The British Museum established in 1753 houses a vast collection of art from all the cultures of the world and is not only one of the largest with over 2,000,000 individual objects, but also the most comprehensive in existence. It documents the journey civilisation has made from its earliest beginnings to the modern day.
Its Department of Prints and Drawings richly represents leading artists of the European schools from the advent of printmaking in the 15th century to the present day. Their Renaissance holdings include works by such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo, and it is perhaps not as well known, that it has one of the finest collections of Spanish graphic art in the world.
It’s a selection of their Spanish prints and drawings that are making their way to the Art Gallery of NSW where Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain will be an exhibition on show from 31st August to 24thNovember 2013.
The British Museum Press has published an accompanying catalogue, which was written by Mark McDonald, the curator of Renaissance to Goya: prints and drawings from Spain, who will be in Sydney for the opening day of the exhibition and together with the Director for Public Engagement at the British Museum, Joanna Mackle will give illustrated talks. It is a beautiful and comprehensive publication examining for the first time the rich history of more than 400 years of Spanish drawing and printmaking.
Little known outside Spain Spanish prints and drawings for a long time only a few artists were generally assumed to have produced them. What this exhibition offers is a compelling re-evaluation, of that perception, particularly highlighting the exceptional quality and diversity of the graphic arts across the various distinctive regions of Spain.
Covering 250 years of graphic production from the mid 16th century to the early 19th century, their diversity and imagery illustrates the cultural links Spain enjoyed with other European countries while retaining its own character.
A large component of the exhibition is devoted to the Golden Age of Spanish drawing in 17th-century Madrid.
You have works from Vincente Carducho (1568-1638), who was born in Italy and went to Madrid as a boy and Francisco Camilo (died 1671) the son of an Italian Painter who had settled at Madrid.
Then there was the man often called the Spanish Michelangelo Alonso Cano (1601-1667) who was born in Granada and became an architect and sculptor known for the diversity of his talents, as well as the very gifted Francisco Rizi (1608–1685), who was also a painter and stage designer.
Drawings in this period were executed in a variety of techniques serving many purposes, including being a testament to the increasing importance of the role of drawing in artistic creation.
Moving through the exhibition to 17th-century Seville, where commissions came mainly from the church and private patrons rather than the aristocrats of the court, the viewer will encounter beautiful works by such celebrated figures as Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664) and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1618-1682).
Although one of Spain’s most important painters, who was the leading creative at the court of King Phillip IV, Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) was trained in Seville.
He went on to have a brilliant career in the capital Madrid, while José de Ribera (1591-1652) one of the outstanding draughtsmen and printmakers of the same period, left his native Valencia to spend most of his career in (Spanish) Naples.
The exhibition culminates with the dominating romantic painter and printmaker 18th-century Spanish artist Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), whose works are richly represented in British Museum collections.
He is the artist regarded as both the last of the Old Masters and the first of the Moderns.
He was the court painter to the Spanish Crown and painted a fabulous portrait of Joseph Bonaparte, who was a pretender to the Spanish throne. His work was distinguished by its bold handling of paint, a characteristic that influenced artists of later generations.
A tormented soul as he grew older, modern physicians suspect that the lead in his pigments poisoned Goya and caused him to gradually go deaf from 1792.
The show will offer a rare opportunity to view a broad spectrum of Goya’s extraordinary works in art through his prints and drawings, especially in relation to those of his forerunners and contemporaries working in Madrid during the 18th and early 19th centuries. This is when a desire for printmaking and drawing expanded rapidly with the advent of good health and subsequent population growth, forever changing the artistic landscape of Spain.
Renaissance to Goya: prints and drawings from Spain
On View: 31 Aug – 24 Nov 2013
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney