El Siglo de Oro. The Age of Velázquez
1 July – 30 October 2016
An exhibition by Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in cooperation with Kunsthalle München
The exhibition falls under the joint patronage of His Majesty Felipe VI, the King of Spain and Federal President Joachim Gauck.
The art of the Siglo de Oro – the Golden Age of Spain – represents an important chapter in European cultural history. International interest in Spanish art of the 17th century has risen steadily over the past several decades, with numerous recent exhibitions held in Europe and the United States in the last few years alone, focusing on individual aspects or artists of this epoch.
This summer the Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old Master Paintings – National Museums in Berlin), which possesses one of the leading collections of Spanish painting in Germany, will exhibit a comprehensive collection of original paintings, sculptures, and drawings from the Siglo de Oro. The exhibition will offer viewers a unique opportunity to discover this outstanding epoch of art, and the close relationship this art shared with the social and economic changes of its time.
Thanks to 64 international lenders, including the Museo del Prado in Madrid, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris, and the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid, the fascinating variety of 17th century Spanish art will go on show outside of Spain for the first time. The exhibition includes more than 130 masterpieces by Velázquez, El Greco, Zurbarán, and Murillo, as well the work of lesser-known artists such as Alonso Cano and Gregorio Fernández.
El Siglo de Oro. The Age of Velázquez focuses on the trajectories of the artistic centres of Toledo, Valencia, Seville, and Madrid while simultaneously tracing historical developments in Spain, a country whose art production was inseparably linked with the political and social history of the 17th century. Spanish art reached its apotheosis during the same century that Spain – previously the most powerful country of Europe –rapidly lost its political hegemony. It developed its own visual language and iconography, a style closely connected with the contemporary reality and the powers that shaped it – the church and the aristocracy, led by the king. Both institutions used art as a form of propaganda to maintain the illusion of strength and stability.
The Transition to the Baroque
The first part of the exhibition introduces the most important centres of Spanish art in the 17th century. The permanent seat of the court in Madrid provided for continuous growth in the city’s population and a flowering economy. This was accompanied and reinforced by the continual attraction that the city held for artists, as evidenced in the exhibition by the
works of Vicente Carducho (1576–1638) and Eugenio Cajés (1574–1634).
In contrast, the art of Valencia was shaped by the dominance of the region’s ecclesiastical patrons. Valencia’s geographical distance from Madrid resulted in the development of an independent visual style, characterized by naturalistic immediacy. This style is particularly apparent in the paintings of Francisco Ribalta (1565–1628) and Jusepe de Ribera (1591–
For its part, Toledo assumed a privileged position due to the unique oeuvre of the artist El Greco. Originally from Crete, El Greco (1541–1614) is represented in the exhibition by masterpieces such as Saint Martin and the Beggar, on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The artistic centre of Andalusia was the wealthy and cosmopolitan city of Seville, where the Catholic Church served as the most important client. Seville was also a centre for the production and export of religious images destined for the Americas. The exhibition highlights the work of two artists from this region, Francisco Pacheco (1564–1644) and Juan de Roelas
(1570–1625), both of whom were inspirational to following generations of masters.
The Generation of Great Masters
The second part of the exhibition features works by Velázquez, Zurbarán, and Ribera, and highlights the striking contrast between the excesses of the political and religious elite on the one hand, and the country’s social and economic reality after the collapse of the American market and the outbreak of plague on the other. Philipp IV, along with the royal favourite, the Count-Duke of Olivares, transformed art into the most important tool for their political propaganda.
The enormous number of artistic works they commissioned singlehandedly established Madrid as the artistic centre of Spain. During this period Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, born in 1599 in Seville and active in Madrid from 1622, emerged as the most outstanding court painter. If the preceding epoch had been marked by regional diversity, the interests of the Church now concentrated artistic production in Madrid and Seville; the latter, as the most important city in Andalusia, exerted a particularly strong attraction for artists. This section of the exhibition calls special attention to the work of Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664) and Alonso Cano (1601–1667), both of whom were active in Madrid and Seville.
The Artists of the High Baroque
The third section of the exhibition focuses on Madrid’s increasingly important role in the arts as a result of demographic and economic shifts in Spain. Towards the end of the 17th century, Madrid became one of the largest cities in Europe. In contrast, other cities experienced a steady decrease in population, a trend that limited support for ambitious artistic projects.
Throughout this period, the tendency for art commissioned by the court to mask the decay of the empire, and to be instrumentalised by the CounterReformation becomes increasingly clear: Masters such as Velázquez and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1618–1682) were deeply affected by these circumstances, and developed a new category of genre painting. Examples in the exhibition include Velázquez’s masterful representation of the war god Mars and Murillo’s The Pastry Eaters.
A central facet of El Siglo de Oro. The Age of Velázquez is a comparative view of the painting of the Siglo de Oro with the hitherto neglected sculpture of the same period. With pieces such as the Mater Dolorosa by Pedro Roldán (1624–1699) from the Skulpturensammlung and Museum für Byzantinische Kunst (Sculpture Collection and Museum of Byzantine Art), the exhibition features work from the most important German collection of Spanish sculpture of the 17th century. One of the most spectacular works on loan to the exhibition – Gregorio Fernández’s monumental polychromed group of wooden sculptures depicting the Passion of Christ (after
1610) – is still used in the Good Friday procession in the Spanish city of Valladolid. The Gemäldegalerie’s presentation marks the first time the group will be on display in Germany.
In addition to the comprehensive selection of painting and sculpture, graphic work by masters such as Ribera, Cano, and Murillo drawn from the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Museum of Prints and Drawings – National Museums in Berlin), will be presented to a wide audience for the first time. For the duration of the exhibition, installations by the contemporary Spanish artists Pablo Alonso, Alex Arteaga, and Anna Talens will be on display in the entrance hall of the Kulturforum. These installations bear direct relationship with the works presented in the exhibition, setting the exhibition into dialogue with current discourse.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive educational and outreach program and a series of lectures, concerts, films, and other exhibitions at Berlin’s Kulturforum. For the full program please visit the website www.elsiglodeoro.de.
The exhibition is sponsored by Kuratorium Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe and “la Caixa“ Foundation. The exhibition is supported by Kaiser Friedrich Museumsverein, the Embassy of Spain, Instituto Cervantes and Museum&Location.