I haven’t seen the Royal Academy of Arts presented in such a magnificent fashion in a long time, and Spain and the Hispanic World: Treasures from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library is a triumph in those large rooms.
Highlighting thousands of years’ worth of human history in the Hispanic Society of America’s collection, almost every major Spanish artist or those working in the Spanish court is represented. We’re talking Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Francisco de Zurbarán, Anthonis Mor, Luis de Morales, Alonso Cano, and much later, Francisco Goya (who gets his own room) and Joaquín Sorolla closing the show. There’s even an Immaculate Conception painted on a reused copper printing plate!
Polychrome sculpture takes the cake here with the little group depicting the Four Fates of Man slightly horrifying to behold, attributed to Manuel Chili (called Caspicara). Female artists are few and far between with no Luisa Roldán in sight, but Andrea de Mena’s small busts of a tearful Virgin Mary and bloody Christ have a place near works by her father Pedro de Mena and Juan de Juni; all are compelling and magnificent in the flesh.
But this is much more than just a fine art exhibition. Carefully navigating the colonialist history of Spain and its colonies, we are also presented with beautiful atlases and regional maps, portraits of indigenous inhabitants, collections of ornamented chests and caskets, and much more. At the beginning of the show, objects from antiquity reveal the mix of cultures in these lands before colonisation.
This is a really fabulous show that highlights the richness and beauty of Spanish/Hispanic products, including one of just three surviving black book of hours in the world!
Spain and the Hispanic World: Treasures from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library runs until 10 April 2023, https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/