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The Museo del Prado Presents Today Velázquez' Fables in Its New Extension
Diego Velázquez, The Fable of Aracne, Oil on canvas, 220 x 289 cm. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.


MADRID, SPAIN.-As part of its inaugural programme marking the opening of the new extension, the Museo del Prado is presenting the exhibition Velázquez’ Fables, the first to offer an in-depth analysis of this aspect of the artist’s work as a painter of narratives. The exhibition brings together 27 works by the artist in addition to 24 by 17 other artists with the aim of revealing the context in which the artist executed some of his most important paintings. Among the works by Velázquez to be seen in the exhibition are 12 loans including The Rokeby Venus from the National Gallery in London, one of the artist’s most famous works no longer in Spain.

The 51 works in the exhibition depict a variety of subjects from biblical history, mythology and the classical world with the intention of focusing on Velázquez’ originality in his approach to such themes, his remarkable technical versatility and the development of his art over the course of a career spanning more than four decades. With this aim in mind, the 27 works by the painter are juxtaposed with a further 24 by various artists which allow for an appreciation of Velázquez’ response to external creative stimuli. Among the other artists in the exhibition are two sculptures by Martínez Montañés and Gregorio Fernández, paintings by earlier masters such as Titian and Caravaggio, and works by great Spanish painters of Velázquez’ own generation and the previous one such as El Greco, Ribera and Zurbarán. It also includes examples of work by the leading non-Spanish artists of the day with whom the artist was familiar and who in some cases influenced his own painting such as the Flemish painter Rubens, the French artists Poussin and Claude Lorraine and the Italians Guercino, Guido Reni and Massimo Stanzione.

The group of works on display by Velázquez comprises his sacred and mythological compositions now in the collection of the Prado as well as other important paintings on loan. The latter include Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, The Immaculate Conception and Saint John the Evangelist from the National Gallery in London; Saint Paul from the MNAC in Barcelona; The Supper at Emmaus from Dublin; Joseph’s blood-stained Coat brought to Jacob from El Escorial (which will be seen next to Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan); and The Temptation of Saint Thomas from Orihuela.

Among the works by other artists represented in the exhibition special mention should be made of Poussin’s The Triumph of David; Saint John the Baptist by Martínez Montañés; Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife by Guido Reni; Democritus by Ribera; The Immaculate Conception by Alonso Cano; and Rubens’ Heraclitus.

The decision to juxtapose Velázquez’ works with those of other great artists who not only influenced him but from whom he also diverged is intended to reveal to visitors how the artist’s works differed from those of earlier painters and contemporaries despite their similarities. With this aim in mind, some of the artist’s most important compositions will be displayed alongside paintings of comparable subjects by other leading artists. Such pairings include Los Borrachos and Caravaggio’s Young Man with a Basket of Fruit, The Rokeby Venus and Rubens’ The Three Graces, and Christ on the Cross and Gregorio Hernández’ sculpture of The Recumbent Christ.

The exhibition’s layout - Organised thematically and chronologically, the exhibition is divided into six sections which will allow for an appreciation of Velázquez’ evolution as a painter.

The first section is entitled Seville: religion and daily life and focuses on the religious paintings that the artist executed prior to his permanent move to the Court in Madrid in 1623. They reveal how from the start of his career Velázquez aimed to move away from the standard formulas of religious iconography, making his compositions more complex and introducing other elements additional to the narrative such as the family portraits to be seen in The Adoration of the Magi.

Entitled The Roman Context. Classicists and Caravaggisti, the second section of the exhibition includes large-scale works. They include Los Borrachos and Christ and the Christian Soul, which were presumably painted in Madrid, while the other two (Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan and Joseph’s blood-stained Tunic brought to Jacob) were executed in Rome. Despite this distinction, which has always resulted in these works being interpreted separately and seen as marking two different phases in the artist’s evolution, they are here included in the same section. The intention is to reveal as overtly as possible the remarkable change in the artist’s approach to composition which took place in the space of a few years as well as to emphasise the fact that the most important influence on his style at this period derived primarily from Italy. This consisted on the one hand of a naturalism derived from Caravaggio and from which Velázquez developed an interest in reality and his distinctive way of modelling the anatomy of Bacchus and his companions in Los Borrachos and in Christ and the Christian Soul. Secondly, it resulted from his knowledge of classical sculpture and his interest in Renaissance, classicising and Venetian artists evident in the two masterpieces he executed in Rome in which he tackled expressive and formal issues comparable to those that interested the leading painters active in Italy at the time. As always, Velázquez formulated unique and highly individual responses to these issues.

Devotion and Meditation, the third section, covers the years following the artist’s return from Italy when he produced four great religious works, one of which, Christ on the Cross, can be seen as a high point in the history of devotional painting. In these works Velázquez’ intention was to convey religious sentiment and inspire devotion rather than recount a narrative.

The next two sections, The Nude: narration and Philosophy and History include works mainly executed from the 1630s onwards. At this point Velázquez developed what was to be his definitive, mature style, characterised by a marked emphasis on tone and colour. In the development of this style his knowledge of Venetian painters and the work of Rubens were extremely important and this section focuses on works by these artists. Juxtaposed here are Velázquez’ male and female nudes depicted in Mars and The Rokeby Venus respectively, which differ considerably in their pictorial handling despite being painted close together in time. A comparison between these two works is particularly helpful in appreciating the artist’s technical versatility.

Finally, the last section, entitled Narrative, includes some of the artist’s most sophisticated and ambitious works from a formal and narrative viewpoint including Las Hilanderas and Las Meninas. The latter will not be physically present in the exhibition but visitors to the exhibition and to the permanent collection will be able to see it in the room where it has been hanging for several decades, on the main wall of the Basilical Hall. Although Las Meninas is a group portrait it is included in the present exhibition, as, along with Las Hilanderas, it encompasses a reflection on pictorial space and a desire on the artist’s part to create a narrative tension between the different spatial planes, marking the culmination of his artistic investigation initiated in Seville.

The catalogue - The exhibition explores the crucial role that this genre of narrative painting occupied within Velázquez’ output despite representing a numerically smaller group in comparison to his portraits. The accompanying catalogue will in fact be the first publication to offer an in-depth focus on this aspect of Velázquez as a narrative painter, an issue that has not been the subject of separate study until now despite the






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