Velázquez exhibition unites portraits from Prado, Meadows

Philip IV, 1623-27. Oil on canvas. By Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez

Philip IV, 1623-27, oil on canvas, by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

As part of its multifaceted partnership with the Prado, SMU’s Meadows Museum is presenting the most important monographic exhibition devoted to Velázquez in the United States in more than two decades.

Diego Velázquez: The Early Court Portraits, which opened Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012, and continues through Jan. 13, 2013, explores the development and impact of Velázquez’s work as the court portraitist for King Philip IV, one of history’s most influential arts patrons and connoisseurs.

The exhibition brings together key paintings from this period, including two early portraits of the King from the Meadows and Prado collections, united for the first time in four centuries. The exhibition is curated by one of the world’s leading Velázquez scholars, Javier Portús, head of the Prado’s Department of Spanish Painting until 1700. In the exhibition’s accompanying catalogue, Portús states that the artist’s first portrait of the king “may well be the work at the Meadows.”

In anticipation of this exhibition, Meadows/Kress/Prado Fellow Iraida Rodríguez-Negrón consulted directly with the Prado’s Gabinete Técnico de Documentación, the section of the museum’s conservation department where technical studies such as radiographs, infrared reflectography and UV light analysis are performed and analyzed. The Prado’s Gabinete Técnico then conducted extensive research on both museums’ Philip IV portraits.

X-rays of the Meadows portrait revealed underlying experimentation with the outline of the King’s neck and shoulders as well as variations in color and composition, suggesting this was Velázquez’s first attempt to paint the King. By contrast, it is clear that the King’s form was fully devised when Velázquez began painting the portrait now in the Prado’s collection.

Through this analysis, an outline beneath the surface of the Prado’s portrait was also discovered that replicates the contours seen in the Meadows painting, now understood to be the direct prototype of this later portrait. Technical materials will be included in the exhibition to shed light on these new findings.

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About Kathleen Tibbetts

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