Two special exhibitions celebrate the reopening:
The Forgotten Friezes from the Castle of Vélez Blanco
Sculpture and Decorative Arts of the Spanish Renaissance
The Vélez Blanco Patio, one of the most important architectural ensembles of the early Spanish Renaissance, will return to public view on May 12, 2000, after a three-year renovation. The patio's gracefully arcaded galleries, elaborately carved marble capitals, window and door frames — in all some 2,000 marble elements by northern Italian artists working in Spain in the Renaissance style — were first reconstructed at the Museum in 1964. They have now undergone extensive conservation work in order to bring the structure closer to its original appearance in the 16th-century castle of Vélez Blanco.
To celebrate the reopening, the Metropolitan will present two exhibitions: The Forgotten Friezes from the Castle of Vélez Blanco, on loan from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and Sculpture and Decorative Arts of the Spanish Renaissance, showcasing works from the Museum's collection. Both exhibitions will be on view through January 7, 2001.
Since its installation at the Metropolitan Museum, the patio from Vélez Blanco has been recognized by scholars around the world as one of the jewels of early Renaissance Spain — melding indigenous Gothic and Hispano-Moresque structural precedents contributed by its Spanish architect — such as segmental arches and flat timber ceilings with exposed beams — to the architectural canons and ornamental motifs of the Italian Renaissance. The graceful carvings that embellish many window and door frames of the 2,750-square-foot, two-story galleried structure — fantastic tiered candelabra and animal grotesques, foliate scrolls, birds, vases, and monsters — are believed to be the work of itinerant Lombardo-Venetian sculptors who brought their up-to-date carving skills and pattern books from northern Italy to the small mountain village on the southeastern coast of Spain.
History of the Vélez Blanco Patio
The patio — also known as the Blumenthal Patio — was the crowning jewel of the castle built between 1506 and 1515 by Don Pedro Fajardo y Chacón in Vélez Blanco — one of the towns he was given as reward for his assistance in suppressing Moorish rebellions in the lands of Andalusia. Don Pedro, first Marqués of Vélez and fifth Governor of the Kingdom of Murcia, was born probably in 1478, belonging to that generation of Castilian nobles that came of age during the reign of the Catholic Kings (as Ferdinand and Isabella are known in Spain). He was raised at the royal court and sponsored by the queen at an academy for young nobles; there he learned to read and write Latin under the guidance of the brilliant Italian scholar and historian, Pietro Martire d'Anghiera. This education reveals itself in the wealth of decorative images taken from ancient sources that embellish the patio's structure.
Ornament in this style would come to be known in Spain as a lo Romano, reflecting its origins in the monuments of Roman antiquity. Tiered candelabra designs and imaginary hybrid creatures like those that surround the doors and windows of the patio were disseminated throughout Europe in prints and sketches by Italian artists, themselves inspired by the ancient monuments rediscovered in Rome in the early Renaissance. The patio carvings, however, are among the earliest of this style in Spain and antedate any published designs, showing Don Pedro to have been in the vanguard of artistic patronage in Spain.
By the 19th century, after French invasion and decades of political and social upheaval had overtaken Spain, the castle of Vélez Blanco was abandoned. In 1913, the patio complex was acquired by the financier and art collector George Blumenthal from a Parisian dealer, who had bought it from the owners of the derelict castle a decade earlier. Blumenthal, who was President of the Metropolitan Museum from 1934 until his death in 1941, installed it as a furnished interior hall in the center of the large house he was building in New York, on Park Avenue and 67th Street. He bequeathed the patio to the Metropolitan, but it was not until 1945 — when the house was torn down — that the patio's marble blocks were dismantled and transported to the Museum. In 1964, after extensive research into the patio's architectural and historical context (by Olga Raggio, now the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Chairman of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorate Arts), the structure was re-erected as part of a new wing built to house the Thomas J. Watson Library. Some of the patio's elements were transposed to fit the surrounding structure. The beamed ceilings of Andalusian azulejos (colorful patterned tiles) covering the upper galleries convey some of the colorful effect originally present in the tiled upper-level walls and floors.
When it reopens on May 12, the refurbished patio will be seen in a new light. Its delicate carvings have been meticulously cleaned by a team from the Museum's Department of Objects Conservation, and a sophisticated system of illumination will shine on them to evoke its original ambience. A new floor, of white marble, styled after the original paving that remains in the castle even today, and cut from the very quarry from which the stones that make up the patio itself were drawn, adds to the brighter effect. The enormous carved stone Fajardo coat of arms, formerly placed under the arcade, has been reinstalled in a more authentic position high on the patio's west wall. The patio will also serve once again as a framework in which to display the Museum's important collection of Italian Renaissance statuary (including Tullio Lombardo's standing figure of Adam). Another highlight is the early-Renaissance Flemish tapestry depicting The Triumph of Fame, a recent acquisition believed to have been in the collection of Queen Isabella.
The Forgotten Friezes from the Castle of Vélez Blanco
Six large relief friezes, unparalleled in their classical subject matter and exceptional vigor, will comprise the special exhibition The Forgotten Friezes from the Castle of Vélez Blanco, located on the second floor arcade of the newly renovated patio.
The friezes are on loan from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris — where they were identified in 1992 as those from the castle of Vélez Blanco — and will be on view from May 12, 2000, through January 7, 2001.
Each of the pine-wood reliefs is approximately 20 feet in length and 550 pounds in weight. They were originally part of two groups made around 1510-1515 to decorate the reception halls in the castle, from which they were stripped at the same time the patio was removed from Spain. They are richly carved with the themes of the Triumph of Julius Caesar and the Labors of Hercules, and with the coats of arms of Pedro Fajardo and his wife Doña Mencía de la Cueva, which are identical to those on the arcade of the patio itself.
In the narrative relief sculpture of Spain, the choice of subjects from classical history and mythology over religion was extremely rare and in this case reveals Fajardo's reverence for the culture of antiquity and his commitment to the humanist culture in which he had been educated. The triumphs of Julius Caesar and of Hercules were thematically linked in Renaissance thought, representing the heroic virtues to which great men should aspire. As Caesar's triumphs represented worldly conquests, the deeds of Hercules were held to symbolize victory over the vices of the soul. Fajardo's choice of such subject matter to decorate his palace put him in the vanguard of Renaissance taste outside of Italy.
Three of the friezes depict the Roman triumphal procession of Julius Caesar, the greatest soldier of antiquity, showing Caesar in his chariot followed by his famous horse
and by citizens carrying victory branches; a group of soldiers carrying booty, holding a precious vessel and shaking laurel wreaths; and a cavalry procession. Fajardo, whose youth was steeped in the study of classical authors, was familiar with the details of Caesar's victories, and may have seen them as somewhat analogous to his own actions in battles against the Moors. While two of the friezes are based closely on a series of Venetian woodcuts first published in 1503 by Benedetto Bordon and Jacob of Strasbourg, the climactic cavalry procession appears to allude to more current victories — perhaps those of Don Pedro or his father Don Juan — because it combines mythological characters with a man in clerical robes, men in Moorish turbans, soldiers armed in various period styles, and a horseman bearing Fajardo's own shield. The carvers' individual artistic personalities are also apparent in the carvings, for in form as well as content they reveal an understanding of the classical Renaissance style then current in Italy.
The second group of three friezes depicts events from the life of Hercules, the mythological hero renowned for his courage and strength, who was one of the most frequently used figures of subject in Spanish art from the Renaissance onward. Each of the friezes consists of three narrative sections separated by shields bearing the arms of Fajardo and his wife. The style of the carved figures is boldly naturalistic, while the landscape, the composition of the visual space, and the handling of the narrative are much closer to late Gothic conventions than to the Renaissance style displayed in the Triumph of Caesar reliefs.
The scenes in the Labors of Hercules reliefs are: in the first frieze, the birth of
Hercules, Hercules overcoming the Nemean Lion, and Hercules slaying Cacus; in the
second frieze, Hercules capturing the three-headed canine guardian of Hades, Cerberus, Hercules rescuing Hippodamia in a battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs, and Hercules carrying the twin pillars; and in the third frieze, Hercules killing the dragon Ladon and supporting the heavens for Atlas, Hercules killing the Lernaean Hydra, and Hercules overcoming Antaeus.
An independent scholar, Gustina Scaglia, has linked the Vélez Blanco Hercules reliefs to a series of woodcuts first published in Venice around 1500 (attributed to an artist identified as Giovanni Andrea Vavassore), that was produced in a more elaborated version soon after. The reliefs were inspired directly by the latter version.
The six "forgotten friezes" in the exhibition were only recently rediscovered and identified. When the castle of Vélez Blanco was abandoned in the 19th century, the patio and friezes were removed; while it was known that the patio traveled to New York, the friezes vanished from public view. In 1992 they were located in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs — where they had been stored in unidentified crates since their bequest in 1905 — by a curator at the museum, Monique Blanc, who researched and identified them. More than a century after they were separated, the friezes and patio will finally be reunited this spring, at the Metropolitan Museum, when the friezes are installed in the galleries of the newly renovated patio.
Sculpture and Decorative Arts of the Spanish Renaissance
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's small but stellar collection of Spanish polychrome sculpture — sacred reliefs and freestanding carved figures once housed in the
churches of Spain — will be on view in the exhibition Sculpture and Decorative Arts of the Spanish Renaissance, located in the gallery adjacent to the Vélez Blanco Patio from May 12, 2000, through January 7, 2001. Notable images of saints and martyrs venerated in Spain — such as John the Baptist (by Juan Martínez Montanés), Saints Agnes and Jerome, and a brilliantly gilded relief, The Holy Family with the Virgin's Parents (by Diego de Pesquera) will be placed on view for the first time in several years. Also included in the 65 works on display will be extensive groupings of decorative works of both a secular and religious nature. The selection — all from the Metropolitan Museum's collections but many never before on public display — emphasizes the diversity in the material culture of Renaissance Spain after the Catholic reconquest by Ferdinand and Isabella, and its unique blending of early western European and Islamic stylistic and technical influences. Among the rarest pieces are two exceptional 11-foot-high embroidered hangings depicting heroic events from the reconquest, newly restored after decades in storage and returned to view for this special exhibition. Lustered ceramics and other pottery and tilework, metalwork of precious silver as well as iron and bronze, and colorful glassware all contribute to the understanding of the brilliant multifaceted culture of Spain in the wake of the reconquest.
Educational Programs and Publication
A variety of educational programs related to the exhibition — including lectures and gallery talks for the general public — will take place in the fall. Johanna Hecht,
Associate Curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, will
lecture on "The Castle of Vélez Blanco Restored and Revealed" on Friday, September 22, at 6:00 p.m. in the Museum's Uris Auditorium (free with Museum admission).
A book, Les Frises oubliées de Vélez Blanco by Monique Blanc, has been published by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris to coincide with the exhibition The Forgotten Friezes from the Castle of Vélez Blanco. The publication is available in French only, in a paperbound edition, for $29.95.
The renovation of the patio from the castle at Vélez Blanco was supervised by Olga Raggio and coordinated by Johanna Hecht, who also organized both special
exhibitions. The projects were overseen by J. Nicolas Cameron, General Manager for Operations, and Jeffrey L. Daly, Chief Designer. All of the installations were designed by Michael Langley, Exhibition Designer, with graphics by Sophia Geronimus, Graphic Designer, and lighting by Zack Zanolli, Lighting Designer, all from the Museum's Design Department.
April 13, 2000