News | NGV 2014 Winter Masterpieces Revealed

Italian Masterpieces from Spain coming to Melbourne

Mark Shepheard

Raphael (Italian, 1483–1520), 'Holy Family with Saint John' or 'Madonna of the Rose' ('Sacra Famiglia con San Giovannino' o 'Madonna della Rosa'), c. 1516. Oil on canvas, 103 x 84 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid (P00302). Image courtesy Museo del Prado, Madrid.

The National Gallery of Victoria today announced the 2014 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition: Italian Masterpieces from Spain’s Royal Court, Museo del Prado. This follows hot-on-the-heels of last year’s Portrait of Spain exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane (and also at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) and again reflects the Museo del Prado’s new—and very welcome—initiative to broaden access to its holdings and strengthen its international profile. Another Prado show, then, but completely different from the Queensland/Houston exhibition, and exclusive to Melbourne. The focus here will be on the Italian works in the Prado collection. For much of the period 1500-1800, Spain ruled large sections of the Italian peninsula and was also extremely influential at the Papal court in Rome. The breadth and quality of the Prado’s Italian holdings are the result, therefore, of some three centuries of political and cultural interaction between Spain and Italy, and also directly reflect the personal artistic tastes of Spain’s monarchs, both Habsburg and Bourbon.

Italian Masterpieces from Spain’s Royal Court has been jointly organised by the Museo del Prado and the National Gallery of Victoria and includes many works that have never been seen outside of Spain.  There will be seventy paintings and over thirty drawings in the exhibition, ranging the from the early sixteenth century to the late eighteenth, and providing a conspectus of Italian artistic styles from the High Renaissance to the late Baroque. Among the Renaissance masterpieces are Raphael’s Madonna of the Rose (c. 1516), Titian’s 1551 portrait of Philip II, and Correggio’s Noli me tangere (c. 1525). Baroque works will include Annibale Carracci’s Assumption of the Virgin (c. 1585), Orazio Gentileschi’s Carravagesque St Francis supported by an angel (c. 1605-07), and Guercino’s Susanna & the Elders (1617). Foreign artists active in Italy during the seventeenth century are also represented with some fine canvases by Poussin (Atalanta and Meleager’s Hunt, 1637-38) and Claude Lorraine (Landscape with the Embarkment of St Paula Romana in Ostia, 1639-40). Among the eighteenth-century paintings, the outstanding work is Tiepolo’s Immaculate Conception, painted in Spain in 1767-69 and the artist’s distinctive response to a particularly Spanish theme, a beautiful counterpart to the NGV’s Murillo. The exhibition will conclude with a personal favourite: Pompeo Batoni’s portrait of Francis Basset. A fine example of Grand Tour portraiture, the story of the painting is as memorable as the work itself. Painted in Rome in 1778, the portrait was shipped off to England on the frigate Westmorland. Britain was then at war with France and the vessel was captured by the French navy in Spanish waters. It was taken to the nearby port of Malaga, where its goods were seized as a royal prize. Batoni’s portrait has remained in Spanish hands ever since. It’s inclusion in the exhibition provides another link with the NGV’s permanent collection, a few examples of which will also feature in  Italian Masterpieces from Spain’s Royal Court. The latter seems to have been very much curated with an eye to complementing the NGV collection, which has strong holdings in Italian art. The range of works on loan from the Prado, though, will be quite remarkable and this promises to be one of the artistic highlights of 2014 in Melbourne. The exhibition will run at the NGV International from May 16 to August 31 2014.

Giambattista Tiepolo (Italian 1696–1770; worked in Spain 1762–70), The Immaculate Conception (L’Immacolata Concezione), 1767–69. Oil on canvas, 281 x 155 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid (P00363). Image courtesy Museo del Prado, Madrid

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