In April last year, His Highness King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Abe were present at the Akasaka Palace to exchange an agreement to hold Prado Museum exhibitions in Tokyo and Kobe. 2018 marks exactly 150 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations with the conclusion of the Spanish-Japanese Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation in 1868, and the exhibition is one of the events celebrating the friendship between Spain and Japan.
Opened in 1819 by Fernando VII, the Spanish king 5 generations before the present king, the Prado Museum has actively engaged in exchanges with other museums and galleries, but will be celebrating its 200th anniversary next year in 2019, so it will refrain from lending any artworks, so that visitors may see the museum at its fullest. The opportunity to see 61 works from the Prado Museum’s collection in Japan is therefore a very precious opportunity.
Titled Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: The Golden Age in the Museo Del Prado, the exhibition centers on 7 works by Velázquez, a master of Spain’s golden age of painting in the 17th century*, with carefully selected works by Velázquez that influenced primarily Spain, as well as Italy, Flanders, France, and other countries, and including works by other European painters who affected Velázquez. The exhibition is organized around 7 themes: art, knowledge, myth, the royal court, landscapes, still life, and religion.
Given the highest possible accolade of “the painter’s painter” by Édouard Manet, himself dubbed the pioneer of French impressionism, Diego de Velázquez was given life in 1599 in Seville, the Spanish city with the largest population at the time, also a base for trade with the new continent, and an international city where brilliant cultural pursuits blossomed. At the age of 22, he left his family home for Madrid and not only did he flourish as a painter to the court of Felipe IV, the Spanish king at the time, but he gained the strong trust of the king, progressed headlong along the highway to success and was given a succession of important positions until his later years when his career came to an end at the age of 61, dying of overwork owing to his heavy responsibilities.
Among the selection of eminent works of art being lent to Japan for this exhibition, I venture to say that the lead role is being played by the painting Prince Baltasar Carlos on Horseback, which is also the front cover of the pamphlet. It is the figure of the eventual successor to his expectant father, Felipe IV, facing the future responsibility for the country with confidence. Although it is a “portrait” of one of the royal family, look closely at the superbly painted background, so superb that the painting was included under the theme of landscape for this exhibition. The dramatic sky that gave rise to the term “los cielos velazqueños” (a Velazquian sky); the Sierra de Guadarrama with its peak covered in late snow stretching out beneath it; and Monte del Pardo with a misty covering of spring greenery painted in the foreground convincingly convey a sense of the crisp air in early spring in the outskirts of Madrid.
This painting was hung in the Salón de Reinos (Hall of Realms) in the Buen Retiro Palace, built by Felipe IV as a villa next to the present-day Prado Museum. The portrait of the king on horseback was on the left of the doorway, with the portrait of the queen on horseback on the right and in between the portrait of the prince on horseback above the doorway, so taking into account the visual effect of looking up to admire the painting, the prince’s horse appears slightly plump.
It is possible that these exhibitions will be the last opportunities to see these works outside the Prado Museum. The reason is that after many complications, the Buen Retiro Palace use as a military museum ceased in 2010 and it became an annex to the Prado Museum in 2016, so when the repairs and restorations are completed, it is highly likely that the Salón de Reinos (Hall of Realms) will be restored to its former glory. Seeing as it will return to how it was originally intended, if sympathetically considering the intentions of His Majesty the King, who commissioned the works, and the painter who undertook them, unless there is some major disaster, these paintings will probably be allowed to rest peacefully in the palace.
* The golden age spans about 2 centuries from Spain’s expulsion of Islamic forces and the arrival of Columbus on the American continent in 1492. During this time, such was Spain’s reach over not only its numerous domains in Europe but also the American continent and southeast Asia that “the sun never set on the empire.” In the mother country in particular, artistic pursuits in literature, music, art and so on flourished. The literary master and author of Don Quixote, Cervantes, was another figure in this golden age.
150th Anniversary of Spanish-Japanese Diplomatic Relations
VELÁZQUEZ AND THE CELEBRATION OF PAINTING: THE GOLDEN AGE IN THE MUSEO DEL PRADO
Tokyo February 24 (Sat) – May 27 (Sun) 2018
National Museum of Western Art
Kobe June 13 (Wed) – October 14 (Sun) 2018
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art