The exhibition brings together more than 350 pieces: 279 from Spain and 99 from Mexico, including tapestries, paintings, sculptures, jewellery and furniture, with the aim of putting on display the most valuable resources of the historical and artistic collections gathered on the initiative of the Spanish Crown on both sides of the Atlantic from the late 15th century up until the first decade of the 19th century. This exhibition, which brings together works by such artists as Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, El Greco, Francisco de Goya, Titian and Velázquez, is the first of a series of exhibitions organized by the National Palace Gallery on the world's leading palaces and galleries.
Álvaro Soler and Pilar Benito are the curators of an exhibition which illustrates how the Royal Palaces in Spain became home to an incalculable legacy thanks to the personal and institutional efforts of monarchs such as the Catholic Kings, Emperor Charles V, Philip II, Philip IV and Charles II to create and preserve a remarkable historical and artistic collection enriched through the material and cultural treasures provided by all the territories connected with Spain at some point. A cultural heritage that goes hand-in-hand with that acquired by the viceregal palaces, emulating their counterparts back home in Spain.
Visitors to the Galería del Palacio Nacional between 16 December 2011 and 31 May 2012 will thus have the chance, for the first time in Mexico, to admire some of the key historic and artistic treasures belonging to the Royal Houses of Habsburg and Bourbon and preserved by Patrimonio Nacional de España. The show also serves to analyze the changes undergone by the Spanish and viceregal collections over the course of history; to explain how the values of the Spanish sovereigns were transferred to the Viceregal Palace in New Spain in the form of both architectural and artistic theories and courtly tastes; to display the interiors of Spanish and New Spanish palaces and to explain the use made of them, in particular on formal occasions.
The exhibition is divided into nine sections which cover the periods and circumstances that shaped the historical and artistic legacy of the National Heritage, from the Early Middle Ages up to the War of Independence, on the one hand, and on the other the relationship with the Viceregal Palace in New Spain. The chronological cut-off point of the first part, with a predominance of National Heritage works, is established by the Spanish War of Independence, which marked a turning point in the development of the royal collection, as an essential part of the heritage items and properties held in the current Royal Collections dates from before 1808. This cut-off point also offers a perspective on the collections prior to the Latin American independence movements and the tumultuous domestic situation in Spain, which also influenced and transformed the royal image.
1.- The travelling court. From the Middle Ages to the Modern Age
The first section focuses on the importance of the itinerant nature of the court from the mediaeval kingdoms up to the death of Emperor Charles V. These courts were in constant movement between different houses and palaces, and there was not a permanent seat of royal power.
2. -Philip II and the establishment of Madrid as the capital
Philip II is the key figure in the history of today's royal collections because of three decisions that shaped their development up to the present day. The first aspect of this section focuses on the establishment in Madrid of the capital of the kingdom, which led to the creation of a permanent seat of royal power, supported by a network of palaces woven around this centre. A second aspect involves the fundamental decision to build the Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial close to Madrid, a cornerstone of the Spanish monarchy both in terms of its architectural concept and the uses made of it. This section ends by highlighting the importance of imperial inheritance, mentioned in Philip II's will and testament, which constitutes the seed of the artistic collections of the National Heritage, intrinsically tying to the Spanish Crown the Royal Armoury, tapestries and the royal collection of paintings.
3.- The royal palaces under the House of Austria. From Philip II to Philip IV
The third section explains the context of the royal family’s daily life, as well as the religious foundations, of huge importance up to the present day. By way of introduction, the concept of the universality of the Spanish monarchy is highlighted in order to explain the varied provenance of the items that gave form to palace life in terms of furniture, textiles and representative books.
4.- The Royal Patronages
The fourth section of the exhibition explains the creation of the Royal Trustees within the religious context of the Counterreformation and courtly life, analyzing their foundation and endowment by their benefactors.
5.- The change of dynasty. The advent of the House of Bourbon
The entry of the House of Bourbon, dominated by French and Italian models, introduced a change in tastes and, above all, represented the point of greatest artistic splendour of Spanish royal collections in every aspect. However, the very evolution of the Royal Seats resulted in the loss of part of the legacy of the House of Austria.
The fire at the Alcázar in 1734 led to the creation of a new seat for the monarchy which was to become the new dynasty's greatest enterprise. The section on the New Palace and dynastic legitimacy deals with the construction of today's Royal Palace.
6.- The magnificence of the monarchy through the refinement of the decoration of the Royal Seats and daily life
The Palaces and their gardens provided the framework within which to express regal magnificence. The reforms undertaken at the Royal Seats increased their surface area and changed their appearance, hence the need for vast decorative efforts, with the utmost quality always the prevailing principle. This enterprise resulted in the standardisation of sumptuary arts as one of the distinctive features of the House of Bourbon, through the promotion of works produced under the patronage of the monarchy for its own use. In order to do so, Royal Workshops and Factories were established for the decoration of new buildings, thus becoming an instrument for the development of the districts where these manufacturing bases were established.
7.- Country houses. Fun through art
Of all the collections and buildings, a particular emphasis has been placed on Charles IV’s country houses, both as Prince of Asturias and as King of Spain, expression of the dynasty's ultimate artistic refinement. These recreational palaces and their decoration constitute the pinnacle of the Spanish royalty's decorative arts.
8.- The change of scene. The War of Independence
The final section dedicated to the Spanish Royal Collections features simply two scenes by Goya of Gunpowder Making, evoking the War of Independence, a conflict which led to the end of the royal practice of collecting.
9.- Overseas Mirror. The Viceregal Palace of New Spain
The final part of the exhibition links the collections and the Spanish Royal Seats to the Viceregal Palace in Mexico through a gallery of portraits of the different viceroys of the period along with a varied selection of decorative arts illustrating the analogies and differences between viceregal art and the art produced in Spain under Crown patronage.