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ABQ first U.S. stop for historic collection of art

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The woman stares boldly at the viewer from beneath a black cloud of lace, her index finger pointing imperiously toward the sand beneath her feet.

A closer look reveals the etched words “Solo Goya” —— “Only Goya.”

From the romantic images of Francisco de Goya to prehistoric vessels and the works of Spanish Golden Age painter Diego Velásquez, “Visions of the Hispanic World” celebrates the richness and scope of Spanish arts and culture across the centuries.

Albuquerque is the first stop in the U.S. for this historic collection.

Opening soon at the Albuquerque Museum, the exhibition includes treasures from New York’s Hispanic Society Museum and Library that span more than 3,000 years. The show features more than 200 works from the Iberian Peninsula, split into two chronological parts, one opening on Nov. 10 and the second on Dec. 22.

In the Goya painting, the widowed duchess’ diamond ring reads “Alba,” her gold band says “Goya.”

“They had a thing for each other,” said Andrew Connors, Albuquerque Museum director. “He wasn’t shy about saying, ‘She and I like each other.’ ”

Albuquerque’s premiere stop will be followed by shows in Cincinnati and Houston. Its previous showings included Spain’s Museo Nacional del Prado and the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.

“When (the exhibit) opened at the Prado, the Spanish press went insane,” Connors said. “It’s a much more comprehensive view of Spanish traditions than any museum in Spain could provide. The Prado doesn’t collect this diversity. I think there was a great sense of pride.”

These important pieces of Spanish heritage are on loan from New York’s Hispanic Society of America, which is currently undergoing a $16 million renovation.

Philippe de Montebello, chairman of the board of the Hispanic Society and retired director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will attend the opening with curator Mitchell Codding. The pair will join Connors in a public discussion Nov. 10.

The exhibit represents arguably the most comprehensive display ever shown in Albuquerque, Connors said.

Similar shows often focus on the “top 10” of Spain’s Golden Age, with works by stars such as Velásquez, Goya, Murillo and El Greco from the late 1500s to the 1600s.

“The Golden Age existed because of all the contributions of the immigrants,” Connors said. “That’s when the artistry of Spain was the best in Europe. Spain had incredible wealth because of the colonies.”

Those immigrants included members from the Celtic, Jewish, Muslim, Roman and Visigothic (East German Gothic) cultures.

The exhibition corrals paintings, sculpture and illuminated manuscripts (including a letter from Queen Elizabeth I to King Philip II of Spain), a Hebrew bible, ceramics, fiber and jewelry.

There are a couple of local references in the collection.

A 1726 map of America features what may be the first cartographic mention of the city of Albuquerque.

And the 1498 alabaster tomb of “Doña Mencía Enríquez de Toledo, Duchess of Alburquerque Monasterio de San Francisco” was sculpted in the medieval style of Gil de Siloe, complete with flowing folds of fabric carved in stone.

“He was one of the most popular sculptors in the late medieval to early Renaissance,” Connors said. “The idea of having a figure lying on the tomb with folded hands is very medieval.”

A detailed look at an Alhambra silk textile, hand-woven by Muslims circa 1400, features calligraphic symbols between horizontal bands. These silks were named because their designs mirrored the striped tiles of the Alhambra of Granada.

“It says, ‘Perpetual honor, prosperity, good fortune and happiness,” Connors said.

The Catholic owners of an intricately carved ivory vessel used to hold the consecrated host were unable to decipher the Arabic love poem carved on its gilt-mounted top.

“The box is really sexy because carved into this upper lid is a poem,” Connors said. “They couldn’t read it. It had nothing to do with Christ. The church transformed it into a liturgical item.”

Velásquez’s oil on canvas “Portrait of a Little Girl,” ca. 1638-42, features the girl’s lustrous flesh tones above an apparently unfinished blouse. Unembellished by the French clothing and jewelry of the aristocracy, the sitter is likely the artist’s granddaughter.

“Velásquez wasn’t just an artist,” Connors said. “He was a diplomat. He was sent by the Spanish to negotiate treaties and trade.”

What resembles a family portrait by Mexico’s Juan Rodriguez Juárez is actually a “casta painting.” The couple are of mixed-race Mestizo and Indian descent; their offspring is known as a “coyote.”

Racial status was an organizing principle of Spanish colonial rule. Lower caste residents were forbidden to own property and allowed limited employment.

The exhibit is supported by an indemnity from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Albuquerque Museum, the City of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.

A special exhibition surcharge of $5 applies during free museum days.

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