Spanish Old Master Paintings Re-Installed at the Met

By Adam, Michelle | The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, August 5, 2013 | Go to article overview

Spanish Old Master Paintings Re-Installed at the Met


Adam, Michelle, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education


This past May, New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art reopened its newly reinstalled `collection of the European Old Master paintings - the first such renovation since 1951 and reinstallation since 1972. More than 600 paintings of works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, Velázquez, and Goya, among others, now permanently hang side by side in a gallery space that has increased by one-third of what previously was available in separate spaces.

Among the European painters are the Old Spanish Masters, such as Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, Francisco de Goya, El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), and Jusepe de Ribera , whose 35 to 40 works span the same time period as the other European painters, from 1250-1800. "The Spanish collection was in spaces that were not ideal for it and they were also separate from each other," explained Xavier Salomon, curator of Southern Baroque paintings. "The early 16th and 17th century paintings were in one part of the museum and the 18th in another. We now have three rooms, one next to the other, with more space for more pictures to be presented in a more coherent way."

While Salomon admits the Metropolitan's collection can't rival that of the Hispanic Society or the Meadows Museum in the United States, it is able to show well the works of specific artists like Goya, El Greco, and Velázquez. The museum began collecting its art from the very beginning - in 1871 - along with that of other international artists. It received donations from individuals, such as works by El Greco, through the Habermeyer Collection. More recently, the Met has been acquiring art by Ribera, a Spanish painter who lived from 1591 to 1652. His earlier pieces were unidentified - sitting in a pile of a collection of anonymous pictures - until about a year ago when they were discovered.

"The two most significant acquisitions in our collection are "The Portrait of Juán de Pareja" by Velázquez acquired in 1971 and now this large Ribera of this past year," said Salomon. "Juán de Pareja is arguably the most important Velázquez in America. It's of his Moorish slave that he freed and who served as an assistant in his workshop. And Ribera is a recent discovery in the world of art history. His paintings have become very desirable. Museums are trying to buy them."

Ribera's works, and those of other Spanish artists, are now currently on display as part of the reinstallation. Some of these are on loan or available for the first time to the Met, including a Ribera portrait of the Count de Monterey, currently on loan to the museum from a private collection. The Met also is borrowing Goya's still life of two dead hares (rabbits). A Zurbaran painting of Saint Benedict that has been in storage for a long time will finally come out because there's space to display it. In addition, a portrait of the Duke of Modena by Velázquez is on loan for the first two months of the show.

All of the old Spanish masters' paintings are considered a part of the Baroque period. Yet, the artists displayed are unique in their own way. "The Spanish Baroque includes a combination of different individuals," said Salomon. "In 300 years of Spanish art, you go from the Renaissance and the Inquisition to modern art."

The Spanish artists of this time include El Greco, who lived from 1541 to I6l4. Called "the Greek" because he was born in Crete, he was known for painting more mystical, spiritual works, many of which included biblical renderings or scenes where the landscape of people was elongated. …

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