A Golden Age in Two New Exhibitions

Having specialized in Spanish art of the 17th century when I was studying at Sotheby’s in London, I have continued to keep my eye on the art market and news from the museum world about art produced in Spain during that Golden Age of culture on the Iberian Peninsula.  Thus, some news caught my eye this morning which involves two of the most important painters working in Spain during the 17th century.  One is a major rediscovery for art historians, which has been announced in Barcelona, while the other is an exhibition on the work of a well-known Spanish Old Master painter that has recently opened in Madrid.

Juan Bautista Maíno (1581–1649) is not a household name in the history of art, partially because we know of very few of his paintings to survive – only about 40 or so are known or believed to be by his hand – and partially because he became a Dominican friar when he was in his 30’s. However his influence on the development of Spanish art was tremendously important. Maíno left his native Castile and studied painting in Rome, soaking up the influence of painters like Caravaggio and Reni, and then brought this more theatrical style back with him to Spain. He became a popular, if not prolific painter, and helped the careers of many up-and-coming young painters, including Velázquez, the greatest of all Spanish artists.

Now the National Museum of Catalan Art (“MNAC”) in Barcelona is exhibiting, after a lengthy restoration process, a very large painting depicting “The Conversion of St. Paul” on the road to Damascus, which after careful study has been definitely attributed to Maíno. It had been in the collections of the MNAC for many decades, but incorrectly attributed to another artist, until it was damaged in a fire and had to undergo restoration. Given the scarcity of paintings by Maíno, this is a major find for art historians. The newly restored work will be on display as part of a special exhibition from July 5 to September 30th, along with a short documentary film, a contemporary sketch of the painting on a smaller scale, x-rays from the research process, and other information detailing the giant painting’s restoration.

Meantime at The Prado in Madrid, a new exhibition has opened on works by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), whose name or at least whose art is well-known to most students of art history. The stark realism of Velázquez was later supplanted by the softer, more dreamy qualities of Murillo’s style of painting, which often reflects a kind of golden, mellow light. Murillo was one of the greatest painters of children, in all of their innocent beauty, and his work has a sentimental quality that later influenced many French, English, and American salon/society painters of the 19th century.

The show “The Art of Friendship” which opened at The Prado a few weeks ago and runs until September, features paintings by Murillo which he created for or as a result of commissions obtained through the artist’s good friend, Justino de Neve.  Father de Neve was one of canons of Seville Cathedral, and a great friend of Murillo, who helped the artist to obtain a number of his most important artistic commissions. This included paintings Murillo produced for the hospital of elderly and disabled priests in the Andalusian city, which de Neve himself founded, several of which are in this exhibition. The show will later move to the former hospital founded by Father de Neve in Seville, before continuing on to The Dulwich in London.

If you happen to find yourself in Barcelona or Madrid this summer, and can avoid the rioting leftists, then both of these exhibitions would be well-worth paying a visit.

Josep Serra, Director of The MNAC, examines the newly-restored
“The Conversion of St. Paul” by Juan Bautista Maíno

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