ARTISTS, MUSEUMS & GALLERIES

 

PALACE OF THE PLANET KING

Philip IV and the Buen Retiro Palace

Timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the birth of Philip IV (1605 - 1665), known as the "Planet King", the Museo del Prado is devoting an exhibition to the Buen Retiro Palace.  This was the principal building constructed during Philip's reign and an eloquent symbol of his fame as promoter of the arts. 

As a tribute to the figure of the king as patron and collector, the exhibition recreates for the first time the original arrangement of the paintings that were hung in the famous Salon de Reinos or "Hall of  Realms" in the Palace (with Velazquez's The Surrender of Breda as the key work ).  Also presented for the first time are other important series created for the decoration of this royal residence, namely the "Ancient Rome Cycle" and the "Classical Landscapes Gallery".  The exhibition runs until November 25th, 2005

The exhibition features 62 works, mainly from the Museum's own collection, as well as major loans such as The Riding Lesson of Prince Baltasar Carlos by Velazquez (private collection, United Kingdom), and The Court Jester Calabazas, by the same artist (Cleveland Museum of Art).  THE PALACE OF THE PLANET KING is the first exhibition to look at the main cycles of paintings that adorned the Buen Retiro Palace.  This huge architectural complex was constructed during the reign of Philip IV on the  initiative of his favorite, the Count Duke of Olivares, whose intention was to build it  to the greater glory of the Planet King.  This was the title by which Philip IV was known in panegyrics of the period, associating him with the Sun, the fourth planet in the hierarchy of the stars (thus referring to Philip as the fourth Spanish monarch of that name).

The project for the pictorial decoration of the Buen Retiro Palace was one of the most important artistic endeavors of the day, the most complex undertaken by a Spanish monarch and unparalleled in Europe.  In less than ten years (between 1634 and 1643), and mainly through commissions ordered by representatives of the monarchy in Rome, Naples, Antwerp and Madrid, Philip IV assembled an impressive collection of "modern" art, with works specifically destined for the new royal residence.  These included paintings by artists of the stature of Velazquez, Ribera, Poussin, Lanfranco and Domenichino, among others.

Promoted by the Count Duke of Olivares as the building which represented the Spanish monarchy, at a time when it still seemed that Spain would emerge triumphant from the various wars in which it was engaged, the Buen Retiro Palace would ultimately come to symbolize the most positive aspect of the reign of Philip IV.  Despite the fact that its construction coincided with a period in which the military and international situation (the Thirty Years War) began to turn in favor of France and its allies (in addition to a series of defeats which ended with Spain losing its pre-eminent position in Europe), the decoration of the Palace and its active role as a theatre and a setting for dazzling court spectacles, further promoted the Spanish Golden Age and contributed to Philip's fame as a patron of the arts.

As a result of the damage which the building suffered during the Peninsular War, the only parts of the Palace that now survive are the Cason del Buen Retiro and the north wing of the Main Courtyard.  The latter housed the Hall of Realms and is now the Army Museum.  Fortunately, the remarkable ensemble of more than 800 paintings which decorated the Palace - the true glory of the Buen Retiro - enjoyed a better fate, as the majority entered the collection of the Museo del Prado.  This meant that they have been the subject of recent research and has facilitated the organization of the present exhibition.

The Hall of Realms

The most important section of the exhibition is a recreation of the Hall of Realms.  Given that this was the reception room for princes and ambassadors, the greatest effort was expended on this part of the building.  In line with its importance, the Hall was required to convey the power and glory of the Empire more than any other room in the Palace.  For this reason, Philip IV and the Count Duke summoned the leading Spanish artists of the day to work on its decoration.

Shown for the first time together in this section and following their original hanging, are the three series that formed part of the room's decoration.  These are the 11 paintings now surviving from the set of 12 commemorating the military victories of Philip's reign, among them The Surrender of Breda by Velazquez and The Recapture of Bahia by Juan Bautista Maino;  the first equestrian portraits of the royal family, also by Velazquez;  and the paintings of the "Ten Labours of Hercules" by Zurbaran.

In displaying this impressive ensemble of paintings created for the Hall and shown as Philip IV would have seen them from his throne, located on the east wall of the original Hall (corresponding to the entrance area of this section), the Museo del Prado intends to pay tribute to a monarch whose passion for art and collecting accounts for the presence of many of the masterpieces in the Museum's collection.

In addition, the exhibition brings together the main pictorial cycles that decorated the Palace, and emphasizes once more the concept of the series that lies behind their conception and the way they were originally seen in the 17th century.  These include a number of practically unknown works, including most of the paintings for the  "Ancient Rome cycle", by some of the leading Italian artists of the day, such as Lanfranco and Domenichino, on display to the public for the first time following meticulous restoration.

In addition, the exhibition features a section comprising paintings that were not part of any particular series but whose importance merits inclusion.  These include four portraits of court jesters by Velazquez and two "Furies" by Ribera, in addition to a selection of some of the finest classicising landscapes of the 40 which originally made up the Landscapes Gallery in the Palace, with works by Poussin and Claude Lorraine.

The Catalogue
The catalogue accompanying the exhibition, published in Spanish and English, includes a text by John Elliott on the reign of Philip IV;  two by Jonathan brown, on Philip IV as a patron and collector, and on the construction of the Buen Retiro Palace;  by Jose Alvarez Lopera, Chief Curator of Spanish Painting at the Museo del Prado, on the various hypothesis of the original decoration and hanging of the Hall of Realms;  by Andres Ubeda de los Cobos, curator of the exhibition, on the Ancient Rome cycle;  and by Giovanna Capitelli, art historian specialized in the history of Roman landscape painting,  on the collection of landscape paintings at the Buen Retiro.  The entries on the exhibited works are by a number of the above authors, as well as by Javier Portus, Leticia Ruiz, Juan J. Luna and Alejandro Vergara, all curators at the Museum and by Gabriele Finaldi, Associate Director for Conservation and Research at the Museo del Prado.

The Structure of the Exhibition
The exhibition is organized into five sections, which together present the various decorative cycles created for the Buen Retiro Palace.

1. The Buen Retiro Palace:  The exhibition opens with panoramic views of the exterior of the Palace.  The key work in this section is the portrait of Philip IV, subject of the exhibition and known in his day as the "Planet King" due to the association made between the monarch and the sun.

2. The Ancient Rome Cycle:  This series, never previously exhibited in its entirety, depicts the customs and traditions of Ancient Rome.  These include emperors' funerals, gladiator fights, circuses and amphitheatres, speeches made to the troops and other subjects.  They include paintings by some of the leading artists active in Rome and Naples in the 1630's, including Giovanni Lanfranco, Domenichino, and Nicolas Poussin, as well as Jose de Ribera, the favorite artists of the Count  of Monterrey.  Monterrey was Ribera's main patron following his appointment as Viceroy of Naples (1631 - 1637), along with his successor, the Duke of Medina de las Torres (1637 - 1644).  These works are largely unknown to scholars and the public, as for many years they have been in storage in the Prado or on deposit to embassies, government offices and other locations not normally accessible.

3. The Count Duke, Furies and  Jesters:  Presiding over this section is the portrait of the Count Duke of Olivares, the figure responsible for the construction of the Palace.  Displayed around it are four of Velazquez's six portraits of court jesters painted for the Buen Retiro and which originally hung in the apartments of the Queen's chamberlain (two of them are now lost), as well as a pair of canvases by Ribera of Tityus and Ixion.  The latter formed part of a series of the Furies or the Damned which also adorned the Palace.

4. The Hall of Realms:  The pictorial decoration of the most symbolic and important space in the Palace is recreated in the Museum's Central Gallery.  Conceived as a reception area for foreign ambassadors, as well as for the celebration for a wide variety of festive events, this room was embellished with the three most important pictorial cycles painted for the Palace, whose iconography was intended to glorify the King of Spain.  Between the windows on the side walls hung twelve large battle paintings representing triumphs of the army of Philip IV, painted by leading artists including Velazquez, Maino and Zurbaran.  Between them hung ten mythological scenes of the "Labors of Hercules" by Zurbaran.  Finally, hanging on either side of the doors were five equestrian portraits of the royal family by Velasquez.  This group can now be seen together for the first time since it was dismantled in the 18th century.

5. The Landscapes Gallery:  The Buen Retiro had a remarkable collection of almost 40 landscape paintings commissioned in Rome.  The exhibition features a carefully-selected group of these works, including works by Claude Lorraine, Poussin, Jan Both and Jean Lemaire.  In addition to the nine classicising landscapes featured in the exhibition, and for the duration of its display, the Museum will be exhibiting a selection of paintings from the same cycle in a nearby gallery (room 2) including works by Claude Lorraine, Jan Both and Hermann Van Swanevelt.

The Reign of Philip IV
Following years of peace squandered by Philip III and the corrupt government of his favorite, the Duke of Lerma, there were high hopes for the reign (1621 - 1665) of his son, Philip IV.  There were also considerable expectations surrounding the ministers whom the king appointed, among them the Count Duke of Olivares, who was generally expected to be the new favorite.

Immediately following the period of mourning for the death of Philip III at the age of 42, the Court embarked on a lengthy series of celebrations which would constitute one of the most notable features of the reign of Philip IV.  The monarch and his wife Isabel of Bourbon, whom he had married at the age of ten, were devoted to music, dance and conversation.  Philip's passion for the theatre is reflected in his residence,  the Alcazar in Madrid, which was the venue for performances of plays in the Salon Grande (Main Hall) as well as in Buen Retiro Palace.  In the latter the king added a theatre, the Colosseum, for which Calderon de la Barca wrote plays on mythological subjects.

The Count Duke of Olivares, first minister to the king and the second focus of the present exhibition after Philip IV, had great ambitions for his royal master, considering him the leading monarch in the world and thus desiring to make Philip worthy of this rank.  Olivares had always conceived of the king as a leading patron of the arts who would summon the finest talents in Spain to work for the Court.  Philip easily took on the role assigned to him as "Planet King", the leading light of the Court, irradiating beneficial heat and light over the lesser stars that circulated in his orbit.

Philip was fortunate in that his reign coincided with one of the most brilliant periods of artistic and literary creation in Spain, with figures of the stature of Calderon and Velazquez, the latter introduced to the Court by Olivares

The Origins of the Buen Retiro Palace

The Buen Retiro Palace first came into being in 1630, almost ten years after Philip IV began his reign, as a modest extension to the royal apartment located next to the church of the Jeronimos.  However, it soon became evident that the size and location of this site made it ideal as a place of royal leisure or suburban palace.  Closer than Aranjuez and more spacious than the Alcazar, the Palace became the natural centre for the Court's cultural and leisure activities, a cultural show-case and also the place to learn the arts of courtly refinement, with the king as model.

During the years of its construction, Philip IV was actively engaged in its decoration, not only with paintings, but also furniture and tapestries.  Spain's military successes, for example, were recorded in the battle paintings commissioned for the Hall of Realms in the Buen Retiro. These included the relief of Genoa, besieged by the armies of France and Savoy;  the defeat of the English at Cadiz;  the recapture of Bahia in Brazil from the Dutch; and the surrender of Breda by the army of Flanders.  From this point on, the king would be known as "Philip the Great", a victorious monarch whose virtues were praised and whose greatness was celebrated by the poets, playwrights and painters who added lustre to his Court.

At the end of the 1630's, however, the military and international situation started to turn against Spain in favor of France and its allies, and criticisms of Olivares' regime began to be heard.  Not without difficulty, in 1643 Philip broke away from the Count Duke who was replaced by Luis de Haro, his nephew and successor to the title.  From that point on, the king became more active in the government of the realm, although this did not prevent a series of defeats during the 1640s which would end with Spain's loss of hegemony in Europe.

Public disasters were accompanied by tragedies in the king's private life.  These included the death of Fernando, his only surviving brother, and shortly after, in 1644, his wife, Isabel of Bourbon.  Philip soon re-married, choosing his niece, Mariana of Austria, three years later.  Their marriage brought the period of mourning to an end and life at the Buen Retiro revived.  In contrast to Isabel, who had never liked the Buen Retiro, perhaps because it was too closely associated with the power of the Count Duke over her husband, Mariana of Austria delighted in the entertainments which the palace could offer.

Following the decade of the 1650s, in which Philip saw some respite from his misfortunes, the year 1665 brought with it the loss of any remaining hopes of re-conquering Portugal.  The king's health declined and he died, surrounded by his paintings by Titian in the Summer Quarters of the Alcazar, at the age of 60 in the 44th year of his reign.

Nothing better exemplifies the numerous contrasts that characterize the reign of Philip IV than the Buen Retiro Palace, which Olivares had built for the monarch in the 1630s at a time when it still seemed that Spain could emerge triumphant from its military undertakings.  In many ways it was a palace of illusions.  The Golden Age proclaimed with so much optimism at the start of Philip's reign was, at least with regard to the arts, a century of pure gold, and it is here that Philip the Great finds his enduring memorial.

(Summary of the text by John Elliott "Portrait of a Reign", taken from the exhibition's catalogue)

Curator:  Andres Ubeda de los Cobos
Scholarly Advisors:  Jonathan Brown and John Elliott
Sponsored by the Consejeria de Cultura of the CAM

Editor's note:  This article is an authoritative and wholly interesting account of  one of the most exceptional exhibitions to take place in Europe this year or any year for that matter.  We would be proud to say we wrote it, but we didn't.  Not only that, we didn't change one word of the document that arrived from the Press Office at the Museo Nacional Del Prado.  To do so would only have diminished this literary representation of a wonderful work of art that is the exhibition "The Palace of the Planet King". 

EXHIBITS LIST

THE BUEN RETIRO PALACE

Jusepe Leonardo
View of the Buen Retiro Palace
Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional.  Palacio Real

Model of the Buen Retiro Palace
Design:  Carmen Blasco
Production:  Juan de Dios
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Diego Velazquez
Prince Baltasar Carlos' Riding Lesson
United Kingdom, Private collection

Diego Velazquez
Philip IV as a Hunter 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

 

THE ANCIENT ROME CYCLE

Vivano Codazzi and Domenico Gargiulo
Constantine's Triumphal Entrance in Rome
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Vivano Codazzi and Domenico Gargiulo
Vespasiano's Triumphal Entrance in Rome
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Viviano Codazzi and Domenico Gargiulo
Perspective of a Roman Amphitheatre
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Domenichino
Emperor's Funeral 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Aniello Falcone
Roman Soldiers at the Circus 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Paolo Domenico Finoglia
Bacchus' Triumph
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Giovanni Lanfranco
The Auspices of a Roman Emperor 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Giovanni Lanfranco
Triumph Scene
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Giovanni Lanfranco
Roman Emperor's Funeral 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Giovanni Lanfranco
Gladiators at a Banquet 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Giovanni Lanfranco
Roman Naumaquia
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Andrea di Lione
Elephants at the Circus
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Nicolas Poussin
Meleager's Hunt 
Madrid,  Museo Nacional del Prado

Jusepe Ribera
Women's Fight
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Giovanni Francesco Romanelli
Roman Gladiators 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Massimo Stanzione
Offering a Sacrifice to Bacchus 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

 

THE COUNT DUKE, FURIES AND JESTERS

Diego Velazquez
Don Gaspar de Guzman, Count-Duke of Olivares -  
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Jusepe Ribera
Tityus 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Jusepe Ribera
Ixion 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Diego Velazquez
The Buffoon Pablo de Valladolid - 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Diego Velazquez
The Buffoon, Barbrroja, Don Cristobal de Castaneda y Pernia  
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Diego Velazquez
The Buffoon Don Juan de Austria  
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Diego Velazquez
The Buffoon Calabazas
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund

 

HALL OF REALMS

Diego Velazquez
Philip III, on Horseback 
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Diego Velazquez
Queen Margarita of Austria, Philip III's Wife
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Diego Velazquez
Philip IV on Horseback
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Diego Velazquez
Queen Isabel de Borbon, Philip IV's Wife, on Horseback
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Diego Velazquez
Prince Baltasar Carlos on Horseback
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Jusepe Leonardo
The Relief of Brisach
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Antonio de Pereda
Genoa's Aid by the second Marquis of Santa Cruz
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Diego Velazquez
The Surrender of Breda (Las Lanzas)
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Jusepe Leonardo
Juliers' Surrender
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Fray Juan Bautista Maino
The Restoration of the Bay of Brazil
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Francisco de Zurbaran
The Defence of Cadiz Against the English
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Vicente Carducho
Victoria de Fleurus
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Vicente Carducho
The Siege of Rheinfelden
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Vincente Carducho
The Relief of Constance
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Eugenio Cajes
The Restoration of San Juan de Puerto Rico
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Felix Castelo
The Restoration of St. Christopher's Island
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Francisco de Zurbaran
Hercules Separating the Mountains of Calpe and Abylla
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Francisco de Zurbaran
Hercules Defeats Geryon
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Francisco de Zurbaran
Hercules and the Lernean Hydra
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Francisco de Zurbaran
Hercules and Antaeus
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Francisco de Zurbaran
Hercules and the Cerberus
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Francisco de Zurbaran
Hercules and the Cretean Savage Bull
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Francisco de Zurbaran
Hercules diverting the River Alpheus
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Francisco de Zurbaran
Hercules and the Erymanthian Boar
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Francisco de Zurbaran
Hercules's Fight with the Nemean Lion
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Francisco de Zurbaran
Hercules Burnt by Nessus the Centaur's Tunic
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

 

THE LANDSCAPES GALLERY

Jan and Andries Both
Baptism of Queen Candace's Eunuch
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Jan and Andries Both
Excursion to the Countryside
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Nicolas Poussin
Landscape with St. Jerome
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Claudio de Lorena
The Burial of Saint Serapia
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Claudio de Lorena
Moses rescued from the Bullrushes
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Claudio de Lorena
Landscape with the Embarkation of Saint Paula Romana at Ostia
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Claudio de Lorena
The Archangel Raphael and Tobias
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Claudio de Lorena
Landscape with the Temptations of Saint Anthony Abad
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Jean Lemaire
Landscape with an Anchorite and Classical Ruins
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado