09.02.2013: From Florence to Frankfurt

1. Florentine Spring

Pedro Fernández (doc. 1519 – 1521), Saint Blaise, c. 1517, oil on panel, 142.5 x 67 cm; lent by the MNAC to the exhibition.

Thanks to Joan Yeguas, Conservator for Renaissance and Baroque Art in the MNAC, I came across an interesting exhibition opening in the Uffizi on March, 5: “Norma e capriccio. Spagnoli in Italia agli esordi della ‘maniera moderna’” (“Norma e Capriccio. Spanish artists in Italy in the early Mannierist period”, until May 26, tickets and catalogue here). It will explore the close connections established by an extraordinary group of Spanish sculptors and painters who, following the routes opened by political influence, travelled to Florence, Naples and Rome to adsorb the art of Michelangelo and his followers. The show, curated by Antonio Natali and Tomasso Mozzati, could have the same impact that “The Sacred Made Real in the National Gallery, London (October 2009 – January 2010) made for Spanish Baroque art. The names of Alonso Berruguete, Pedro Machuca, Bartolomé Ordóñez, and Diego de Siloé will surely become more familiar to the international public after it. But the exhibition it also shows how partial the use of “Spanish” as a label can be. All the artists mentioned come from and worked mainly in Castile, Andalusia and Italy  – and Catalonia to a lesser extend. However Valencia, the other great focus for early Renaissance in Spain, seems to be altogether forgotten.

2. Annus Mirabilis for Coll & Cortés


Coll & Cortés also took advantage of the 2009 National Gallery exhibition, since at the same time, they were presenting “The Mystery of Faith. Spanish Sculpture 1550 – 1750” in collaboration with the Matthiesen Gallery, London. This was a bold step on its way to international pre-eminence, which they have been reaching in full during 2012.  In March, they landed for the first time in TEFAF Maastricht with a generous ground floor stand; followed by a large booth in the inaugural Frieze Masters, London, the opening of an elegant Mayfair branch (27 Albemarle Street, W1S 4HZ) during London’s Old Masters Week in June and selling José de Ribera’s “The Penitent Saint Peter” (1612-1613) to the Metropolitan Museum in the autumn season– the first Spanish Old Master’s painting bought by the mighty NY institution since the seventies. 2013 also looks rosy for them: as recently announced, they sold a wonderful  “San Diego de Alcalá” (painted wood, 65 cm) by the Spanish baroque sculptor Pedro de Mena (1628-1688) to the San Diego Museum.

3. Várez-Fisa, a name to remember


The year has begun with the extraordinary news of the donation by financier Varez-Fisa of a selected group of 12 Medieval artworks to the Prado (see the feature at the Prado’s website). They will hang by the end of the year in a purposed named room, in which another gift by Várez- Fisa, the large ”artesonado (a carved wooded ceiling) from the Santa Maria de Valencia of San Juan (s. XIV, 11 x 6 m) is already installed. Helping the donation, last year the Prado purchased a work by Lluis Borrassà from Várez-Fisa, “Saint Andrew refusing the Idols” – a very fine work, but just as interesting as some of those he has now donated, like the “Christ washing the Disciples’ Feet” (mural painting transferred to canvas, 241.5 x 201.5 x 8.7 cm, 1216-1220) by the Master of Sant Esteve in Andorra, pictured above. The collection of Mr Várez- Fisa is however still richer, and it includes works by Zurbarán, Velázquez, Goya (and El Greco), as the journalist Karina Sainz Borgo reports here. On the other hand, since Várez-Fisa is a native form Barcelona and the MNAC holds one of the best Romanesque and Gothic collections in the world, people has been asking themselves why the museum in Montjuic was not the first choice for Várez-Fisa. The answer is the simplest and saddest: they had approached the MNAC some years ago, but they didn’t receive the welcome they expected.

4. What will Andorra say?


 It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Government of Andorra to the Prado’s new acquisition of the Sant Esteve mural paintings. The MNAC houses the fragments from the apse of same church (pictured above), alongside some further examples taken from other Romanesque churches in Andorra.  In 2008 the Principality authorities entered the board of the MNAC, as an act of goodwill. But they quit as early as 2011, saying they wanted to be in a clear position in order to claim the paintings back – the move has never materialised, thank God. Now, should we expect an official note from Andorra La Vella?


5. All’s well that ends well


As in other countries, Catalan heritage authorities enjoy the right to match the winning offer when a significant work of art is sold in auction. But when Our Lady and Child from the Monastery of Santa Maria de Bellpuig de les Avellanes (painted limestone, 108 x 43 x 26 cm) by Bartomeu Robió (doc. 1360-1379) came to auction in May 2010, they tried to advance a bafflingly abusive interpretation of its right, pretending that the starting price of €120,000 printed in the catalogue was in fact a closed and definitive offer, and that they were therefore entitled to buy it for this rather modest sum. They didn’t succeeded, obviously. But they managed to stop the auction on other grounds  – the auction house had not given them sufficient notice of the sale, and was forced to repeat it in March 2011. The aggressive stand taken by the public servants pushed away competing bidders, so in the end, they got it for a mere €130,000 – leaving some scars behind. These were somewhat healed on December 12, when the wonderful sculpture entered the collections of the Museu de Lleida, after being restored by the Centre de Restauració de Béns Mobles de Catalunya, a public body. There is an official note about the process here – its results looks in flesh far more sensitive than the picture above seems to reveal. The happiest person in the party was curator Albert Velasco, although he stills prefers Our Lady from Saidí, lent by the Parrish of Sant Llorenç of Lleida for the occasion. Making the end of this story even happier, the Parrish has recently agreed to allow it to be cleaned and restored by the same CRBMC – see here a video with Velasco, Àngels Solé (Director of the CRBMC) and Montserrat Macià (Director of the Museu de Lleida), and the travelling sculpture.

6. Books: A nice choice for bedtime

Perhaps a bit too heavy with its 304 pages, but irresistible as it promises to introduce you to artists whose “works tell of passion and death; their themes deal with the mysterious, the uncanny, the irrational, the fantastic, the grotesque, and evil – they feature social outcasts: madmen, criminals, beggars”. This is how publishers Gerd Hatje Cantz are marketing “Dark Romanticism. From Goya to Max Ernst”, the catalogue that curator Felix Krämer, Head of the Department of Modern Art of the Städel Museum, edited for “No Day Without Night”. The highly  acclaimed exhibition closed in Frankfurt  on January 20 and will open as “The Angel of the Odd” in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on March 5 (until June 9)– you can buy the book for €45 here.

7. The other side of things

The topic goes by saying Germans just love to discuss every single issue from all possible angles, down to ridiculously deep depths. The Städel is certainly not in denial of that. Its upcoming special exhibition, curated by Dr. Eva Mongi-Vollmer (Curator of Special Projects, Städel Museum) and Dr. Maraike Bückling (Head of the Renaissance to Neoclassicism Department, Liebieghaus Skulpture Sammlung), will deal with artists like Mengs, Canova or David, who strove to find an aesthetic and moral ideal in Antiquity at the very moment when Romanticism, portrayed in the previous show, began to challenge it (“Beauty and Revolution”, from February 20 to May 26, Städel Museum Frankfurt, admissions €12, catalogue to come, for sure).

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