For the first time in Spain, the Museo del Prado
and the British Museum are presenting an extensive selection from the collection of Spanish drawings housed in the latter institution and considered one of the finest in the world. Arranged chronologically, the 71 drawings will allow visitors to appreciate the way Spanish artists expressed their commitment to the medium of drawing over a period spanning more than three hundred years, from the mid-16th century to the 19th century.
The exhibition includes drawings by all the most important artists of this period including Velázquez, Murillo, Zurbarán, Ribera and Goya, represented through some of their key works. Saint tied to a Tree by Ribera or Don Quixote assailed by Monsters by Goya are examples of the outstanding quality of this selection.
Drawings by Spanish artists were highly esteemed and collected in Great Britain from the mid-19th century onwards, reflecting the growing taste for Spanish art in that country which was encouraged by the publication of the two volumes of the Handbook for Travellers in Spain by Richard Ford (1845) and Annals of the Artists of Spain by William Stirling Maxwell (1848).
It was traditionally considered that Spanish artists were not particularly interested in drawing. This idea has, however, been revised in recent years and the present exhibition aims to demonstrate that the notion of drawing as a basis for the practice of art was well established in Spain from the Renaissance to the 19th century.
The 71 drawings in the exhibition are complemented by two paintings from the Prados collection for which the preparatory drawings are in London. The presence of these two oils by Vicente Carducho and Luis Paret allows for a reflection on the role of preparatory drawings in the final work.
The exhibition opens with the oldest drawings by 16th-century Spanish artists working in Castile, including Alonso Berruguete. This section also explores the repercussion on Spanish drawing of the presence of foreign artists in the country, primarily Italians, who were working on the decoration of the monastery at El Escorial. Among them was Pellegrino Tibaldi, represented here by one of the most outstanding architectural drawings of the 16th century, Study for the Decoration of the Library at El Escorial.
This section continues with the work of some of the most important 17th-century artists active in the different regions of Spain, which were independent artistic centres. They include Vicente Carducho, Alonso Cano and Francisco Rizi in Madrid; Francisco Pacheco, Murillo and Zurbarán in Seville; Juan Ribalta in Valencia and José de Ribera in Naples. All represent the great burgeoning of drawing that took place in the Golden Age, of which outstanding examples are The Dwarf Miguelito by Rizi, The Archangel Michael by Murillo, A miraculous healing by a Saint attributed to Ribalta and Tityus (or Prometheus) by Ribera.
From the 18th century the exhibition includes key works by Luis Paret (Masked Ball at the Teatro del Príncipe) and by José Camarón (Oriental Woman under an Awning) as well as drawings by other masters of this period, demonstrating artists increasing use of the medium at this period in response to international trends and influences.
The exhibition concludes with the work of Francisco de Goya, who permanently changed the context of Spanish art and contributed to making the country one of the leading artistic centres in Europe. Goyas drawings explore the imagination, beliefs and human conduct. Eight works that span his entire career and have never previously been seen in Spain (including the magnificent drawing of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington) reveal his incomparable versatility as a draughtsman and the variety of subjects that attracted his interest.
Sections of the exhibition
I. Importing graphic practices: Castile 15501600
In 1561 Philip II established Madrid as his capital. Two years later he laid the foundation stone for El Escorial, which was conceived as a monastery, the burial chamber of the Hapsburg dynasty, a library and the repository for Philips vast collections of art, relics and natural wonders. Completed in 1584, it required an enormous workforce including engineers, architects and artists from across Europe.
The time he had spent outside Spain during his youth, where he had seen the work of some of the best Flemish and Italian artists, shaped Philip IIs taste for art. Renowned Italian painters such as Federico Zuccaro, Pellegrino Tibaldi and Luca Cambiaso were chosen for their ability as fresco painters and they executed most of the mural decoration of the Escorial. Their drawing styles and techniques and how they used drawings to prepare their compositions had a lasting impact on the Spanish artists working alongside them, as well as on future generations. Other Spanish masters, such as Alonso Berruguete, spent time in Italy. What they experienced during their travels left a deep mark on their work and is visible in the drawings they made on returning home.
II: Madrid, artistic capital, 16001700
The main developments in prints and drawings in and around Madrid during the late 1500s and early 1600s are related to changes in techniques and practices in an environment receptive to innovation.
The masters who best reflect this transformation are the Italians who came to Spain as children, such as Vicente Carducho, or who belonged to the first generation born in Spain, like Eugenio Cajés. They inherited the belief that drawing was the key to the creative process and acted as an important link between their predecessors and a new generation of artists who would spearhead the golden age of Spanish drawing. From around 1650 we may speak of the existence of a style of painting distinctive to Madrid. Artists of this period, such as Francisco Rizi, Juan Carreño de Miranda, Francisco Camilo and Francisco de Herrera the Younger, used highly varied drawing techniques, with mixed media and larger sheets of better-quality paper. Drawings were put to many uses, such as planning theatre design, triumphal entries and architectural projects.
III: Andalusia, 15501700. Seville, Granada and Cordoba
During the early 1500s Seville became the commercial centre of the Spanish Empire. Like Cordoba and unlike Madrid, it had no court to focus artistic activity and commissions therefore came mainly from the church or private patrons.
It is difficult to form a clear picture of workshop practice in 16th-century Seville. In fact it was not until the 1600s that the city became a centre of artistic production with artists like Francisco de Zurbarán and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo rising to great prominence. In 1660 Murillo and Francisco Herrera the Younger established an academy of drawing in Seville. It operated for fourteen years and taught many students, reinforcing drawing as the basis of artistic practice.
Other masters trained in Seville and went on to have brilliant careers in the capital, such as Diego Velázquez, Herrera the Younger and Alonso Cano. Although these artists mobility make it difficult to identity a regional style, dominant figures such as Francisco Pacheco in Seville and Antonio del Castillo in Cordoba had a tremendous influence on those around them.
IV: Drawing in Valencia, 15001700. Ribera in Naples
During the 1500s and 1600s Valencia prospered thanks to its thriving commercial trade in the Mediterranean. For many merchants and travellers the city was the point of entry before moving on to other parts of Spain. From the 15th century onwards its wealth and cosmopolitan nature were expressed through extensive artistic patronage and it is no coincidence that it was one of the first places where graphic practices associated with Renaissance Italy took hold.
Francisco Ribalta and Pedro de Orrente established the general guidelines for drawing in Valencia in the first half of the 17th century. Their skill at handling wash sets them apart from artists anywhere else in Spain. From the late 1600s and throughout the whole of the 1700s Valencia produced prominent draughtsmen who trained at private and official academies of drawing, such as Vicente Salvador Gómez, Juan Conchillos and José Camarón.
José de Ribera deserves special attention owing to his outstanding activity as a draughtsman. Although he was born in Játiva (Valencia), he pursued most of his career in Naples, where he practiced drawing as a formal and independent exercise.
V: Drawing in the 1700s
The French artists sent for to Madrid by the new Bourbon dynasty had a considerable part in shaping taste during the first half of the 1700s. However, artistic alliances began to be dissolved towards the middle of the century owing to the greater influence of their Italian counterparts and of the Bohemian painter Anton Raphael Mengs.
The event that had the most profound consequences for artistic practice and the professional recognition of the artists working in Spain was the founding of the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid in 1744 where drawing was a fundamental aspect of teaching. The dissemination of academic studies and the wish to bring art up to the standard of other European countries ensured drawing a solid position. By the late 1700s Spanish masters had a thorough knowledge of the latest artistic trends.
Although the drawings made in Madrid in the 1700s were chiefly academic studies or preparatory sketches for paintings or frescoes, this was not their only use. Other varieties were architectural drawings and those preparatory for prints.
VI: Francisco de Goya (17461828)
Goya died in Bordeaux at the age of eighty-two leaving a body of work remarkable for its imagination, artistic vision and profound humanity. Through his drawings he explored fantasy, beliefs and human conduct and often grouped these works into series in order to explore more complex themes. Goya witnessed major social and political changes ranging from the terrible effects of the Inquisition to the French occupation. The independence of his political thought, his criticism of superstition and his rejection of intellection oppression reflect the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment.
Although his dedication to graphic art makes him an exception, he was far from being a misunderstood genius and his work should be interpreted in the context of the scientific, social and artistic development that was taking place in the 18th century.
Goya expressed his most intimate thoughts in his albums, which are rich samplers of his imagery and provide an outstanding insight into his personal world and creative process. He made drawings for all his prints and carried on drawing until the end of his life with a steady hand and boundless imagination.