Renaissance to Goya: Prints and drawings from Spain

British Museum
Nov 19, 2012 9:33PM

The British Museum’s exhibition Renaissance to Goya: Prints and drawings from Spain brings together for the first time important prints and drawings by Spanish and other European artists who were working in Spain from the mid-sixteenth to the nineteenth century. We hope to provide new insights into the visual culture and history of Spain, a country renowned for its painting and architecture, but not so well known for its graphic arts in comparison to its European counterparts, Italy and France.

Outside of Spain, the British Museum has one of the best collections of Spanish drawings from the seventeenth century, a period often considered to be the 'Golden Age' of Spanish arts and literature. All of the most important artists are represented by key works in this display; Diego Velázquez and Alonso Cano in Madrid, Bartolomé Murillo and Francisco Zurbáran in Seville and Jusepe de Ribera in Spanish Naples. Francisco de Goya, who is universally regarded as one of the most important and compelling graphic artists of the period, is represented through the Museum's remarkable collection of his prints and drawings. The lack of study and appreciation of Spanish prints and drawings is partly due to the misapprehension that Spanish artists did not draw, an attitude that has since been revised through further research on the subject. The reasons for these assumptions are complex, but can perhaps be rooted in the confiscation of Church possessions that took place in the nineteenth century, and subsequent dispersal of collections of Spanish art. The exhibition considers the reasons behind this misapprehension and demonstrate the distinctive character of art in Spain during this period.

The exhibition begins exploring the mid-sixteenth century with the building of Philip II's monastery of the Escorial near Madrid that drew a large number of foreign artists, mainly Italian. By the seventeenth century, each region of Spain was operating as an independent artistic 'centre', resulting in artistic practice being more segregated than the smaller countries of France or Italy. The exhibition is arranged into regions: Madrid and Granada; Seville and Córdoba; and Valencia/Naples, in order to highlight the differences. The last part of the exhibition is devoted to Goya and his contemporaries, including the Tiepolo family who arrived in Madrid in the 1760s and whose etchings revolutionised printmaking in Madrid.

The selection of Goya's work demonstrates the huge range of his graphic ability and the subjects that absorbed him. Much has been written of Goya's 'lone genius' but this exhibition explores how his art should be seen in the context of the unprecedented scientific, social and artistic developments that were taking place in Spain and the rest of Europe during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The show features examples of his Tauromaquin series, a collection of aquatint etchings of bullfighting subjects, which portrayed some of the most famous bullfighters of the day. In this series Goya has completely mastered the aquatint technique, achieving remarkable theatrical effects through the contrasting light and dark. Proofs from Goya's Disasters of War print series are also shown, demonstrating his reaction to Napoleon's invasion of Spain and the horror that followed.It is through Goya and his contemporaries that we can see first-hand how the work they were producing helped to propel Spain to become an artistically dominant force, whilst changing the artistic landscape of Spain forever.

British Museum