A brilliant new exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts features a fascinating and unique collection of works from Spain and colonial Latin America, from antiquity to the early 20th century. Spain and the Hispanic World runs until 10 April 2023 in the main galleries and what a show it is. And after the exhibition, further Spanish treats are on offer from chef José Pizarro in the gallery’s lively Poster Bar or Senate Room.
The treasures have traveled from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library in New York to be shown for the first time in the UK. The exhibition presents a visual narrative of the history of Spanish culture and does an excellent job of showing the great diversity of cultural and religious influences, from Celtic, Islamic, Christian and Jewish to American, African and Asian, that have shaped Spanish culture across four thousand years.
Presented chronologically, the selection of over 150 works includes paintings, sculptures, silk textiles, ceramics, lustreware, silver work, precious jewellery, maps, drawings and illuminated manuscripts. Founded in New York in 1904 by Archer M. Huntington, the Hispanic Society Museum & Library is home to the most extensive collection of Spanish and Hispanic art outside of Spain.
Exceptional paintings in this show include The Duchess of Alba, 1797, by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) as well as Portrait of a Girl, c. 1638-42, by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). The exhibition also includes paintings by Luis de Morales (1510/11-1586) and Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), two miniature portraits, an uncharacteristic size for El Greco (1541-1614), as well as post-Impressionist and Modern artists such as Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923), Ignacio Zuloaga (1870-1945) and José Gutiérrez Solana (1886-1945). The final room includes a large-scale panoramic gouache for the Vision of Spain, the monumental site-specific mural painted by Sorolla for the Hispanic Society between 1912 and 1919.
Sculptures include a bust of Saint Acisclus, c. 1680, by Pedro de Mena, considered to be one of the most important sculptors in 17th century Spain, as well as the Mater dolorosa and Ecce homo, 1675, by his daughter Andrea de Mena. Decorative art is well represented too with exceptional earthenware bowls from the Bell Beaker culture, c. 2400-1900 BC, Celtiberian jewellery from the Palencia Hoard, c. 150-72 BC, discovered in Palencia in 1911 during the construction of a railway cutting, Hispano-Islamic silk textiles including the Alhambra Silk, c. 1400, which recalls the tile designs of the Alhambra palace complex in Granada, as well as some of the finest examples of lustreware from the 14th -16th centuries from Manises, Valencia.
Spain and the Hispanic World also includes treasures from the Hispanic Society’s renowned library, the most important collection of Hispanic manuscripts and rare books outside of Spain. Highlights include a beautifully illuminated Hebrew Bible, after 1450-97, and an exceptionally rare Black Book of Hours, c. 1458, which was probably commissioned by María of Castile upon the death of her husband, Alfonso V of Aragon.
Rarely seen objects from Spanish colonial Latin America, show a parallel narrative to cultural developments taking place across mainland Spain. A World Map, 1526, by Giovanni Vespucci, one of the most impressive nautical charts produced during the Age of Exploration, probably a gift for Charles V on his marriage to Isabella of Portugal as well as the Map of Tequaltiche, 1584, from the Relaciones Geográficas made on the order of Philip II.
One of the most arresting works in this exhibition is also from Ecuador: a group of four polychrome sculptures, The Four Fates of Man: Death, Soul in Hell, Soul in Purgatory, Soul in Heaven, c. 1775, attributed to Manuel Chili, called Caspicara.
The food and beverage offering has been fantastic since popular Spanish chef José Pizarro, often described as “the Godfather of Spanish cooking” took over the beautiful Senate Room in the Royal Academy. And now, downstairs, he has launched “Pintxo Fridays” in the more casual Poster Bar on the ground floor at the Burlington side of the RA. Ideal for a chilly winter day, before or after a visit to the Spanish art exhibition, Pintxo Fridays offers your first pintxo free when you buy a drink and thereafter they are £2.50 each.
Pinxtos are the tapas of the Basque region in the north of Spain and José has perfected a short but glorious menu to showcase these, including: Pintxo de ensaladilla rusa con atún; Pintxo de chorizo picante con allioli y pimiento de Padrón Gilda; Pintxo de anchoa Catalina reserva, gordal olive y piparras; Pintxo tortilla de patata y allioli; Pintxo de patatera, miel y Mahón; Pintxo de calamar, piñones y jamón; and Pintxo de berenjena frita, miel y queso azúl.