Exhibition | Treasures of the Hispanic Society of America
Manuel Chili, known as Caspicara, Four Fates of the Soul: Death, Soul in Heaven, Soul in Purgatory, and Soul in Hell, ca. 1775 (New York: The Hispanic Society of America).
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Treasures of the Hispanic Society of America: Visions of the Hispanic World
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 4 April — 10 September 2017
Curated by Mitchell Codding
Through September 10, the Museo del Prado will present the treasures of the museum and library of the Hispanic Society, an institution located in Upper Manhattan in New York, founded in 1904 by Archer Milton Huntington (1870–1955), one of America’s greatest philanthropists. Huntington created an institution that reflected an appreciation of Spanish culture and the study of the literature and art of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America. Treasures of the Hispanic Society of America: Visions of the Hispanic World brings together more than two hundred works of art including paintings, drawings, and sculpture, archaeological artifacts, liturgical vestments, furniture, and books and manuscripts from the library, creating a fascinating chronological and thematic experience of the highlights of the Hispanic Society’s vast collections.
With this exhibition—which occupies all of the temporary exhibition galleries in the new extension—the Museo del Prado offers its visitors the privilege of enjoying one museum within another, as it did in 2012 with the exhibition The Hermitage in the Prado. In this case, the renovation of the Hispanic Society’s galleries has allowed the treasures of their collections of Spanish and Latin American art, along with rare books and manuscripts, to travel to Spain. Many of the works of art that will be shown have not previously been exhibited or were unknown, including the reliquary busts of Santa Marta and Santa María Magdalena by Juan de Juni and the Fates of Man by Manuel Chili, known as Caspicara. Others have recently been identified, such as the Map of Tequaltiche, which was thought to be lost. Besides the individual value of each work of art, this exceptional grouping gives context to the magnitude of the rich history of Hispanic culture in the Iberian Peninsula, America, and Philippines. Spanning more than 3,000 years, the collection shows a quality of art works that no museum outside of Spain can compete with, demonstrating the passion of a unique collector who put his resources and knowledge towards creating a Spanish museum in America.
The extraordinary selection of paintings includes master works such as Portrait of a Little Girl, Camillo Astalli and Gaspar de Guzmán, Conde-Duque de Olivares by Velázquez, Pieta by El Greco, The Prodigal Son by Murillo, Santa Emerenciana by Zurbarán, and the emblematic Duchess of Alba by Goya, especially conserved for this occasion at the Museo del Prado with the collaboration of Fundación Iberdrola. Also represented are paintings by Post-Impressionists and modern artists, such as Zuloaga, Sorolla, and Santiago Rusiñol. The selection of sculpture includes, among others: the Efigie of Mencía Enríquez de Toledo from the Workshop of Gil de Siloé, the terracotta The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine by Luisa Roldán, and Fates of Man, a group of polychromed wood sculptures by Manuel Chili, known as Caspicara.
The exhibition also includes a selection of important archaeological artifacts, among them Celtiberian jewelry, Bell-Beaker vessels, and a Visigothic belt buckle. Completing the survey is a significant selection of decorative arts, with Renaissance and Baroque metalwork, ceramics from Manises, Talavera and Alcora, and an exquisite Pyxis made of ivory with gold plated hinges. Alongside these objects are textiles including a Fragment of the tunic of Prince Felipe de Castilla and a Nazrid silk textile.
An innovative mounting technique will allow the important holdings of the library of the Hispanic Society to be appreciated in all their splendor; works include A grant (Privilegio) issued by Alfonso VII, king of Castile and León, Biblia sacra iuxta versionem vulgata. Bible in Latin; unique letters such as Holograph instructions for his son Philip, the Letter to Phillip II of Spain from Elizabeth I, Queen of England, and the Holograph letter, signed “Diego de Silva Velazquez” to Damián Gotiens; and various maps including Portolan Atlas by Battista Agnese and the Mapamundi by Juan Vespucci.
The first part of the exhibition (Galleries A and B) is organized chronologically and thematically by period in Spain and Latin America and comprises archaeological artifacts from sites on the Iberian Peninsula, Roman sculpture, magnificent ceramics, glass, furniture, textiles, silverworks, and Islamic and Medieval treasures as well as those from the Golden Age. Of particular relevance are Spanish paintings, in dialogue with the collections of the Prado, and colonial art closely related to the peninsula’s artistic legacy. Also included is a section dedicated to the library at the Hispanic Society, one of the most important in the world.
Gallery C offers a broad selection of the best Spanish painting from the 19th century through the early 20th century, including an exceptional collection of portraits of the leading Spanish scholars of that period, who worked closely with Huntington. After the First World War, Archer Huntington halted acquisitions, but maintained a close relationship with Spanish art and culture through his friendship with various painters, principally Joaquín Sorolla, who was commissioned to paint the famous series of large scale canvases depicting the regions of Spain for the Hispanic Society.
Accompanying the exhibition is a documentary projected in Gallery D, directed by Francesco Jodice, that transports the visitor to New York in the beginning of the twentieth century and narrates the history of the Hispanic Society and the passion of its founder, the philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington. The film contextualizes the origins of the early collecting practices of Huntington; the construction and inauguration of the headquarters of the Hispanic Society; Huntington’s collections and the fantastic holdings of the library; his relationship with Spain through Alfonso XII and the great Spanish intellectuals of the era; his friendship with Sorolla in New York; and the philanthropy of this great patron who wanted to remain anonymous during his entire life. The story is told by the director, Mitchell Codding, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Philippe de Montebello, and the curators. The film, which runs for approximately 20 minutes, was filmed in New York and at the Prado Museum and is in English with Spanish subtitles.
Visions of the Hispanic World is the latest chapter in the decade-long collaboration between the Museo del Prado and the BBVA Foundation, involving the annual organization of a major exhibition event. This partnership has made possible such celebrated exhibitions as Passion for Renoir, The Hermitage in the Prado, El Greco and Modern Painting, and Bosch: The 5th Centenary Exhibition. Thanks to the Prado’s select network of relations with public and private lenders, these shows are the opportunity for an international public to view works that might otherwise never be seen under one roof. The exhibitions presented by the Prado and BBVA Foundation have met with an extraordinary response. In particular, those devoted to the Hermitage and Bosch successively broke the record of visits to the Madrid museum’s temporary exhibits, with over 580,000 spectators each.
Archer Milton Huntington, only son of one of the wealthiest families in The United States, from a young age possessed a profound interest in the Hispanic world. His education and numerous trips to Europe inspired an interest in collecting, always with the idea of creating a museum. In less than forty years, Huntington created a library and museum designed to elevate the study of Hispanic art through unparalleled collections in both scope and quality. At the same time, he published various facsimiles of important rare books and manuscripts. Huntington, in an effort to not deprive Spain of its artistic treasures, acquired most of his collection outside of the country. One can confirm, as did Jonathan Brown, that Huntington saw the Hispanic Society as an encyclopedic depository of Spanish art and literature. Huntington was one of the first Hispanists in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. For this reason he was awarded by numerous American universities. He was an active member of various Spanish museums and was invested as member of the Spanish Royal Academies. This exhibition pays homage to Huntington’s lifelong work for The Hispanic Society Museum & Library in the diffusion and study of Spanish culture in the United States of America.
Tesoros de la Hispanic Society of America (Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2017), 448 pages, ISBN: 978 84848 04079, 35€.