The Prado Acquires the Juan Bordes Library

Posted in museums by Editor on February 1, 2015

Press release (27 January 2015) from the Prado:

Trattato della Pittura di Leonardo da Vinci . . . di Stefano della Bella (Florence, 1792).

Trattato della Pittura di Leonardo da Vinci . . . di Stefano della Bella (Florence, 1792).

The Museo del Prado is providing detailed information on the content of one of its most recent acquisitions: the Juan Bordes Library. This is one of the most important bibliographical holdings in the world for the study of the human figure, consisting of treatises and drawing manuals from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Within this acquisition, the Museum has received as a donation a sketchbook by the studio of Rubens. It is currently considered the closest to the lost original by the master and also includes two original works by his hand.

The Juan Bordes Library is a unique example of a bibliographical holding specialised in the key areas within artists’ training and the theory of the human figure. Comprising around 600 volumes assembled by Bordes, the library focuses on texts and manuscripts that were used in the training of artists from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Due to their functional nature, these texts have not in the past merited the attention of bibliophiles or art historians. As Gombrich noted in his book Art and Illusion: “it is no mere paradox to say that the rarity of these books in our libraries is symptomatic of their past importance. They were simply, used, torn and handled in workshops and studios, and even surviving ones are often poorly bound and incomplete.” As a result, these manuals and treatises constitute an extremely valuable holding for a knowledge of the methods employed in the training of artists and amateurs in studios and academies. They also tell us about the evolution of aesthetics and the dissemination of artistic models.

9788437630441The Bordes Library is structured into six large sections, organised to reflect the key disciplines in an artist’s training, in addition to a group of manuscripts of different types, notably the sketchbook by Rubens received as a donation. The importance of this library is reflected in Juan Bordes’s own 2003 book, Historia de las teorías de la figura humana. El dibujo, la anatomía, la proporción, la fisionomía (History of the Theories of the Human Figure: Drawing, Anatomy, Proportion and Physiognomy), in which he studied the function and history of these books and their role and significance in artists’ training.

This bibliographic holding now joins other specialist libraries acquired by the Prado in recent years: the Cervelló Library, specialising in art theory and celebrations; the Correa Library, which focuses on the art of printmaking and the illustrated book; the Madrazo Library, an example of a library belonging to a dynasty of artists; the libraries of José Álvarez Lopera and Julian Gallego, which are characteristics libraries of art historians who primarily specialised in Spanish art; and the library of Félix de Azúa, centred on aesthetics and the philosophy of art. Through this strategy of acquiring specialist libraries, the Museo del Prado is not only helping to preserve the Spanish bibliographical heritage but also to provide its Study Centre with the research tools necessary for fulfilling its primary mission.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

S T R U C T U R E  O F  T H E  B O R D E S  L I B R A R Y

1. Drawing Manuals

This is undoubtedly one of the most important and valuable areas within the Bordes Library, both for the number of items and their rarity. The eminently functional nature of these manuals means that very few of them survived, on occasions only as single copies. Given that they were copied or republished in response to the different requirements of each moment, on many occasions they varied from one edition to another, so that each surviving copy is now almost unique. As a whole this group is extremely important as the study of it will reveal not only differences in the way of teaching drawing at different historical periods but also the models selected,thus reflecting taste of the time. It can be said that this group represents the systematic assembly of the largest surviving group of drawing manuals. Among its contents are three of the founding texts of this type by Fialetti, Cousin and Carracci, as well as examples of the most important ones from later centuries by Rubens, Ribera, Bloemaert etc.

2. Artistic Anatomies

Combining scientific knowledge and art, from Vesalius’s pioneering text onwards, treatises on anatomy reveal the key role of the study of the human figure in artists’ training. Together with life drawing and the copying of plaster casts, the study of anatomy through printed treatises, with particular attention to the study of bones and muscles, was one of the basic principles of an artist’s training. The increasing availability of images in the 19th century made high quality visual media available to students, encouraging a naturalistic approach to the representation of the human body in art. The Bordes Library is particularly rich in treatises from that century, copiously illustrated and with colour assuming a key role. Their relationship with the art of their time is striking, as evident, for example,in the numerous drawings by José Madrazo in the Prado’s collection. Particularly important was the interest in “anatomising classical sculptures,” in other words, anatomical models based on the great paradigms of classical sculpture, once again indicating the close links between science and art.

3. Proportion

As Michelangelo noted, having a compass in one’s eye for constructing harmonious, well-proportioned figures was one of the basic principles of artistic creation. Since Alberti and Dürer’s fundamental treatises, the quest for ideal human proportions within the variety of the human body has been an ongoing interest of artists, evolving in parallel to aesthetic changes. As a result, over the course of the centuries numerous treatises were published that offered artists a repertoire of proportions, either of real human models or of classical sculptures, determining the principles that should govern the construction of the human figure. Although fewer in number than the works in the previous sections, the Bordes Library has examples from different periods and centres, ranging from the 17th to the 20th centuries and from Europe to South America. These texts reveal the spread of a teaching model based on mathematics.

4. Physiognomy

Facial expressions were the subject of the fourth area of an artist’s training. Starting in the Renaissance with Della Porta’s Della Fisionomia dell’ Huomo, followed by the works of Le Brun and Lavater (also represented in this library by a manuscript) and concluding with 19th-century treatises such as Duchenne’s, physiognomy has been a subject of interest both to artists and writers. The Bordes Library contains a notable group of these works, with the principal authors represented by several different editions, allowing for an understanding of the evolution of artistic concerns.

5. Treatises on Painting and Drawing

Complementing the four fundamental areas outlined above, the Bordes Library also has treatises on the practice of drawing and painting, in which these disciplines are related to anatomy, proportion and physiognomy. These varied treatises were widely disseminated and of enormous theoretical importance. Leonardo, Alberti and Hogarth are among the authors represented in different editions. In other cases these treatises, published in different European countries, have hardly been the subject of study, although they must have provided the theoretical bases for many artists. The importance placed on art theory in recent years means that not only the major treatises but other works represented by fine copies in the Bordes Library are of enormous scholarly value.

6. Iconography

Repertoires of portraits and works of art, both paintings and sculptures, make up the smallest section within the library although one that represents a type of publication which was widely disseminated in the past. The fact that repertoires of this type were normally costly, large-format publications and thus not within the reach of all artists led Juan Bordes to focus on books which were more accessible to them, normally in small format and simply illustrated. Nonetheless, the library contains notable examples of visual repertoires, including Perrier’s on classical sculpture and Padre Nadal’s Imágines de la Historia Evangélica, which was exceptionally important for the dissemination of Counter-Reformation models.

7. Manuscripts

The Bordes Library includes a small but exceptional group of manuscript treaties. They are of equal rarity to many of the manuals referred to in the first section and can be classified into two principal groups: manuscripts that constitute the original of a subsequently published or unpublished text (Lavater and his treatise on physiognomy), and those that take the form of notebooks made in the context of the artist’s studio, copying sketches or other notebooks by the master.

Outstanding among them is the above-mentioned notebook by Rubens, known as the Bordes Manuscript. This is a remarkably important example as it constitutes the first proof of the existence of a lost notebook by Rubens in which he set out his ideas on anatomy, proportion, symmetry, optics, architecture and physiognomy and also made numerous drawings. The Bordes Manuscript is the most important of the four known copies, given that in addition to being a direct copy of the original it contains two drawings by Rubens himself. The Museo del Prado houses the largest and finest collection of paintings by Rubens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s