Old Masters, New Concept

April 1, 2008
St. James (Santiago el Mayor), El Greco, circa 1610–14. Oil on canvas, Museo del Greco, Toledo

St. James (Santiago el Mayor), El Greco, circa 1610–14. Oil on canvas, Museo del Greco, Toledo
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In April, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, will present a new exhibition featuring the work of two of the world's greatest painters—El Greco and Velázquez. The exhibition's next stop: Duke's Nasher Museum of Art.

"El Greco to Velázquez: Art During the Reign of Philip III" was organized as a partnership between the two museums. It is co-curated by Sarah Schroth, Nancy Hanks Senior Curator at the Nasher, and Ronnie Baer, Mrs. Russell W. Baker Senior Curator of European Paintings at the MFA.

In addition to El Greco and Velázquez, the show will feature works by lesser-known artists who worked alongside them, including Juan Bautista Maino, Juan Sánchez Cotán, Luis Tristán, and Gregorio Fernández. It will gather the best examples of art made during the reign of King Philip III of Spain (1598-1621), now considered integral to the Golden Age of Spanish painting.

The exhibition is the culmination of twenty years of research by Schroth. Nasher officials say it will bring about a complete re-evaluation of this chapter in art history, highlighting masterpieces by Spanish artists who created a new visual language that expressed the political, social, and religious demands of their time and echoed the innovations of their literary counterparts—Miguel Cervantes, Luis de Góngora y Argote, and others.

Under the young King Philip III, naturalism in Spanish art flourished. The earliest still lifes were created, polychrome sculpture became more realistic, and new, more realistic light effects were used. In sharp contrast to the austere style of art favored by his father, Philip II, portraiture during the reign of Philip III became more ostentatious. Concurrently, representations of sacred figures were humanized and brought down to earth.

The show's catalogue includes more than 100 paintings, sculptures, and decorative pieces, including seven works by El Greco, three by Velázquez, two by Jusepe de Ribera, and one by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, painted during his 1603 diplomatic mission to Spain. Important loans will come from museums in Spain and five other countries; some works are traveling for the first time.

"El Greco to Velázquez" runs at the MFA, Boston, April 20 to July 27, and at the Nasher from August 21 to November 9. Tickets for the Nasher exhibit go on sale June 1.