In the summer of 2015, the Kunstmuseum Basel lent ten paintings by Pablo Picasso to the
Museo Nacional del Prado. Around 1.4 million visitors saw these treasures in Madrid while the
Kunstmuseum Basel was closed for renovations. Although Picasso was once its director, the
Prado has no work by the Spanish master, and so the presentation of the loans from Basel
fulfilled a long-held desire.
The Prado generously offered to reciprocate by sending a selection from its outstanding Old
Masters collection to Basel. We started making plans right away, and now, two years later,
twenty-six masterworks from Madrid are coming to Basel: ¡Hola Prado! presents eminent works
from the Kunstmuseum’s own collection in dialogue with the Prado’s world-famous paintings.
This summit meeting between two centuries-old collections is an extraordinary stroke of good
fortune for the Kunstmuseum Basel—and offers visitors a unique opportunity to see a large set
of works from the Prado here in Basel.
Selected by the Kunstmuseum together with the Prado, the selection does not attempt to
represent a cross-section of the Spanish museum’s holdings. Rather, the hand-picked guests
from the Prado are shown side by side with paintings from the Kunstmuseum in twenty-four
focused encounters: Titian, Zurbarán, Velázquez, Murillo, and Goya enter into a dialogue with
Memling, Baldung, Holbein the Younger, Goltzius, and Rembrandt. Cycles of prints by Goya and
Holbein the Younger from the Kupferstichkabinett round out the meeting between the two
Josef Helfenstein, director of the Kunstmuseum Basel, is enormously pleased: “Any institution
would jump at the chance to present a choice of masterworks from the Museo del Prado, one of
the world’s most important historic art collections.” He is convinced that the exhibition will be an
unprecedented opportunity for visitors to experience the different emphases of two collections
that are among the oldest in Europe.
In addition to the pleasures of exquisite art, visitors can look forward to inspiring insights and
delightful discoveries. One example: on the eve of the Reformation, Hans Holbein the Younger
in Basel revolutionized sacred art with his “Dead Christ in the Tomb,” a still life that distilled the
Biblical narrative down to its essence and shifted the categories and boundaries of religious
painting. Roughly a century later, Francisco de Zurbarán, working in the wake of the Counter-
Reformation, painted a no less radical picture: in the tradition of the “bodegón” (the Spanish still
life with victuals), it shows a lamb with its feet tied together—John the Baptist’s Agnus Dei, one
of the most ancient symbols for Jesus. Both works imply the question: how, if at all, should
painting render the Son of God?
That is only one pair among many. Hans Holbein the Younger, for instance, vies with the
Italians: with Titian, whose “Ecce Homo” will be brought face to face with Holbein’s “Scourging,”
and with Giovanni Battista Moroni, whose picture of a soldier will be the counterpart to Holbein’s
portrait of Bonifacius Amerbach. Other genres represented in the exhibition will include religious
and mythological history painting, allegorical art, and the landscape.
Bodo Brinkmann, who curates the exhibition, believes that the altogether fifty-four works will
shed light on each other. He looks forward to examining shared features as well as differences
between them, arguing that such scrutiny lays the foundation for further conclusions. “The
comparative study of two or more works is essential to the methodology of art history. Only it
always sounds a little like a technical procedure—like an exercise prescribed by an
ophthalmologist. But as the exhibition will demonstrate, comparative seeing can feel entirely
natural, an immensely enjoyable and effortless way to learn more about art.”
A richly illustrated catalogue accompanying the exhibition, with essays by Bodo Brinkmann and
Gabriel Dette (152 pages), will be published by Michael Imhof Verlag.