Skip to main content

El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III

ORIGINAL TRAVELING EXHIBITION

August 21 – November 09, 2008
Duke students Laura Pierce (T'11), Lisa Hafer (T'09) and Marcus Andrew (T'10) are engrossed in the 1612 masterpiece by Juan Bautista Maino, Adoration of the Magi, on loan from the Museo del Prado in Madrid for the exhibition El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III. Photo by Fallano/Faulkner.
Students take a close look at Resurrection, a painting created in 1605 by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz. Photo by J Caldwell.
Students take a close look at Resurrection, a painting created in 1605 by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz. Photo by J Caldwell.

The biggest blockbuster exhibition of the Nasher Museum’s first decade was praised by The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine as one of the country’s top 10 exhibitions of 2008. El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III brought the highest attendance yet to the museum—nearly 74,000 people over the course of 11 weeks.

El Greco to Velázquez was based upon 20 years of research by Nancy Hanks Senior Curator Sarah Schroth, who co-organized the exhibition with her longtime friend and colleague, Ronni Baer, the William and Ann Elfers Senior Curator of Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The 1603 painting by Peter Paul Reubens, Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma, was a centerpiece of the exhibition. Gallery installation photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

Masterworks on Loan for the First Time

El Greco to Velázquez was the first exhibition to show both Spanish masters in context with other accomplished artists of their time. The exhibition featured 53 paintings, including seven late works by El Greco, three early works by Velázquez and works by their contemporaries, lesser known but talented artists. Two main exhibition galleries were filled with monumental altar pieces, life-size portraits, some of the earliest still-life paintings in Europe, full-length carved and painted wooden sculptures of Spanish saints and more than 50 pieces of Spanish glass and ceramics. Many works traveled to this country for the first time, some from the churches for which they were originally commissioned and had never traveled, others from major museums: Museo Nacional del Prado in Spain, the National Gallery, London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The gallery is anchored by the polychrome wooden sculpture, Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, dated 1606-08, by Juan Martínez Montañés. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

A 20-Year Dream Come True

Nasher museum Senior Curator Sarah Schroth poses with inventory notes she used as research for the exhibition. Photo by Chris Hildreth for Duke Photography.
Nasher museum Senior Curator Sarah Schroth poses with inventory notes she used as research for the exhibition. Photo by Chris Hildreth for Duke Photography.

The exhibition shed new light on two of the greatest painters in history. Their work and that of overlooked painters — among them Juan Sánchez Cotán, Gregorio Fernández, Juan Bautista Maino and Luis Tristán — formed the foundation for the great painters of the Spanish Golden Age. The show brought to life the little-known period of 23 years (1598-1621) when Philip III ruled Spain when Spain still dominated the world with holdings greater than the Roman Empire. This period of Spanish history — with its pageantry, religious passion, art patronage, political intrigue and literary accomplishments — rivals the eras of Elizabethan England and France under Louis XIV.

“This exhibition is a 20-year dream come true,” Schroth said.  “We have gathered the best masterpieces by artists working during the reign of Philip III, whose careers, like that of the king, I hope to restore to their proper place in history. I know visitors will be surprised at the enormous talent of these ‘rediscovered’ artists and will enjoy learning about the beginnings of the Golden Age of Spain.”

Europe's First Mega-Collector

Visitors gather to celebrate the exhibition at the annual banefit gala. Photo by Duke Photography.
Visitors gather to celebrate the exhibition at the annual banefit gala. Photo by Duke Photography.

El Greco to Velázquez examined the epoch of Philip III through a new lens. Schroth discovered 13 inventories of the paintings and goods of the king’s favorite, Francisco Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas, the Duke of Lerma. These documents indicated that Lerma was the first mega-collector in Europe, amassing an extraordinary collection of more than 2,000 paintings.  Many of the artists the duke supported are in the exhibition. Among them was the monumental Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma (1603, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid), which is in the exhibition, that the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens painted while on a diplomatic mission to the Spanish court. The inventories also mentioned nearly 900 pieces of luxury glass, porcelain, ceramics and redware that Lerma arranged in a camarín, or “little room,” which was evocatively reconstructed for the exhibition.

“I believe that our visitors will come away from this exhibition with a deeper understanding of the forces and personalities that influenced the creation of these great works of art,” said co-curator Ronni Baer, “and a richer appreciation of their beauty and significance of the exhibition.”

Ballet, Concerts and More

Cultural institutions in Durham and the surrounding region created programs and events to complement the exhibition. Highlights included a newly choreographed Don Quixote by the Carolina Ballet, a commissioned work by renowned modern composer and Duke professor Stephen Jaffe for the North Carolina Symphony, a concert of period music with viola da gamba performer Jordi Savall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall and a performance by the renowned British choral group the Tallis Scholars sponsored by Duke Performances. The statewide public television station UNC-TV produced a 30-minute documentary about the exhibition with live footage from Spain that aired many times throughout North Carolina.

The exhibition opened at the MFA, Boston, and traveled to the Nasher Museum.

Support

This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The exhibition was sponsored by Bank of America.

Additional support was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Homeland Foundation and the National Endownment for the Arts. Official Print Sponsor: The News & Observer.

The exhibition and this catalogue are presented with the collaboration of the State Corporation for Spanish Cultural Action Abroad, SEACEX, which is supported by the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and the Ministry of Culture.

Generous support for the catalogue was provided by Scott and Isabelle Black.

Special thanks to the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation; the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust; the Program for Cultural Cooperation between Spain’s Ministry of Culture and United States Universities; the Edward T. Rollins, Jr. and Frances P. Rollins Foundation; the John A. Schwarz III and Anita Erdmans Schwarz Family Endowment; and the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost, Duke University.

The exhibition also received support from Duke University’s Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, Department of Music, Department of Romance Studies, Department of Theater Studies, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, the Office of Public Affairs and Government Relations, Duke Center for Multicultural Affairs, and the Visual Studies Initiative.

Support for the North Carolina Symphony Commission was provided by Drs. Victor S. and Lenore B. Behar; for the UNC-TV documentary project by Marilyn M. Arthur; for the Annual Semans Lecture by the Semans Lecture Series Endowment Fund, and Ruth and Victor Dzau; for the Lender’s Event by the Thomas S. Kenan Foundation; and for educational programs by Carolyn Aaronson and Isobel Craven Drill. Additional support was provided by Herman and Eunice Grossman.

 

 

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter