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From Caravaggio to Bernini
14 April 2017

On Thursday 13th April, the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, opened the exhibition “From Caravaggio to Bernini.   17th century Italian masterpieces from the Spanish Royal Collections”, in the presence of Ana Pastor Julián, President of the Spanish Congress of Deputies. The exhibition - jointly organised between Italy and Spain - presents works from the Patrimonio Nacional, the Spanish public institution that protects and promotes the artistic heritage from the Royal Family's collection. This is the first time that these works have been organised together in an exhibition in Italy.

Project characteristics. The exhibition, curated by Gonzalo Redin Michaus, is open to the public until 30th July. Through an extraordinary selection of artistic masterpieces, this exhibition reflects the incredibly close political and cultural links between these two countries during the XVII century. It was during this period that the Spanish tradition of collecting Italian art, begun by Charles V in the sixteenth century, was reborn. Thanks to the interventions of dignitaries and the art collected directly by Ambassadors and Viceroys, Italian works of art were imported into Spain and gradually worked their way into the Royal Collections, contributing to the creation of a trend and national style that, with Diego Velázquez, went on to reach new heights in European art history. In this context, works by Caravaggio and Bernini formed the basis for developments during the first and second half of the century, respectively, covering Naturalism, Classicism and Baroque styles.

Masterpieces. The two masterpieces on display at the exhibition perfectly represent the exchange between the two countries: Caravaggio's “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist” (Madrid, Palacio Real), whose recent restoration revealed the exceptional quality of the artist’s painting, and “Joseph's Tunic” by Diego Velázquez, from the Escorial. The latter is a large-scale canvas completed by the artist immediately after his first trip to Italy, between 1629 and 1630, reflecting the influences from his experience of classical art and modern Italian painting: it is one of the artist’s biggest achievements, whereas his fame as a portrait artist in the Papal Court came during his second trip to Italy, between 1649-1650.

A great deal of the other works on display, such as Bernini’s Crucifix (from the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial and rarely accessible to the public) – were commissioned or acquired by envoys of the king. Other works were purchased by representatives of the Spanish monarchy in Italy. When said representatives died, the works of art would be added to the royal collections: this was indeed the case for Caravaggio’s Salomè. In other cases, the pieces of art on display were diplomatic gifts from princes and governors of the Peninsula in return for protection and favours: this was the case for two of the most spectacular paintings in the exhibition: Guercino's “Lot and His Daughters” and Guido Reni's "Conversion of Saul”, which Prince Ludovisi donated to Philip IV with the aim of ensuring Spanish protection over the tiny State of Piombino.

Spain’s interest in Italian painters was further reflected by the fact that Italian masters were invited to go and work at the court, as was the case for Luca Giordano, who worked in Spain for some ten years. Vice versa, the Spanish artist José de Ribera arrived to Rome in 1606 and spent most of his life in Naples; five of Ribera's masterpieces are on display as part of the exhibition, including his famous and magnificent “Jacob with the Flock of Laban”.
In 1819, King Ferdinand VII established the “Museo Real” - which later became known as the “Museo del Prado”. This museum collected all the works that were not kept at the monarch’s residences, known as the “Reales Sitios”. In 1865, Queen Isabel II renounced her ownership of the goods she had inherited from her ancestors and entrusted them to the state, paving the way for today's "Patrimonio Nacional”: it is from this very collection (still under state protection) that the masterpieces on display in Rome have been selected, on the basis of their exceptional artistic and historical value.

The Chairman of the company Ales arte lavoro e servizi S.p.A., Mario De Simoni commented: “This is an incredibly important exhibition, allowing us here in Italy to appreciate the amazing restoration of masterpieces such as “Joseph's Tunic” by Velázquez and Caravaggio's “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist. I would like to thank the Abertis Group, who has played a leading role in making long-term investments in our Country, understanding the importance of this exhibition and therefore making the Italian version possible”.

The exhibition will remain open over Easter, on Sunday 16th April and on Easter Monday (17th April). 
This project is supported by A4 Holding, an Abertis Group company.