The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum exhibits three paintings from the collection of Carmen Marañón-Fernández de Araoz
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The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum exhibits three paintings from the collection of Carmen Marañón-Fernández de Araoz
From left to right: Miguel Zugaza, director of the museum; Borja Baselga, director of Fundación Banco Santander; Carmen and Alejandro Fernández de Araoz; and Patricia Arias, regional director of Banco Santander.

BILBAO.- For the first time, the Guest Work programme, now in its 64th edition, presents three paintings signed by three universal figures in Spanish art-El Greco, Velázquez and Goya-which were assembled by Carmen Marañón-Fernández de Araoz (San Sebastián, 1912-Madrid, 2005). The daughter of Dr Gregorio Marañón (Madrid, 1887–1960), she promoted numerous cultural initiatives throughout her life, including the Fundación Gregorio Marañón and the Real Fundación de Toledo.

Dr Marañón was an authority in studies on endocrinology and other medical disciplines and one of the most prominent Spanish humanists and intellectuals of the past century. He assembled an interesting art collection, one of whose gems was Francisco de Goya's Lazarillo de Tormes (c.1808-1810), and his publications included the essay 'El Greco and Toledo' from 1956. That same year, his speech upon entering the San Fernando Royal Fine Arts Academy (Madrid) also discussed the painter from Crete.

That same Goya painting was inherited years later by his daughter Carmen, who had married the politician Alejandro Fernández de Araoz-the governor of the Bank of Spain during the Second Republic-and she also inherited El Greco's Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy (1594-1604) and Diego Velázquez's The Nun Jerónima de la Fuente (1620) from her husband.

These three masterpieces are now on display in the museum, accompanied by the Portrait of Carmen Marañón painted by Ignacio Zuloaga in 1931. This Basque artist had close ties to the family and was a good friend of Dr Marañón. In addition to Carmen, Zuloaga also painted portraits of her husband and the doctor, three times, whom he regularly visited in his house-museum in Santiago Etxea in Zumaia (Gipuzkoa), where some of the greatest intellectuals of the era met, such as the philosopher José Ortega y Gasset.

Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the most prominent penitent saints in the iconography of El Greco, who painted different episodes in his life on several occasions. In the painting Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy (1594–1604, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm), he is depicted with enormous expressiveness and an undefined background while praying and at the time the saint casts his gaze heavenward before receiving the stigmata. He is wearing a coarse habit tied with a rope with the three knots that symbolise the three vows of the Franciscan order, and he is accompanied by a cross and a skull, elements of meditation. He thus embodies one of the values of the Counter-Reformation, salvation through repentance, prayer and penitence.

Velázquez's The Nun Jerónima de la Fuente (1620, oil on canvas, 150 x 105 cm) is one of the few portraits of females in the painter's oeuvre; he painted the nun's image on three canvases commissioned by the Santa Isabel la Real congregation of Toledo upon Sister Jerónima's journey to Manila to found the Santa Clara de la Concepción convent. This painting, just like the one conserved in the Prado Museum, shows her full-body holding a crucifix in her right hand and a book in her left. The sitter's steady personality and life experience are thus reflected with the masterful naturalism that the young Velázquez managed to convey in his compositions from those early years.

In Lazarillo de Tormes (c.1808-1810, oil on canvas, 102.5 x 83 cm) Goya refers not only to one of the peak novels in Spanish picaresque literature-with the same title by an anonymous author-but also to the paintings of vagabonds and indigent people, some of them children, which had already garnered success for painters like Murillo. He captures the landscape where the cruel blind man smells the breath of the child helping him only to find out that he had indeed secretly eaten the sausage he was cooking. Here, Goya uses an almost expressionistic style and the dark palette of his 'Black Paintings' (1819-1823). On an interesting note, following his scientific spirit, Dr Marañón interpreted the painting as an allusion to the respiratory inflammation caused by diphtheria, commonly known as the 'croup'.

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