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Herrera the Younger stars in Baroque Spring at the Museo Nacional del Prado

One of the most unique and innovative artists of the Spanish Baroque


WEBWIRE

Although celebrated in his lifetime as a painter, draughtsman, engraver, architect, set designer and engineer and the subject of envy by contemporaries, Francisco de Herrera the Younger has been the focus of scant interest in art-historical studies and many of aspects of his work remain largely unknown.

Herrera the Younger. The Absolute Baroque, the exhibition on display in Room C of the Jerónimos Building until 30 July thanks to the sponsorship of the Friends of the Prado Foundation and the collaboration of the City Council of Madrid, reinstates a key figure who exemplifies the multifaceted nature of the true Baroque. Through more than 70 works it analyses Herrera’s time in Italy, his abilities as a painter of large-scale frescoes, the influence of his initial training with his father in Seville and his relationship with Murillo, in addition to his graphic output and the fact that he introduced the estípite or inverted, obelix-shaped pilaster into Spanish altarpiece design.

One of the most outstanding works in the exhibition is the manuscript of Los celos hacen estrellas by Juan Vélez de Guevara, illustrated with Herrera’s set designs for it. This unique survival can now be seen for the first time in Madrid thanks to the exceptional loan by the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. Considered the first zarzuela [lyric verse drama] and the origins of that genre, it will be performed in a world exclusive in the museum’s auditorium thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Museo del Prado Foundation.

Almost 90% of the paintings on display have been specially restored for the exhibition, some of them rescued from oblivion and many leaving the churches for which they were painted for the first time.

According to Miguel Falomir, director of the Museo del Prado: “Without any exaggeration it can be said that this exhibition offers us a totally new Herrera the Younger”. Curated by Benito Navarrete, senior professor of art history at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Herrera the Younger. The Absolute Baroque allows for a presentation of the numerous facets that make Herrera a complete artist, as a painter, draughtsman, engraver, set designer, creative architect and designer. This survey, the first to be devoted to the artist by the Museo del Prado thanks to generous loans from international private collections and public institutions, provides a unique opportunity to reassess Herrera’s oeuvre and to appreciate the extent of his influence on painters of his generation, such as Juan Carreńo de Miranda and Francisco Rizi. It also draws attention to the importance of his subsequent influence, not just as a painter and draughtsman but as a “creative architect”, which is an essential aspect of his activities for an understanding of his true dimension and the scope of his work.

The exhibition highlights the fundamental importance of the artist’s time in Italy with newly attributed works that reconstruct his output as a graphic artist, which was previously confused due to a group of drawings attributed to Pier Francesco Cittadini in the Louvre, the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, and the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, which have been essential for a reconstruction of Herrera’s Roman period, of which nothing was previously known. The exhibition also draws attention to Herrera’s fame as a painter of large-scale frescoes, the influence of his training in Seville with his father, Francisco de Herrera the Elder, and his polemical relationship with Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, some of whose commissions he succeeded in securing, as well as his activities as a draughtsman and the artist who introduced the estípite or inverted, obelix-shaped pilaster into Spanish altarpiece design.

Herrera the Younger. The Absolute Baroque at the Museo del Prado reunites the artist’s greatest works: The Triumph of the Sacrament of the Eucharist loaned by the Sacramental Archconfraternity of the church of the Sagrario in Seville; The Dream of Saint Joseph from the church in Aldeavieja (Ávila), which has involved the near rescue of the painting, as with Christ on the Route to Calvary loaned by the Museo Cerralbo (Madrid) for the first time, a monumental work that was damaged by fire in 1872 when in the church of the Colegio de Santo Tomás and which has now been completely restored, regaining its former splendour. New research presented in the exhibition includes the attribution to Herrera of the painting Fish Seller, loaned by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, on the basis of technical analyses which reveal analogies with The Triumph of Saint Hermenegild. It was also one of the works that brought Herrera fame in Rome around 1650, where he became known as Il spagnolo degli pexe [The Spaniard of the fish].

Another new identification is a drawing in the British Museum which Herrera gave to the tribunal of the Inquisition in Seville and is the basis for his painting of the auto-da-fé held in the Plaza de San Francisco in April 1660. It was previously attributed to Velázquez and thought to depict an auto-da-fé in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. The drawing in the exhibition is referred to in a contract of 1660 in which Herrera is described, during Murillo’s lifetime, as the most famous painter in Seville.

Finally, the exhibition and the more than four years of research undertaken for it have allowed the Museo del Prado’s own holdings of the artist’s work to be studied. This has led to the definitive attribution to Herrera of Portrait of an Artillery General, previously attributed to Francisco Rizi. It can now be titled Portrait of an Artillery General (Diego de Quiroga Fajardo?), a knight of the Order of Calatrava in Naples. Technical studies undertaken at the Prado show that the portrait is painted on the same length of canvas as Herrera’s Saint Peter from the commission executed for the Augustinian Recollects in Madrid. The exhibition can thus be seen as offering a unique opportunity to study the collections of the Museo del Prado following the restoration sponsored by Fundación Iberdrola Espańa of Herrera’s paintings that were set into the dome of the above-mentioned Augustinian Recollect church in Madrid, now occupied by the National Library.

Nothing has survived of Herrera’s important activities as a fresco painter, the aspect of his work that brought him the most prestige and which led on to significant commissions culminating in his appointment as Painter to the King and Master of the Royal Works.

The Museo Nacional del Prado is dedicating this exhibition to Plácido Arango, former president of its Royal Board of Trustees and a great art lover. His favourite painter was in fact Herrera the Younger, whose splendid Dream of Saint Joseph, included in the exhibition, he donated to the Museum.


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