known limits, the spirit of persons and things. This alternative is, no doubt, courageous since we recognise Lita through her faces and due to her closeness to us we recognise her as quick as lightning. Nevertheless true artists do not pay attention to what the external world requires, they are only guided by their impulse or even more by their instinct. Lita, like Picasso in 1920, needs renovation for fear of boredom, of what is accommodating, her genius demands a change. Time will tell us which of her two forms of Art will prevail as a sign of identity of her Mastery.
Picasso, on hurling a stone at the mirror of figurative realism, broke with an Art capable of expressing infinite sensitivity, countless nuances in figurative representation which only his blue and pink paintings have been able to achieve. But this clash was produced with the purpose of creating a new artistic language which caused a revolution in the history of Art, producing a Beforehand which goes back to the cave paintings of Altamira, and an Afterwards, whose consequences, many of which were not desired by Picasso, we are now experiencing.
Lita’s work perfectly represents the values defined by IOMR and we consider them the goal to which the visual Arts should today aspire:
1.- Regarding the classical Masters, the Old Masters, we should seek their stamp so as to innovate, that is, to create new models from that base.
2.- We should seek excellence in the line drawn, in the visual quality, in the sense of genius expressed in the line, in the beauty of the forms which are not necessarily present in the figures.
3.- We should search and reveal the deepness of the work inasmuch as this gives profound significance to all Masterpieces which are distinguished by their combination of technical excellence and the spirituality which pervades it all. Great painters know how to represent what is not visible and which the spectator perceives thanks to his sensitivity, his wide knowledge, his experience and his capacity to create correspondences.
The impact of Lita’s soul, her genius and her work, together with the warm feeling she has created by her message has led the IOMR to organise a dinner in her honour which we shall immortalise with this video.
Revealing Spanish XVIth century Sculpture
Due to the discovery of the Alonso Berruguete pair of sculptures, St Peter and St Paul, we began to be deeply interested in XVIth century sculpture, pinnacle of Spanish History, in which coincide, in less than a generation, the end of the Reconquista, the discovery of the New World and the constitution of the Spanish Empire under Carlos I, three events which change European History. This extremely Spanish influential political period would have an immediate effect on the blossoming of the arts and very specially on the Art of sculpture characterized by a special fusion between a very particular local Gothic style, a mixture of naturalism and expressionism, with a magnificent carving technique, brought by a group of Northern artists who came to Spain in search of the numerous commissions to carve altar pieces paid by the Spanish Church, and with the quest for classical ideals brought from Italy by three exceptional artists, Diego de Siloé, Bartolomé Ordoñez and Alonso Berruguete. The latter, one of the first mannerist artists protected by Michelangelo and close to the Florentine "enfants terribles" Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino who, once Berruguete returned to Spain, showed his particular artistic genius in extremely expressive and flaming polychrome sculptures, transforming Toledan artistic taste and preparing the path for understanding El Greco’s Art eighty years later.
Due to this convergence of factors, which is a characteristic peculiar to Spain, a sense of national conscience begins to take root and this will create what is named “lo español”, which in Art, and specially in Sculpture, expresses itself in a particular and different way from Italian or North European Renaissance Art. It is an Art which always illustrates religious subjects, in which expressiveness and concept are of supreme importance, instead of being a search for natural human beauty. It is an Art in which Gothic survives as it expresses better the concerns of Spanish artists whose genius is the result of the cultural clash between Christians, Moslems and Jews; an Art supremely national in its origin, which was being polished and refined, as mentioned previously, by the influence, on the one hand, of Flemish, Burgundien and German artists who were forced to emigrate due to cultural changes in their countries of origin and, on the other hand, influenced by the assimilation of the principles of the Italian Renaissance, gathered by the “Aguilas del Renacimiento Español” during their sojourn in Italy. An Art which, in spite of these influences, nevertheless remains faithful to its roots, as long as the Spanish genius prevails by simplifying shapes and lines. This gives to Spanish Art a modern “allure” whose best examples are Juan de Valmaseda and Alonso Berruguete; two artists completely Spanish genetically, although they are different from one another due to the circumstances of their lives, since Berruguete knew the most advanced Italian Renaissance currents “in situ” and Valmaseda never left Castilla in all his life.
Since we have been deeply imbued with the spirit of this period, we have developed an eye which enables us to select other good examples of sculptures from this period, always guided by an obsession to distinguish remarkable design and quality in execution. Thanks to this devoted quest, we discover several other Masterpiece sculptures which form a Corpus which we hope to extend with new discoveries and plan to exhibit during 2018 in our new social address in Helmond (Holland). We therefore propose to undertake the project of revealing Spanish Renaissance Sculpture to Museums, scholars and curators who would invite to visit and inspect our collection and consult our library specialized in XVIth Century Spanish sculpture.