Works by two of Spain’s greatest artists are on view in the context of the artistic, religious and political climate in which they were created. The exhibition seeks to shed new light on this little known period of 23 years (1598 - 1621) during which Philip III ruled Spain, a period bracketed by the original late style of El Greco and the emergent naturalism in the work of the young Velázquez. Featured are more than 60 paintings, among them 11 works by El Greco and seven by Velázquez, including two masterpieces from the MFA’s own collection, El Greco’s Portrait of Fray Hortensio Félix Paravicino (1609) and Velázquez’s Luis de Góngora y Argote (1622). Also on view are works by lesser known yet highly accomplished artists, among them: Juan Bautista Maino, Juan Sánchez Cotán, Luis Tristán, and Gregorio Fernández.
Previously dismissed for its lack of artistic accomplishment, the reign of Philip III will here be examined through a new lens. The discovery of 13 inventories of the goods of the king’s favorite, Francisco de Sandoval y Rojas, the Duke of Lerma, by co-curator Sarah Schroth, has put to rest the standard view of Spain during Philip III’s reign as a cultural backwater. These documents indicate that Lerma amassed an extraordinary collection of more than 2,000 paintings. Among them was the monumental Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma (1603, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid) that the Fleming Peter Paul Rubens painted while on a diplomatic mission to the Spanish court. The inventories also mention nearly 900 pieces of luxury glass, porcelain, ceramics, and redware that Lerma arranged in a camarín, or “little room.” The exhibition is thus divided into thematic sections: Late El Greco, Portraiture, Religion and the Court, Still Life and the Bodegón, and the Duke of Lerma’s camarín.
The show is organized by the MFA and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. After Boston, El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III travels to the Nasher Museum, August 21, through November 9, 2008.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Web Site