Episcopal Museum of Vic, Spain

The Episcopal Museum of Vic (Catalan: Museu Episcopal de Vic, MEV) is a medieval art museum that maintains a magnificent collection of masterpieces of painting and sculpture from the Romanesque and Gothic period in Catalonia. Located next to the Cathedral of Vic, in the Osona region (Barcelona) it is declared a museum of national interest by the Generalitat de Catalunya.

The Episcopal Museum of Vic conserves a magnificent collection of medieval art with paintings and sculpture from the Catalan Romanesque and Gothic periods. The collections of precious metals, textile, foundry, glass and ceramics offer a complete journey through the history of liturgical and decorative art in Catalonia.

A wonderful collection of masterpieces; paintings and sculptures from the Catalan Romanesque and Gothic periods, together with outstanding collections of archaeology, jewellery, textiles, ironwork, glassmaking and pottery. A collection of exceptional value comprising over 29,000 items. All of the collections housed in the Museum’s permanent exhibition are ordered chronologically and stylistically.

The archaeological collection covers a wide time span, ranging from pre-history to late antiquity and the high medieval period. Next to it we find the lapidary, which contains works in stone ranging from the Romanesque to Baroque periods.

The Romanesque and Gothic rooms contain the museums most valuable works, which have brought it worldwide renown. Of particular note from the Romanesque period is the Descent from the Cross from Erill la Vall and the canopy from the Valley of Ribes, as well as an important group of altar frontals.

Outstanding works from the Gothic collection include the Virgin of Boixadors, the altarpiece depicting the Passion by Bernat Saulet and works by the greatest Catalan artists of this period, such as Pere Serra, Lluís Borrassà, Bernat Martorell and Jaume Huguet. The creation of an outstanding area which recalls the architectural forms of our Gothic patios allows perfect viewing of the magnificent Gothic altarpieces of Santa Clara and Guimerà, the works of Lluís Borrassà and Ramon de Mur respectively.

The liturgical materials and clothing collection illustrates their evolution from the III to the XX century. Here we can find the pallium of the Witches, as well as other works of unquestionable historical and artistic value. The glassware, leatherwork, precious metals and ceramics take us on a journey through the history of liturgical and decorative art in Catalonia. On completing the tour of the permanent exhibition you can continue your visit around the study galleries. These visitable storerooms follow the same criteria of chronological and stylistic ordering for all collections.

In the origin of the diocesan museum, the reference to the Literary Circle (the Circle) and to some of the men who animated this Vigo cultural entity is indispensable. As precedents for the episcopal initiative we must mention the archaeological-artistic exhibition of Vic in 1868, the creation of an exhibition of industrial products with a vocation to remain at the headquarters of the Circle in 1877 and, very especially, the creation in 1879, by the same entity, of a museum that stood out for its collection of antiques and that already allowed to gather some of the jewels of the Romanesque and Gothic art that will end up forming part of the diocesan collections. The figures of the future canon Jaume Collell, Antoni d’Espona, Joaquim d’Abadal and Francesc de Febrer stood out as animators of this pioneering initiative in the museum field.

Two events can be considered the forerunners of the creation of the Episcopal Museum: the Artistic Archaeological Exhibition of Retrospective Art held in Vic in 1868, organized by the Cercle Literari, with Canon Jaume Collell i Bancells playing a leading role, and the discovery of the Roman temple in 1882, with the subsequent founding of the Societat Arquelògica de Vic, which was entrusted with the creation of a Lapidary Museum, the embryonic heart of the museum’s future archaeological collection. This society was presided over from the start by Bishop Morgades.

In 1888, given the success achieved by the artistic collections exhibited by the bishopric at the Universal Exhibition of Barcelona, given the will of Bishop Josep Morgades to promote a diocesan artistic and archaeological museum, and considering the limitations of space that constrained the growth and the optimal disposition of the bottoms of the museum in the premises of the Circle, good part of the pieces reunited by the organization passed to the nascent MEV (then not called thus).

The museum was inaugurated in 1891, initially installed on the upper floor of the cathedral cloister. In 1949, the museum moved to the Sant Josep school building, in Plaça de Abbot Oliba, where it remained until 1995, when the museum’s renovation plan began. The old building was demolished and a new building was built on the same site, preserving the perimeter of the previous one, inaugurated on May 18, 2002.

The Museum was inaugurated in 1891 by Bishop Josep Morgades, who then presided over the Vic Archaeological Society. This society had created the Lapidary Museum on the occasion of the discovery of the Roman Temple of Vic in 1882, the basis of the Episcopal Museum. The first curator of the museum was Antoni d’Espona i de Nuix (1891-1898). The outstanding collections of medieval art and decorative arts put together in those first years were published in 1893 in the form of a catalogue raisonée, traditionally considered the first scientific catalogue of any Catalan museum, on which the young seminarian Josep Gudiol i Cunill collaborated. To begin with, the collections were exhibited above the old Gothic cloister of the cathedral, on a floor built in 1804 by Bishop Francesc de Veyan.

In 1898 Mossèn Gudiol replaced Antoni d’Espona and became the driving force behind the acquisition, installation and classification of the museum’s collections. Shortly afterwards, in 1902, Mossèn Gudiol published Nocions d’Arqueologia Sagrada Catalana, in which he established the criteria for the classification of the arts. This text was the first scientific study on the subject of museology in our country and also became a model and a manual, on the basis of which the art collections of the rest of Catalonia’s diocesan museums were formed. Mossèn Gudiol’s museographic project was based on the separate exhibition of the collections, each one ordered according to chronological and typological criteria. Unlike other museums, though, all the objects the museum incorporated over the years were exhibited to the public in rooms that soon became too small. The most important collections that the public could visit were the ceramics, coinage, archaeology, glass, leather, furniture, painting, precious metals, textiles, clothing, sculpture, metalworking, iron and books.

Its first facilities occupied the space located on the cloister of the cathedral and the bishop’s palace. In 1898, Josep Gudiol i Cunill was appointed curator of the museum, thanks to which the collections increased considerably. This work was continued with great obstinacy, between 1931 and 1978, by Eduard Junyent i Subirà. With the large increase in collections, in 1941 they moved to the old school of Sant Josep, located next to the cathedral of Vic.

He was succeeded by Mossèn Eduard Junyent i Subirà (1932-1978), who followed the exhibition criteria in the different museographic presentations resulting from the successive enlargements of the rooms. From the moment he took charge of the museum, he gave priority to increasing the exhibition space of the collections of Romanesque and Gothic painting and sculpture. In 1934, the new rooms were opened following a museographic criterion very similar to the one that Joaquim Folch i Torres was then applying at the Museu d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona.

This wish to create a medieval art gallery unique in Europe, with Romanesque paintings on wood beginning with the Catalan masters of the twelfth century was shared by the young art historian Josep Gudiol i Ricart, who from then on worked closely with Eduard Junyent on the museum’s various museographic presentations. Dr. Junyent, however, was unable to carry out the enlargement of the exhibition of the collections until he had at his disposal the premises of the school of Sant Josep, where from 1948 to 1967, in successive stages, he opened the first and second floors of the school to the public with the collections of art and archaeology and the inner courtyard with the lapidary collection.

Later, his successor, Mossèn Miquel dels Sants Gros, kept the layout of the rooms he had inherited from Mossèn Junyent, respecting the Museum’s foundational criteria. During his years as the curator of the Episcopal Museum he promoted several studies on the museum collections and he inaugurated the publication of catalogues raisonées of different collections.

In 1995, with the agreement for institutional collaboration between the Bishopric of Vic, Vic Town Council and the Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan Government), it was decided to begin a new period for the museum, which has led to the construction of a new building. While work was in progress, and with the aim of maintaining continuous contact with the public, the exhibition Obres Mestres was held, with a selection of the Museum’s most representative works of art.

On May 18th 2002 a new building was inaugurated, under the direction of Dr. Miquel Tresserras, and with it a new museological and museographic project started, with new lines for action and new programs which aim to position the Museum as a reference point of quality in the cultural offer of our country.

The Episcopal Museum of Vic aims to carry out actions to preserve, document, study, exhibit and disseminate the funds that make up its collections in order to contribute to the safeguarding of cultural heritage, with a special emphasis on conservation, research and the dissemination of its fund with programs and activities aimed at involving all kinds of audiences.

It is a compact building with totally irregular geometry inspired by the great Catalan palaces of the modern era. Its structure is complex, made of metal profiles and reinforced concrete. The façade is covered with a Calders stone cladding arranged in alternating horizontal strips, and also incorporates various elements of the old museum building, such as the neo-Gothic windows or the shields. The openings are scarce and are strategically located to highlight from the inside unique elements of the old quarter of Vic. On the outside, the wide eaves stand outof the roof made of prefabricated reinforced concrete slabs. The access to the building is made by the place of Bishop Oliba by means of stairs that give to an ample lobby of double height and a great stairs with glass railing.

In 1995, with the signing of the agreement for institutional collaboration between the Bishopric of Vic, Vic Town Council and the Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan Government), it was decided to begin a new period for the museum, which has led to the construction of a new building to be used exclusively as a museum, located next to the cathedral’s large Romanesque bell tower, exactly on the same site where the former school of Sant Josep once stood.

According to this new agreement, the Department of Culture undertook to underwrite the financial costs of the new museum and chose the architects Federico Correa and Alfonso Milà. In agreement with the new board of the Episcopal Museum, bearing in mind the museographic requirements established in the museological programme, and after analysing the study of the state of repair of the old School of Sant Josep, the architects proposed the demolition of the old building and the construction of a brand new museum.

The General Directorate of Cultural Heritage has been in charge of carrying out the project, which has been directed by the Department of Culture’s Major Infrastructures Programme with regard to the construction of the building, and the Generalitat’s Museums Department, as regards the museographic project.

The museological project has been based essentially on the same criteria of arrangement of the museum’s art collections as those historically established by Mossèn Gudiol and Mossèn Junyent, but they have been adapted to more modern technical requirements of conservation and exhibition. The fact of having chosen the traditional criterion of exhibiting the collections separately according to the materials – lapidary, painting, sculpture, textiles and clothing, glass, leather, metalwork, precious metals, forge work and ceramics – has allowed the architects to place these collections in the most suitable parts of the new building, giving priority to the temperature and conservation needs and the most suitable lighting, which is mainly artificial all over the Museum, except for the glass and ceramics collections.

The museographic order we have established for the exhibition of the works in each collection is chronological and stylistic. The aim, essentially educational, is for the visitor to be able to easily follow the evolution of the history of the different arts represented. Following the most modern museographic criteria, one area of the building has been set aside for study galleries, namely, storerooms open to the public, which can be visited, and this has enabled us to make a freer selection of the best works in each collection, which are shown in the permanent exhibition rooms, while the rest are exhibited in these study galleries placed at the end of the visit.

The online visit, through the web, allows since 2009 to see some of his masterpieces in high resolution, such as the Gothic Altarpiece of Santa Clara, by Lluís Borrassà, the Bernat Saulet Passion Altarpiece and the Altarpiece by Guimerà de Ramon de Mur.

The sections, arranged in chronological order, are divided between the collection of archeology, the Romanesque and Gothic art, the fabric and clothing and the section dedicated to glass, leather art, goldsmithing. and ceramics.

Basement floor: Archeology and lapidary.
Located in the basement of the building, it contains works from prehistory to the High Middle Ages. You can see parchments, the collection of lapidaries and archaeological remains of Greek, Iberian, Roman and Egyptian.

The Archaeology collection, thanks to acquisitions from all over the Mediterranean and from excavations in Catalonia, all chronologically ordered, includes evidence of the ancient Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Etruscan and Roman cultures, next to materials mainly recovered from the Osona region, dating back from prehistoric times through to the Middle Ages.

Ground floor: Romanesque and Gothic painting and sculpture (11th-15th centuries).
The MEV’s collection of Romanesque Art is among the most important ones in the world. There are a dozen painted panels, which include the exceptional Ribes Baldachin, the front of the altar from Puigbò and the altar set from Santa Maria de Lluçà. The Osormort, El Brull and La Seu d’Urgell mural paintings are presented in areas that reproduce the architecture of the original apses. The sculpture includes a large series of carvings of the Virgin with her Son, as well as some of the most outstanding examples of Christ in Majesty from the 12th century. Particularly worthy of a mention are the set of five figures of the Descent from the Cross from Erill la Vall, which are unique in Europe.

The Romanesque collection is the most extensive and prized, allowing a tour of Romanesque styles such as the geometrizant, the 1200s and the French linear Gothic that initialized Gothic art. You can see Romanesque murals such as Osormort, Brull, Sescorts and Santa Caterina de la Seu d’Urgell. In addition, there is a large collection of paintings on wood, altar fronts such as those of Sant Martí de Puigbò and Santa Margarida de Vilaseca and canopies such as the Vall de Ribes and parts of Tost. Of Romanesque sculpture you can see stone and wood carvings in which the Descent of Santa Eulàlia d’Erill la Vall stand out.and a collection of Virgins.

In the Gothic collection you can see everything from French linear Gothic to Italogothic or Trecento to the first international Gothic. The Virgin of Boixadors and the Altarpiece of Sant Joan de les Abadesses by Bernat Saulet stand out in sculpture. As for painting, there is a collection of altarpieces by Lluís Borrassà, whose representative is the Franciscan Altarpiece, and by Ramon de Mur the Altarpiece by Guimerà.

The various stages of Catalan Gothic art can be found at the MEV in leading works. The Gothic line can be seen in the Soriguerola panels. The Italianisation trend, introduced in around 1330, includes pictorial works linked to those of Bassa and Serra. The works of Jaume Cabrera and Joan Mates, and in particular the magnificent altarpieces from Santa Clara (by Lluís Borrassà) and from Guimerà (by Ramon de Mur) from the first international Gothic period are notable, and are exhibited in an area that brings to mind the courtyard of a Gothic building and is an ideal setting for contemplating them. In sculpture, we would mention the exceptional altarpiece showing the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, from the workshop of Bernat Saulet, as well as the Virgin of Boixadors.

The work of Bernat Martorell, next to that of other painters such as the Mestre de Glorieta, Bernat Despuig and Jaume Cirera illustrate the arrival and the influence of the Flemish models on Catalan painting in the second international Gothic period. We would particularly mention the twelve compartments of the Santa Maria de Verdú altarpiece, by Jaume Ferrer. Late Gothic is represented by works from different schools (Barcelona, Lleida, Valencia or Tarragona) and by people such as the Mestre de Cervera and, above all, Jaume Huguet. Finally, the series of panels from the Gascó workshop constitutes an eloquent testimony of the evolution of Catalan painting during the first half of the 16th century.

First floor: Painting and sculpture (15th-19th centuries).
It allows to advance from the first international Gothic to the first humanists of the second international Gothic until the Renaissance. The most representative authors on the table of the second international Gothic that are in the museum’s collection are Bernat Martorell, Jaume Huguet and Joan de Rua. This floor also houses part of the collections of decorative arts such as fabric, clothing and glass. In the liturgical fabric and clothing, dresses made between the 4th and 20th centuries can be seen, along with other works and related pieces.

Second floor: Decorative arts
This is where most of the decorative arts that are preserved in the museum are located, such as leather arts, goldsmithing, numismatics, wrought iron and ceramics, which offer a tour of the different Catalan decorative arts.

Objects d’art
Since its beginnings, the Museum has included sections dedicated to Arts and Trades. The liturgical materials and clothing collection illustrates their evolution from the III to the XX century. Here we can find the pallium of the Witches, as well as other works of unquestionable historical and artistic value.The glassware, leatherwork, precious metals and ceramics take us on a journey through the history of liturgical and decorative art in Catalonia.

It does not matter who you are or how old you are, there are all sorts of ways to discover how our ancestors used to live, what they did and how they thought about the world – you can discover more online or at the museum, where a whole range of interactive options are available and where you can look back at the past from a modern viewpoint.