Saturday, January 18, 2014

Visions and Nightmares: Four Centuries of Spanish Drawings

All works: The Morgan Library & Museum, New York
All works, unless noted, photography: Graham S. Haber

Visions and Nightmares: Four Centuries of Spanish Drawings
at the Morgan Library & Museum January 17–May 11, 2014 explores the shifting roles and attitudes toward the art of drawing in Spain, as well as the impact of the Catholic Church and the nightmare of the Inquisition on Spanish artists and their work. It is the first exhibition of Spanish drawings ever to be held at the Morgan Library & Museum, whose holdings in this area are relatively small but strong.

The exhibition features more than twenty drawings spanning the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. Works by well-known artists such as José de Ribera, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, and Francisco Goya are presented alongside sheets by equally talented but less familiar artists, including Vicente Carducho, Alonso Cano, and Eugenio Lucas. Complementing the drawings is a display of contemporary Spanish letters and volumes, notably a lavish 1780 edition of Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

Francisco Goya (1746–1828)
Muy accordes (Close Harmony)
, ca. 1816–20
Black wash
Black Border Album (E), page 50
Thaw Collection

Among the drawings in the exhibition is one of many sheets preparatory for a series of fifty-six paintings that Vicente Carducho designed for the Charterhouse of El Paular. In the foreground, Father Andrés is tortured using a device called la garrucha; the background reveals his subsequent murder by a mob. Squared for transfer to the oil sketch that preceded the final painting, the drawing bears an inscription by the patron indicating that the suspended figure should be larger and more centrally placed. Carducho incorporated this correction into the finished canvas.

José de Ribera was drawn to violent subjects—notably, the flaying of St. Bartholomew and his pagan counterpart, Marsyas, a satyr who challenged Apollo to a musical contest. As punishment for losing the competition and for his sin of pride, Marsyas was tied to a tree and skinned alive. This drawing depicts the bound satyr screaming, his skin still intact. In a variation on the theme, Ribera portrays Marsyas with human (rather than goat) legs, thus connecting this mythologsubject to the artist’s numerous other drawings of bound figures.

José de Ribera (1591–1652)
Marsyas Bound to a Tree, ca. 1630s
Red chalk
Purchased as the gift of Frederick R. Koch, 1976

Vicente Carducho (ca. 1576–1638) Martyrdom of Father Andrés, ca. 1632
Brown wash, over black chalk, with lead white chalk
Gift of Gertrude W. and Seth Dennis, 1986 2

On view are three drawings by Alonso Cano, including his masterpiece on paper: a monumental design for the altarpiece of the Chapel of San Diego de Alcalá. Composed of seventeen joined sheets, the work is highly finished, indicating that it was a presentation drawing, offering the patron different options to consider. King Philip IV became patron of the chapel in 1657; his coats of arms appear at the lower left and right of the drawing.

Renowned for his paintings of religious themes, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo made this preparatory drawing for one of his many versionImmaculate Conception. The loose, sketchy handling of this sheet is typical of the artist’s later style. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception—the belief that the Virgin was born free of original sin—was especially popular in seventeenth-century Spain. Here the abstract ideal is embodied by the figure of the Virgin standing on a crescent moon.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1618–1682)
Virgin of the Immaculate Conception,
ca. 1665–70
Brown ink and wash, over black chalk
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909

Visions and Nightmares includes four drawings by Francisco Goya. Toward the end of his life, the artist drew increasingly for his own pleasure, executing eight albums now lettered A through H and variously named. Pesadilla (Nightmare)—one of two drawings on view from the so-called Black Border Album—depicts a disheveled woman astride a flying bull, her eyes bulging as she screams in terror. Although the image of a woman and bull traditionally personified the European continent, Goya’s drawing seems to symbolize the turmoil in Spain following the Peninsular War.

Eugenio Lucas’s ominous drawing depicts Death reading from an oversized book supported by the back of a kneeling man who serves as a human lectern. Moody and macabre, this sheet recalls the threat of the Inquisition. Also on view is another sheet by Lucas, which depicts a figure shrouded in white, its arms extending toward the top of the page. The latter drawing may be seen as the pendant to Death Reading from a Human Lectern—the two works representing death and resurrection, respectively.

Francisco Goya (1746–1828) Pesadilla (Nightmare), ca. 1816–20
Black Border Album (E), page 20 Black ink and wash Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard J. Bernhard, 1959

Eugenio Lucas (1817–1870)
Death Reading from a Human
Congregation in Background, ca. 1850

Eugenio Lucas (1817–1870), Crowd with Fallen Figures,
ca. 1850. Brown wash and watercolor. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; I, 111g. Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909.

NY Times review

Related exhibitions:
The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya
The Frick Collection
October 5, 2010, through January 9, 2011


The Spanish Line in the British Museum. Drawings from the Renaissance to Goya