The Renaissance and Baroque Art Collection is a valuable heritage that – unlike the great national museums in Europe, which came from the large royal and nobility collections – in Catalonia was formed from the recovery of the local heritage and the subsequent donations and acquisitions of private collections. The plot of the beginning and end of the museographic discourse focuses on two historical moments in Catalan art – the diffusion, in the first half of the 16th century, in the Renaissance way, and the painting of the eighteenth century, with the figure of Antoni Viladomat – next to Hispanic, Flemish and Italian works of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
The itinerary begins in the sixteenth-century Netherlands, where religious zeal and detail of daily life are mixed, as can be seen from a set of quality leaflets and leaflets for private use. At the beginning of the Renaissance period, in Catalonia flamenco gothic forms coexisted with other new solutions, represented by works such as the Holy Candle of Ayne Bru or the Sant Blai of Pere Fernández, which carry the humanist sentiment. and the stamp of the leading art made in Italy. The Altarpiece of Sant Eloi dels argenters, by Pere Nunyes, maintains the tone of the new language, the same as that used by the sculptor Damià Forment for the group of the Dormition of the Virgin. Towards the end of the century, Hispanic painting has works of great beauty, such as Christ with the Cross and Saint Peter and Saint Paul, by El Greco, in which the modernity of color is present, the fruit of the lessons learned in Venice. At the same time, Luis de Morales ‘ Ecce homo conveys the devotional sentiment of the Counter – Reformation.
The 17th century begins with the frescoes of the Capella Herrera, by Annibale Carracci and collaborators, who decorated the Roman church of Sant Jaume dels Espanyols, and continues with paintings by other Italian artists such as the Genoese Gioacchino Assereto or the Neapolitan. Massimo Stanzione and Andrea Vaccaro. But, above all, the works of the masters of the Spanish Golden Age, such as the Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, the Valencian Josep de Ribera, said “Lo Spagnoletto”, the Sant Pau, by Diego Velázquez, or the Immaculate Conception, stand outand several still lifes of Francisco de Zurbarán. Returning to Catalonia, the image of Sant Gaietà, by the sculptor Andreu Sala, echoes the great art of Bernini.
Coming to the 18th century, the set dedicated to the Life of Saint Francis, by Antoni Viladomat, which decorated the cloister of the convent of Framenors in Barcelona, is the only monastic life series preserved in its entirety in a museum. On the other hand, the daring work of Francesc Pla, called “the Vigatà”, represents the pictorial freedom in the decoration of interiors of the houses of the new wealthy commercial and industrial class, precursor of the art that had to develop in the nineteenth century.
This collection, reflecting the taste of part of our civil society for Renaissance and Baroque art, houses, exceptionally in comparison with the rest of the MNAC, the art produced in Catalonia and also in Spain, as well as in Italy and Flanders, which gives an overview of the evolution of European art at the time, which is contributed by two important later contributions, the Cambó Legacy and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection..
The Cambó Legacy is a collection of works from the particular collection of the Catalan politician and patron Francesc Cambó, of significant importance, as he integrates European painting from the fourteenth century to the early nineteenth. It is the most selfless contribution of the highest value that the MNAC has received throughout its history and which has enriched the Renaissance and Baroque collections more. Artistic movements are represented as diverse as the Italian Quattrocento and the masters of the Cinquecento, such as Sebastiano del Piombo or Titian, passing through the Spanish painting of the Golden Age to the rococo.
It is a repertoire with its own identity that embraces the history of European painting from the fourteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century. These are works that mark the transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance, which speak of the perfection of the Italian Quattrocento, the sensuality of the great Venetian masters of the Cinquecento, the economic boom of the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, without forgetting the greatness of the Century Spanish gold, until reaching the fullness of the European rococo. Out of the artists represented at the MNAC thanks to this magnificent collection, names of universal relevance stand out, such as Sebastiano del Piombo, Tiziano Vecellio and Giandomenico Tiepolo, great painters, all from Italy; Peter Paulus Rubens and Lucas Cranach, exponents of Flemish school art; Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Maurice Quentin de la Tour, who represent the French Rococo, and finally Francisco de Goya, the renewing genius who closes the chronological arc that embraces the Cambodian Legacy.
When the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection was installed in Madrid, at the Villahermosa Palace, the State formalized its purchase in 1993, a part of this collection –72 paintings and 8 sculptures, mainly thematically. Although it also includes landscape and portrait, it is destined for Barcelona. In 1993, the permanent exhibition of these works was inaugurated in one of the wings of the Monastery of Pedralbes, enabled for this museum function by the City Council.
In 2004 the Foundation signed an agreement with the MNAC, an agreement through which the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Barcelona was permanently exhibited at the MNAC, with the aim of strengthening the contents of the Catalan museum and making it more widely available of the works. This collection brings together a set of paintings and sculptures that presents an overview of European art from Gothic to Rococo. Among the works that are part of this collection are the tables by Rimini and Tadeo Gaddi, artists of the Trecento; and the works of Francesco del Cossa as a magnificent example of the Quattrocento. Del Cinquecento has works by Fra Angelico, Rubens, Battista Dossi or Ticià, and of the Settecento stand out works by Tiepolo, key artist of the Italian Rococo, Ceruti or the canaletto canaletto.
Paintings from the doors of the organ from La Seu d’Urgell cathedral, Maestro de la Seu d’Urgell, c. 1495-1498
The religious or devotional medal is another of the basic series into which medallic sculpture is divided. In this case, hanging as a protective element from a gold chain on the neck of Saint Sebastian, there is a medal on which the Crucifixion is represented. It is during the Renaissance that the medal becomes a new artistic mainstay, derived from and inspired by coinage, especially in re-using its “language”.
Death of Saint Vincent, Master of Castelsardo, 1500-1510
In this and the following piece, what stands out are the caps and hats with appliqués in the form of medallions that show devotional images. This refers to a custom that triumphed in masculine fashion during the first quarter of the 15th century.
Saint Candidus, Ayne Bru, 1502-1507
The saint bears an appliqué in the form of a religious medallion that shows, in profile, the image of the Salvator mundi, a form of devotion that extended all over Europe.
Domitian, Alfonso Lombardi, 1530-1533
Both as a model and source of inspiration, coinage is evoked in these two white marble reliefs — as much by their circular form in the shape of a medallion or tondo as in the representation of the emperors Tiberius and Domitian, with their respective identifying inscriptions. These pieces comprise illuminating examples of the interest that, in its eagerness to claim and recover classical antiquity, the Renaissance took in coins — to the point of initiating numismatics as a new discipline in pioneering works like that of the humanist archbishop of Tarragona Antonio Agustín (1517-1586). These two reliefs formed part of the collection of the humanist Miquel Mai (c. 1480-1546), the Catalan courtier of the emperor Charles V who served as his ambassador at Rome.
Doors of the altarpiece of Saint Eligius, Pere Nuñes, 1526
Episodes in the life of Saint Eligius, the patrón of metalsmiths and moneyers already mentioned, were represented on the doors of the antique retablo owned by the Barcelona silversmiths’ guild. In this case, what stands out are the thick frame or weight and the balance for weighing metals in the depiction of the miracle that the saint worked with his sovereign’s gold, with which he proceeded to make not one but two saddles. In addition, the richly-dressed saint carries a money-bag.
Expulsion of the Traders from the Temple, Giambattista Tiépolo, 1730
On the silver basin that Jesus has zealously just hurled to drive out the money-changers who profaned the temple of Jerusalem by their activities, a combination of thick gold and silver coins stands out, along with a money-bag. The coins evoked are the large pieces that were circulating in the Europe of the time, and which could have corresponded, for example, to the “pieces-of-eight” and “doubloons” minted from American bullion in the Spanish monarchy.
Return of “Il Bucintoro” on Ascension Day, Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto, 1745-1750
In the view of the Grand Canal across from the campanile and the fish market can be seen the great edifice of the Mint of Venice — the Zecca, the work of the architect Jacopo Sanbsovino (1486-1570) — which was inaugurated in 1545 and which then provided coinage for the serenissima repubblica until 1870.
Saint Cecilia, Giambattista Tiépolo, 1750-1760
The artist has represented the patron of music as a lady dressed in luxurious adornment appropriate to her high rank. On her neck shines a fine necklace of stones from which stands out a cameo like those that are treasured today in the oldest numismatic cabinets, joined by intaglios and other kinds of glyptic arts along with their coin collections.
Portrait of Henry III, Count of Nassau, Jan Gossaert (Mabuse), c. 1530-1532
Decorations are one of the most colorful series that are encountered in the collections of a numismatic cabinet. No order is as prestigious as that of the Golden Fleece, created by Philip III “the Good” of Burgundy in 1429. In the time of Charles V (1506-1555), the maximum number of “collars” that the sovereign could authorize was fifty. The 19th General Chapter of the Order was celebrated in 1519, in the choir of the Cathedral of Barcelona; from this event survive the painted coats-of-arms that were placed behind each seat of honor.
Portrait of Charles II, Claudio Coello, 1680-1682
From the neck of the monarch hangs the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The precious insignia always hung on the portraits of the monarchs of the house of Austria, who sometimes also wanted to be represented wearing the red habit of the Order, as Charles II does here. Following the death of this sovereign and the War of Succession, the Order was actually divided in two branches, the Spanish and the Austrian.
The Ill-Matched Couple, Lucas Cranac (the Elder), 1517
The bag of money and the gesture of taking from it are an allegory of the interests in and love of monetary riches. It is a warning to the unwary in such-like predicaments.
Children begging, Master of the Tela Jeans, 1680-1700
In this work on the themes of everyday life, a coin is reflected by its absence, and it is precisely the empty hand that the scrounger extends which clearly evokes a hope that some other, generous hand might place one in it. And what might that coin be? Without doubt, a piece of slight value. Some of those on the city council justly complained because the poor people were suffering on account of not having received their welfare payments.
Bernat de Quintaval Distributes his Riches to the Poor, Antoni Viladomat, 1729-1733
Following the evangelical mandate “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give it to the poor” (Matthew 19:21), the blessed Bernardo di Quintavalle (1180-1241), the first disciple of Saint Francis of Assisi, divided up his abundant goods among the poor who had gathered all around him to receive some coins from his generous hands.
National Art Museum of Catalonia
The National Art Museum of Catalonia, also known by its acronym MNAC, is a museum of art in the city of Barcelona which brings together all the arts whose mission is to preserve and exhibit the collection of Catalan art ‘s most important world, showing everything from Romanesque to the present. Its current director is Josep Serra.
The MNAC is a consortium with its own legal personality constituted by the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Barcelona City Council and the General State Administration. In addition to the public administrations, individuals and private entities collaborating with the administration are represented on the museum’s board of trustees.
The main headquarters are located in the National Palace of Montjuïc, opened in 1929 on the occasion of the International Exhibition. Three other institutions are also part of the museum as a whole: the Víctor Balaguer Museum Library in Vilanova i la Geltrú, the Garrotxa Museum in Olot and the Cau Ferrat Museum in Sitges, whose management is independent and its ownership is based on the respective councils.