The Italian Renaissance artist Titian (circa 1490-1576) was a favorite of King Philip II of Spain. Philip reigned at the apex of Spanish influence and power throughout the world — the Spanish “Golden Age,” which flourished under the Habsburg dynasty. But in Titian’s stately portrait of the king, painted in 1551, the artist softens a look of determination on the king’s face and paints him with a youthful, soulful countenance. A rare depiction of the king in his armor, it’s one of a few pictures of King Philip by Titian that is on display in the Prado Museum in Madrid. According to the Prado’s website, Philip wrote to Queen Mary of Hungary about the portrait in 1551, stating, “This [letter] accompanies Titian’s portraits ... mine in armour is a good likeness, though made with haste, and if there were more time I would have him do it again.”
The Prado is known for its incomparable collection of works by painters who lived and worked in Spain, such as Diego Velázquez (circa 1599-1660) and El Greco (1541-1614), “The Greek,” who was born in Greece and immigrated to Spain in 1577. The museum also holds more works by Francisco Goya (1746-1828) than by any other artist. But visitors to the museum may be surprised to learn of their extensive selection of works from the Italian Renaissance. “The Prado has more than 50 Titians,” Christina Simmons of the American Friends of the Prado Museum said. “The court commissioned works from him directly.”
Originally built to house the natural history cabinet of King Charles III (1716-1788), the Prado later became the site of the royal collection of Spain’s monarchy, as well as a showcase for many paintings and sculpture from the Spanish Baroque, Mannerist, and Renaissance periods that are still considered masterworks. The museum is offering Santa Feans and visitors to the city the next best thing to seeing them in person: full-scale, high-resolution photo replicas of dozens of major works from the Prado’s collection on view in Cathedral Park. Heritage Hotels, The American Friends of the Prado, and the Spanish Colonial Arts Society had originally planned to open the exhibit on May 1, but cited organizational difficulties. The organizers stated that they now project to open on Wednesday, May 10, and the show is expected to remain on view through October.
Santa Fe is the only current U.S. venue for the outdoor installation; it has previously been shown in El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and in Cuba. “It was started to raise awareness about the Prado and bring the Prado out into the streets and share it with the general public in a more relaxed environment, so that it’s not intimidating and can maybe open up some curiosity for people who don’t normally look at artwork,” Simmons said. The exhibit is organized by the Friends of the Prado, and the paintings were selected by Fernando Pérez Suescun, who works on the Prado’s education team. He was behind the 2015 exhibit Touching the Prado, a show composed of three-dimensional replicas of some of the museum’s paintings that allowed blind visitors to experience the textures of the painted surfaces. James M. Long, the Santa Fe-based CEO of Heritage Hotels, and Randy Talbot, head of Talbot Financial, encountered the public-park exhibition on a trip to Central America and spoke to the Prado about bringing it to New Mexico. “We like the fact that in New Mexico there’s a strong Spanish heritage,” Simmons said. “The idea is that it’s representative of the most important parts of the collection, which are Spanish painting and, for historical reasons, Italian painting, especially Titian, and paintings from the low countries — Holland and Belgium — because they were part of the Spanish Crown at one point in history, and then some other masterworks that don’t fit in either of those three categories.”
Among the images by Spanish painters are some of the most recognizable artworks in history: Velázquez’s enigmatic Las Meninas from 1656, which questions the relationship of viewer and subject and contains a prominent self-portrait of the artist working on a painting of King Philip IV of Spain and his wife, Mariana of Austria, whose reflections can be seen in a mirror in the background; and the artist’s Triumph of Bacchus (1628), also called The Drinkers, depicting the mythic god of wine surrounded by drunkards; Goya’s 1814 oil painting The Third of May 1808 in Madrid, also called The Executions, commemorating Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s armies; and Jacob’s Dream, the 1639 painting by José de Ribera, a leading Spanish painter of his day whose reputation was salvaged from obscurity in the late 20th century. The last painting shows the sleeping Jacob with a pillar of light ( Jacob’s ladder, by which the angels ascended and descended between Heaven and Earth in the course of his dream) rising skyward behind him.
Among the works by non-Spanish artists are Caravaggio’s David With the Head of Goliath from around 1600; Rogier van der Weyden’s The Descent From the Cross, circa 1443, and The Garden of Earthly Delights (circa 1500-1505) by Hieronymus Bosch, a surreal triptych depicting God with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, nude figures engaged in earthly pursuits, and a hellish scene of damnation; and, of course, works by Titian, including the portrait of Philip II. “Most of these paintings would never travel,” Simmons said. “To get almost a hundred masterpieces from the Prado out of the Prado would never happen.”