The late 16th and early 17th century in Europe were marked by various changes in a social and political landscape. When it comes to art, it was a time when grandmasters such as Velázquez, Vermeer and Rembrandt created some of their best works. Naturally, they were among the trendsetters in approach, technique, and selection of themes, meaning that various other artists regardless of the borders embraced their domains and extended it or interpreted it differently.
Therefore, the current exhibition at The Prado Museum titled Velázquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer: Parallel visions presents similarities between Dutch and Spanish artists of the mentioned period from the pan-national perspective, in order to break the traditional and long-standing idea that the art produced in different parts of Europe differs.
This extensive exhibition curated by Alejandro Vergara, Chief Curator of Flemish Painting and the Northern Schools at the Museo del Prado, tends to reveal the similarities in formal and conceptual approach to dominating genres in the late 16th and early 17th century shared by the Spanish and Dutch painters. The exhibition wants to show that albeit the fact the artistic production is often interpreted in the national key, it was indeed a product of the mutual exchange and interconnection, rather than a concise desire to create a specific national style.
By selecting seventy-two works gathered from the Prado, the Rijksmuseum, and several other important institutions, Vergara makes a reinterpretation of historical myths of these two powerful states in order to reflect on their numerous shared practices.
The installment is divided into five segments.
The first one is titled Image, Fashion, and painting in Spain and the Low Countries and it explores the role of fashion in the construction of the national identity; its narrates about the similarities of inherited traditions and the expressiveness in Spain and Holland best shown through the dazzling portraits of novelty, as well as of the people belonging to the social margin.
The second segment Realist fiction presents the shift in the visual paradigm, meaning that the artists of the late 16th century wanted to humanize the divinities and classical philosophers by presenting them as ordinary people inhabiting everyday spaces. Unlike other countries such as France and Italy where this tendency disappeared, in Spain and Holland it was strong for quite a long time.
The third segment Still-life painting in Spain and the Low Countries is focused on the development of this particular genre which emerged in the late 16th century, while the following one called Direct contacts between artists and patrons in Spain and the Low Countries shows the artistic culture shared by Dutch and Spanish painters of the 16th century and their liaisons with collectors.
The final segment Painting with big strokes of the brush reveals the similarities in painterly approach shared by numerous 17th-century Dutch and Spanish painters.
The exhibition catalog includes a series of essays written by acclaimed scholars which underline from different perspectives how the artists were not essentially interested in representing the “essence” of their nations but rather the approaches and ideas shared by an artistic community throughout Europe.
Velázquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer: Parallel visions will be on view at Museo Nacional del Prado (Jerónimos Building. Rooms A and B) in Madrid until 29 September 2019.
Featured images: Images of the exhibition galleries. Photo © Museo Nacional del Prado; Left: Frans Hals - Portrait of a Man, c. 1635. Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 66.5 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Gift if Jonkheer J.S.R. van de Poll, Arnhem / Right: Diego Rodriguez De Silva Y Velazquez - The Buffoon el Primo, 1644. Oil on canvas, 106.5 x 82.5 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid