The ‘sale of the century’ refers to the dispersal of the collection of Charles I of England, one of the most beautiful art collections at the beginning of the seventeenth century, in the Commonwealth-Sale between 1649 and 1654. Why Spain? Because King Philip IV was one of the principal buyers and chief beneficiary. The exhibition also included works that David Teniers bought in England on behalf of the Duke of Fuensaldaña as well as paintings that Alonso de Cárdenas purchased for the Spanish king from the Arundel collection.
The exhibition reflects the fields and interests of the two principal editors, the historian, Sir John Elliott, and the art historian, Jonathan Brown. The history of collecting is taking precedence over the work of art per se. The artistic relations were discussed separately in an essay by Jonathan Brown with a fascinating account of the visit of the Prince of Wales (the future Charles I) to Madrid in 1623, the festive celebrations in his honor, and his quest for paintings in Spanish collections. The editors’ primary goal was to reconstruct the historic events of the two peace treaties between England and Spain in 1604 and 1630, and the English civil war that resulted in the sale of Charles I’s art collection. Some of the best
Italian paintings entered the English Royal collection due to the sale of the collection of the Duke of Gonzaga in Mantua in 1627; after a mere twenty-one years they were on the market once again in the ‘sale of the century’.
The book also publishes for the first time documents in the archives of the Casa de Alba in Madrid related to the Commonwealth-Sale, which were transcribed in view of the exhibition by Beatriz Mariño and published in an Appendix. These documents, consisting of thirteen boxes of letters dating primarily from 1651, 1654, and 1656, eight of memoranda, four of invoices, and two of miscellanea, were written by Alonso de C‡rdenas, the Spanish ambassador in England, and sent to Luis Méndez de Haro y Guzman (1603-61), Marquis of Carpio. He was the minister of Philip IV in Madrid and succeeded Olivares when the latter retired in 1643. These documents present a most detailed account of the major transactions involving the purchases of art during the 1650s. Of special value are the prices included in these lists, especially when they enumerate paintings and tapestries for sale in London in 1651 and the prices paid for them by the Spanish crown. Thanks to these documents we learn of Luis de Haro – not only as minister of Philip IV – but as maecenas and art collector. Marcus B. Burke’s essay establishes Don Luis, as he is often referred to, as one of the most important picture collectors of the seventeenth century. Philip IV was the beneficiary of a sizeable num-ber of paintings De Haro bought in England, which he then presented to the king.
Most of the visitors from England were diplomats or agents of the English crown. Of significance, moreover, was the visit of the Prince of Wales, the future Charles I to Madrid in 1623, in search of a bride, namely the Infanta Maria, the younger sister of Philip IV. This Spanish sojourn, which made a lasting impression on the future king, began on March 17 and lasted just over five months. The focus of the 63 paintings selected for the exhibition was on personalities and the provenance of the paintings rather than on the famous artists. It also chronicled the collecting of art in Spain during the first half of the seventeenth century. Many of the works shown were of exceptional quality. Portraits of principal figures introduced the visitor to the players: Philip III and his powerful first minister, the Duke of Lerma by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, whose rendition of the signatories of the Peace Treaty, gathered around the table at Somerset House, London, in 1604 was also shown. James I was represented in a full-length portrait by John de Critz or Marcus Gheerarts II, Charles I and John Hamilton were included in portraits by Daniel Mytens. The strange double portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham as Venus and Adonis by (or attributed to) Van Dyck was shown in this context as was his portrait of Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel. Arundel as a collector and art collecting in England during the reigns of Philip III and Philip IV is discussed in a separate essay by David Howarth.
The book includes a most useful list – in chronological order – of the diplomats or emissaries representing Spain and England from 1605-1655. Many of the names are very familiar to historians of art as well, such as Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, Endymion Porter (represented in the exhibition in Van Dyck’s portrait of himself with the painter), Sir Francis Cottington, Sir John Digby, Count of Bristol, George Gage, and Sir Arthur Hopton. One of the peace negotiators on behalf of Spain was Peter Paul Rubens, who arrived in Madrid traveling from London via Brussels and Paris, where he stayed from June 1629 until March of 1630. Further names that come up in transactions between Spain and England are Sir Dudley Carleton (1573-1632), Tobie Mathew (1577-1644), the Count of Fuensaldaña, and David Teniers. Among the exceptionally beautiful works of art included in the exhibition are Dürer’s Self-Portrait and the Portrait of an Unknown Man as well as Titian’s Portrait of Charles V with a Dog, which Philip IV had presented to Charles I during his Madrid sojourn in 1623. Balthasar Gerbier bought it at the Commonwealth-Sale and resold it at a higher price to Alonso de Cárdenas, who purchased it on behalf of Luis de Haro, who then returned it back to the Spanish Royal Collection. Other highlights are Mantegna’s Death of the Virgin, a number of works by Correggio, among them the Education of Cupid, two paintings by Raphael of the Holy Family, several paintings by Titian, such as his Allocution of the Marquis of Vasto and a Reclining Venus. The selection also included several works by Veronese, Velázquez, and Orazio Genitleschi’s Finding of Moses. Anthony van Dyck was represented, in addition to the paintings mentioned earlier, by his Continence of Scipio, the Portrait of Maarten Ryckaert and a St. Francis. The exhibition also included RubensÕs Allegory of Peace and Plenty, painted in England in 1629 for Charles I, and his portrait drawing of the Duke of Arundel at Oxford. The only other drawings shown were bound in Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Madrid I and II; although the volumes entered the Spanish Royal collection in 1642, they were re-discovered on the shelves in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid only in 1965 due to a clerical error.
The installation of these newly acquired paintings in the Escorial, which at that time was supervised by Diego Velázquez, is reconstructed in an essay by Bonaventura Bossegoda. As he explains, it is part of a larger investigation on the historical collection of the Escorial, which will be published in book form under the title, The Escorial as Museum. The Pictorial Decoration in the Monastery of the Escorial from Diego Velázquez to Fréderic Quillet (1809), Barcelona, 2002, and will include a pictorial catalogue of the main rooms.
The exhibition was conceived under the directorship of Fernando Checa and completed under the new director of the Prado, Miguel Zugaza. It coincided with Spain’s presidency of the European Union. Sponsors for the exhibition were the Fundación Winterthur and the Sociedad Estatal España Nuevo Milenio.
Metropolitan Museum of Art