Visions and Nightmares: Four Centuries of Spanish Drawings.
The Morgan Library & Museum | New York, New York | January 17-May 11, 2014
Visions and Nightmares: Four Centuries of Spanish Drawings was the first exhibition of the Morgan's small but outstanding collection of Spanish works on paper. Organized by Edward Payne, Moore Curatorial Fellow, Department of Drawings and Prints, the exhibit focused on twenty-one sheets that represented four centuries of Spanish draftsmanship from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. It followed in a distinguished series of international exhibitions that have debunked persistent myths about early modern Spanish draftsmanship--namely that Spanish artists did not draw and that drawings in Spain were not valued as art objects. (1) These fictions perhaps have persisted because Spanish drawings survive in fewer numbers compared to other schools of European art. (2) To the contrary, early modern Spanish art theorists such as Vicente Carducho, Francisco Pacheco, and Antonio Palomino valued good drawing, or disegno, as the foundation of artistic practice. As evinced by estate inventories, drawings were collected by notable seventeenth-century artists and connoisseurs such as Francisco Solis. (3)
The title of this exhibition conjured a dramatic image of Spain as a country where images of holy figures and saints abounded and were venerated. Profuse nightmarish visions evoked the strict, cultural control exercised by both the Church and Inquisition or the many disasters of war (to borrow a title from Goya) that frayed any social or political stability. While drawing in early modern Spain has often been associated with the more technical exercise of drafting, these designs clearly demonstrate how Spanish artists powerfully expressed themselves in this medium.
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The exhibition, while not accompanied by a print catalogue, has an online presentation that illustrates all of the works that were on view. (4) The drawings were hung in the Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery, a small space within the museum that enabled the intimate viewing experience that drawings merit. Wall labels provided succinct information about the function and subject matter of each design. Selected sheets were arranged in chronological order from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, compellingly presenting them in such a way that made them accessible and engaging to the general public. The Morgan's collection includes a variety of drawing media that comprise chalk, pen and ink, brush and ink, and watercolor. The functions of the drawings in this exhibition widely ranged from sketches, preparatory and presentation drawings, and finished designs that gave viewers a glimpse into each artist's creative process. The drawings were also indicative of the major schools and geographic areas of Spain and her dominions that include Seville, Granada, Madrid, Valencia, and Naples. However, these regional distinctions were not reflected in the exhibition's organization.
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Viewers were introduced to the sixteenth-century draftsmen Pedro de Campana and Miguel Barroso, artists who are familiar mostly to Hispanists. Formerly in the employ of Charles V, the Flemish artist Pedro de Campana (or Pieter Kempeneer) became Seville's leading artist. His Visitation (1557-62) is one of only two known drawings for the main altarpiece in the Church of Santa Ana de Triana in Seville. Miguel Barroso was known for designing liturgical vestments for the royal monastery of El Escorial. His Design for a Cope with SS. John and Luke (ca. 1587-89) was of instructive value as the pounce marks on it are quite noticeable, indicating that it was indeed prepared for transfer.
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A celebrated Spanish artist who lived and worked in Naples for most of his career, Jose de Ribera is known for his graphic scenes of martyrdom and torture. Both sacred and profane interpretations of these themes were seen in two sheets, the signed and dated Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (1649) and Marsyas Bound to a Tree (ca. 1630s). The placement of these drawings side-by-side allowed for fruitful comparisons. Ribera's Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew systematically shows the procedure of how the saint was flayed. His Marsyas Bound to a Tree (fig. 1) vividly illustrates his fascination with anatomical studies: here the screaming satyr is bound to a tree, the parts of which directly co-relate to the figure's limbs.
Unlike Ribera's macabre martyrdom scenes, the Florentine-Madrilean painter Vicente Carducho was faithful to a decorous style that was mannered by the decrees of the Council of Trent. In the Martyrdom of Father Andres (ca. 1632) (fig. 2), the priest appears resigned to his gruesome fate, his body raised by a pulley. This design is one of many preparatory ones that Carducho made for a series of fifty-six paintings for the Cartuja de El Paular (Charterhouse of El Paular). Squared for transfer, the sheet also bears notations that the figure of Father Andres should be made larger and oriented closer to the center of the final composition.
Also on view were four drawings by the painter-architect-draftsman Alonso Cano. His Design for the Altarpiece of the Chapel of San Diego de Alcala, Convent of Santa Maria de Jesus, Alcala de Henares (1657-58) is the greatest monumental drawing of the Spanish Golden Age, both in terms of its sheer size and historic significance (fig 3). Composed of seventeen joined sheets of paper, this remarkable presentation drawing for the chapel's patron, King Philip IV, captures the elaborate design of the armature and sculpture for the altarpiece of the Convent of Santa Maria de Jesus (now destroyed).
The late-seventeenth century Sevillian painter Bartolome Esteban Murillo was renowned both for his large-scale public altarpieces and small devotional works that inspired faith and elicited piety as respectively shown in his St. Felix of Cantalice Holding the Christ Child (ca. 1665-69) and his Immaculate Conception (ca. 1665-70). In terms of the latter subject, the artist was one of the great visual interpreters of the doctrine of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, or that the Virgin Mary was born free of Original Sin (fig. 4). Applying the quick strokes of his pen and the varied sweeps of his brush, Murillo materializes his quickening forms and figures with an extraordinary economy of line.
The exhibition also highlighted recent important acquisitions that have filled critical gaps in the Morgan's collection. Sheets by the late seventeenth-century court artist Juan Carreno de Miranda and the eighteenth-century painter and draftsman Mariano Salvador Maella are especially welcome additions that augment the breadth of the museum's holdings.
Four drawings by Francisco Goya brought the exhibition to a dramatic crescendo. Two sheets, Pesadilla (Nightmare) and Muy Accordes (Close Harmony) (both ca. 1816-20), come from his Black Border Album E. His Malefic Prophet and Fair in Bordeaux (both ca. 1824-28) were produced during his voluntary exile in France. Of these drawings, his parodic Pesadilla (fig. 5) portrays a screaming, wild woman straddling a flying bull as a vivid allegory of the plundering of Spain during the Peninsular Wars (1808-14). Four drawings by Eugenio Lucas, a self-taught artist who was one of Goya's followers, attest to Goya's enduring legacy. In particular, Lucas' Crowd with Fallen Figures (ca. 1850) introduces watercolor as a medium that animates his more abstract approach to the human form.
The additional display of printed books and manuscripts of the period provided fuller context for the themes and ideas that engaged the imaginations of Spanish artists. The Bible was a source that artists turned to in composing devout images of holy persons and sacred narratives. An early Spanish translation of an illustrated New Testament (published in Antwerp in 1543) was open to the Gospel of John, showing a woodcut that illuminated the evangelist's vision of Christ in the wilderness. While the inclusion of the New Testament attests to the concern for orthodoxy and restraint in religious images, Cervantes' Don Quixote embodies the unbridled creative spirit of the Spanish Golden Age. A 1780 luxury edition of the book was commissioned by the Royal Spanish Academy that included a biography of Cervantes. The book revealed a newly minted map of Spain that chronicled the course of Quixote's fabled adventures and travels.
Of all the artists included in this exhibition, Goya's presence was the most palpably felt. The Morgan also owns one of Goya's 132 letters to his friend Martin Zapater, with whom he maintained an extensive correspondence throughout his entire career, giving visitors an insider perspective on the artist's life and personality. The letter on view, which was signed and dated to August 1, 1786, shares Goya's pitfalls and successes. This particular missal is of great historic significance because it delivers the thrilling news that Goya was named painter to King Charles III in June 1786. Goya's art certainly continued to fascinate both artists and musicians alike. On exhibit were the composer Enrique Granados's Notes and themes for my work (ca. 18901916) containing his sketches for his musical compositions that include Los Ovillejos (left incomplete), The Tondillas, and, most famously, The Goyescas.
This remarkable exhibition has greatly contributed to the advancement of the study of Spanish art and it has made the Morgan's extraordinary collection accessible to a broader audience. This dazzling array of drawings rewarded viewers with a nuanced understanding of Spanish art, and extended another opportunity to study the exquisite designs of these masters.
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Winston-Salem State University
(1.) Major recent exhibitions of Spanish drawings both in the United States and abroad include: Window onto Spain: Drawings and Prints from Ribera to Goya, February 17--May 16, 2004, The Getty Center, The J. Paul Getty Museum; The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya, October 5, 2010--January 9, 2011, The Frick Collection, New York; and The Spanish Line: Drawings from Ribera to Picasso, October 13, 2011-January 15, 2012, Gallery at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. The Museo Nacional del Prado has held three significant exhibitions that include: Spanish Drawings in the Hispanic Society of America, December 4, 2006--March 4, 2007; Spanish Drawings from the British Museum: Renaissance to Goya, March 20-June 16, 2013; Spanish Drawings from the Hamburger Kunstballe, October 30, 2014-February 8, 2015. The British Museum's Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain (September 20, 2012-January 6, 2013) not only travelled to the Prado but also to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (August 31--November 24, 2013) and to the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe (December 14, 2013-March 9, 2014).
(2.) Drawings were often inherited from master to master and used by generations of artists. Given the fragile nature of works on paper, many sheets might have fallen apart from wear. For recent catalogues that have amplified our knowledge of the use and function of drawing in Spanish workshop practice, see Mark P. Me Donald, Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain (London: British Museum and Lund Humphries, 2012); Jonathan Brown, Lisa A. Banner, Andrew Schulz, and Reva Wolf, The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya (New York: The Frick Collection and Scala Publishers, 2010); Lisa A. Banner, Spanish Drawings in the Princeton University Art Museum (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012); and Zahira Veliz, Spanish Drawings in the Courtauld Gallery: Complete Catalogue (London: Courtauld Gallery, 2011).
(3.) Lisa A. Banner, "Francisco de Solis: A Seventeenth-Century Artist-Collector in Madrid," Master Drawings 45, no. 3 (2007): 359-366.
(4.) The online exhibition can be accessed with the following URL: http://www. themorgan.org/collection/visions-and-nightmares.
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|Publication:||Southeastern College Art Conference Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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