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Madrid’s new museum unveils five centuries of Spanish royal collections

MADRID– It’s not like Madrid lacks world-class galleries like the Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Reina Sofía, among others.

But next month, Spain is set to unveil what is being billed as one of Europe’s cultural events of the year with the opening in the Spanish capital of the Royal Collections Gallery. The chic new museum will showcase master paintings, tapestries, sculpture, decorative art, armory and lavish royal furnishings collected by Spanish monarchs over five centuries, spanning the Habsburg and Bourbon dynasties of Spain. empire.

“This is the biggest museum project in Spain for decades, and also in Europe,” says Ana de la Cueva, president of the Patrimonio Nacional, a government body that runs the gallery.

Unlike many other monarchies, Spain’s royal collections do not belong to the crown but to the public, thanks to a historical twist from nearly a century ago. Today, Patrimonio Nacional oversees palaces, monasteries, convents and royal gardens across the country.

For gallery director Leticia Ruiz, bringing together such a variety of extraordinary pieces makes it a kind of “museum of museums”.

The inaugural exhibition will feature 650 of the more than 150,000 pieces managed by Patrimonio Nacional, including works by Velázquez, Goya, Caravaggio, Titian and Tintoretto. Pieces from the best collection of tapestries in the world will also be on display, as well as vintage cars and royal furniture. A third of the works will be replaced by new exhibitions each year.

Ruiz says the gallery will offer visitors a unique perspective on “the history of royal palaces that are fundamental to the history of Spain and the world.”

A notable piece is Velázquez’s “White Horse”, prancing and riderless, suggesting that the court painter was just waiting to be told which king to saddle.

Nearby, the light and facial expressions of Caravaggio’s 1607 “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist” are equally captivating. The painting is one of four Caravaggios in Spain.

Then there is the multicolored cedarwood sculpture of Saint Michael Slaying the Devil, a 1692 work by Spain’s first female court sculptor, Luisa Roldán. It is known that she carved the devil in the image of her husband, and that she herself may have been the model for Michael.

On the same floor is the first edition of Cervantes’ “Don Quijote”.

“For many centuries, Spanish monarchs were the best collectors in history,” De la Cueva said. Being able to buy and commission from the best artists in the world “was a way of showing their power”.

Built on the steep hill opposite the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral, the gallery building itself is an impressive work of art.

Designed by Luis Mansilla and Emilio Tuñón, its unimposing vertical linear structure has won 10 architectural awards, including the 2017 American Architecture Award.

Invisible from street level, it descends seven floors. In the Habsburg Halls, you are greeted by four gigantic baroque wooden columns of Solomonic faux marble with gilded vines that once belonged to a church in Madrid.

What makes the gallery particularly special is its incorporation of Madrid’s 9th-century Islamic foundation after archaeologists uncovered part of the city’s Moorish wall during construction.

Madrid was originally called Mayrit in Arabic and its Islamic rulers built a fortress to protect the nearby center of power, Toledo. Following the reconquest of Spain by the Catholic monarchs, Madrid was converted into the royal court and capital of Spain in 1561 by Felipe II.

Álvaro Soler Del Campo, archaeologist and chief curator of the Royal Armoury, claims that Madrid “is the only current capital of the European Union which preserves a fragment of its first (founding) walls” as well as the only European capital which has origins.

The initial idea of ​​building a museum to house the Crown collections originated during the Spanish anti-monarchy Second Republic between 1931 and 1939. The leftist government seized the royal properties but protected them under a new agency which preceded the National Heritage.

The republic was wiped out in a rebellion by the late Dictator General Francisco Franco and other Catholic nationalist officers that sparked the three-year Spanish Civil War and heralded the end of some four decades of dictatorship in 1939.

Two decades after Franco’s death and the return to democracy, the initiative for a museum was resumed in 1998. But it took another 25 years, 172 million euros ($186 million) and several changes in government before the ambitious project could be completed.

Ruiz says the novelty of seeing such artistic beauty in such a modernist building will appeal to visitors.

“What we want to do is capture them as soon as they come in, and I think we’re going to do that,” she said.

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia will inaugurate the gallery on June 28, after which it will be open to the public, free of charge for the first few days.

ABC News

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