A new ‘zurbarán’, a ‘greco’ without methacrylate and a ‘murillo’ without falsifying: Lisbon discovers the Spanish footprint | Culture


An art exhibition is a journey between uncertainties and certainties. Also an opportunity to change one for another and reveal what remained hidden. In Split Identities (Shared Identities), the great exhibition on Iberian painting that can be visited at the National Museum of Antique Art (MNAA) in Lisbon until March 30, discoveries abound. For example, him zurbarán that no one knew it was a zurbarán until Benito Navarrete Prieto, professor of Art History at the Complutense University, accredited him in the research process to organize this exhibition. The sufferer Saint Sebastian (1634-36) until now was attributed to the Castilian painter Clemente Sánchez in the MNAA, where he arrived in 1916 from the Graça convent, in Lisbon. “An erroneous interpretation was made of the monogram added over a hole or gap in the lower right part of the Saint Sebastian, “What made him want to marry that monogram with this artist whose work has nothing to do with Zurbarán, nor does the quality,” clarifies the professor.

Numerous works that are exhibited for the first time or that are usually not presented in the best conditions, such as the Holy Face del Greco, highlighted in a central column of the exhibition and without the methacrylate that disturbs it in the Ajuda National Palace, where it hangs permanently. Curated by the director of the MNAA, Joaquim Oliveira Caetano, and Benito Navarrete Prieto, the exhibition features oil paintings by other masters such as Murillo, Ribera, Carducho, Herrera el Viejo or Madrazo, as well as works by Portuguese artists linked to Spain due to their training or for their commercial relationship as the Lusitano or Josefa de Óbidos, the first painter to achieve recognition in Portugal.

'Santa Face' (17th century), oil painting by El Greco preserved in the Palacio Nacional da Ajuda, in Lisbon.
‘Santa Face’ (17th century), oil painting by El Greco preserved in the Palacio Nacional da Ajuda, in Lisbon.

One of the claims of the quote is the Mystical marriage of Saint Catherine (1650-55), the murillo which Queen Isabel II gave to Luís I in 1866 after an official visit to Portugal in a context of closer Iberian political relations with the construction of the Madrid-Lisbon railway line and the agreement on navigability of the Duero River. In 1855, the Spanish monarch had given Pope Pius IX the same work, “a painting of the Holy Family that I had placed in my own chambers because it was an original work by Murillo,” according to the letter that Isabel II wrote to the Pontiff cited above. in the exhibition catalogue. The painting was exhibited in the Vatican Pinacoteca until 1957, when a restorer discovered that it was a forgery. A scandal, although the queen, who died half a century earlier in her exile in Paris, was spared public embarrassment.

Claim a canon

25% of the 82 pieces on display have been restored for this occasion and others are being shown for the first time. “We have reviewed catalogs and warehouses of numerous institutions, which is why we have found so many new works,” Navarrete clarifies. Because perhaps the most striking novelty is the fact that for the first time a large exhibition is dedicated to Spanish painting present in the public collections of Portugal, coming from funds of the monarchy, religious orders or collectors. Indifference or marginalization, depending on what you want, has both academic and political explanations, says Navarrete, who considers the occasion as “an opportunity to vindicate the relations between the two countries and even an Iberian canon.” Supported by the respective Ministries of Culture and financed by the BPI and La Caixa foundations, the Spanish commissioner trusts that this initiative will open a way of study in universities on the circulation and influence between artists from both sides of the Raya. .

“Unlike what happens in a Benfica-Real Madrid match, here we can both win,” jokes the director of the MNAA, Joaquim Oliveira Caetano, during a visit to the exhibition. In the catalog of Split Identitiesidentifies the last third of the 16th century as the moment of greatest influence of Spanish painting in Portugal with the commission of works as relevant as the altarpiece for the royal pantheon of the Jerónimos commissioned by Queen Catarina from the Spaniard Lorenzo de Salcedo.

There will be another moment of connection later, in which the first Portuguese professional painter, Josefa de Óbidos, stands out. “The painting cycle of the Óbidos School is one of the most recognizable examples of a direct impact of Spanish painting on Portuguese art of the 17th century and perhaps the last moment of an important mark of Spanish painting in the Portuguese art,” says Joaquim Oliveira Caetano.

'Adoraçao dos Pastores' (1669), oil painting by the Portuguese painter Josefa de Óbidos.
‘Adoraçao dos Pastores’ (1669), oil painting by the Portuguese painter Josefa de Óbidos.

The artist was born in Seville in 1630 of a mixed Spanish and Portuguese marriage. Her father, Baltazar Gomes Figueira, trained as a painter with the Sevillian Herrera the Elder, who also sponsored the girl Josefa. Although the family returned to Portugal when she was four years old, the influence of Sevillian artistic circles marked her career. “Her father brings to Portugal novelties such as still lifes that were not made here. Josefa began to work with him very young, there are works of hers made when she was 16 years old,” explains the director of the MNAA. At the age of 31, she received her first individual commission for the church of Santa María de Óbidos and, as she did not have legal personality to sign contracts (woman, 17th century), her parents granted her emancipation. From then on she began a successful career both in art and in other businesses, very marked by the thought of Saint Teresa of Jesus and Sevillian aesthetics. This exhibition includes Adoraçao dos Pastores (1669).

Following a chronological route, the exhibition is divided into three large sections. One of them is that of the Spanish and Portuguese painters who circulate between both countries, such as the Extremaduran Luis de Morales or the Portuguese Vasco Pereira, the Lusitano, who trained in Seville in the workshop of Francisco Pacheco, Velázquez’s father-in-law. Another collects the moment that the Iberian artists lived between 1581 and 1640, when the two countries shared the Austrian Crown and the third responds to the Portuguese collecting of the 19th century, very interested in Catalan Gothic painting and Spanish authors of the time such as Madrazo . For the first time, two parts of the altarpiece that Pedro Daponte painted in Aragon and that would end up disintegrated have been reunited, one acquired by the MNAA in 2010 and another by the Gaudium Foundation in 2022.

'Saint Sebastian' (1634-26), oil painting by Zurbarán from the National Museum of Antique Art in Lisbon.
‘Saint Sebastian’ (1634-26), oil painting by Zurbarán from the National Museum of Antique Art in Lisbon.

Some paintings that remained in Spain have reached Portuguese collections in recent years, such as the Virgin of Good Air (1603), the central panel of the altarpiece that the Lusitano painted for the chapel of the Virgen de los Mareantes de Triana, in Seville. Benito Navarrete explains that the work was auctioned at Sotheby’s in London in 2020. “I was very surprised that Spain authorized its export and sale without even asking for a report with the argument that it was not an Asset of Cultural Interest,” he emphasizes. The work was acquired by Armando Pereira, the Portuguese millionaire who helped found the French multinational Altice and who would end up arrested in July of this year in an operation investigating a criminal network in Altice Portugal, which included tax fraud, money laundering, corruption private and forgery. After being restored, it was deposited in the National Museum of Antique Art and has been included in the exhibition. It is not unreasonable that it ends up entering public institutions as has happened with the collections of other Portuguese millionaires who have fallen into disrepair after their problems with the law, such as businessmen João Rendeiro or José Berardo.

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