SMU’s Meadows Museum presents the first major exhibition in the United States of treasures from one of the oldest and most significant private art collections in Europe.
Treasures from the House of Alba: 500 Years of Art and Collecting is on view at the Meadows from Friday. Sept. 11, 2015 through Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, and serves as a cornerstone of the Museum’s 50th anniversary celebration, which continues throughout 2015.
Curated by Dr. Fernando Checa Cremades, former director of the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Treasures from the House of Alba features more than 100 works — from paintings by Goya and Rubens to 16th-century tapestries by Willem de Pannemaker and 19th-century furniture created for Napoleon III — most of which have never been seen outside of Spain. The treasures on display include illuminated manuscripts, books, historic documents, miniatures, antiquities, prints, sculpture, drawings, and other objects.
“These extraordinary works of art, many of which have never crossed the Atlantic before, are a treasure trove and a fount of new art historical knowledge,” said Mark Roglán, The Linda P. and William Custard Director of the Meadows Museum and Centennial Chair in the Meadows School of the Arts. “We are honored to present the first exhibition of this outstanding collection in the United States, sharing these works of art that tell the story of a remarkable family and provide an opportunity to explore the panoply of cultural achievement and European history.”
Treasures from the House of Alba is organized chronologically according to seven periods of Alba family history, collecting, and patronage from the 15th to the 20th century:
- The exhibition begins with the dynasty’s origins in the mid-15th century and rising influence under the 3rd Duke of Alba, Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, a prominent courtier in the service of the Spanish monarchy in the 16th century.
- This is followed by an exploration of the family’s close ties to the Marquis of Carpio, Europe’s greatest art collector of the 17th century, from whom the Duchy of Alba received important holdings of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, and to the Duques of Veragua, from whom came the Christopher Columbus documents featured in the exhibit.
- The exhibition also presents a section devoted to Goya and his relationship with the Duchess Doña Teresa Cayetana, and concludes with the extensive collecting activity of the late Duchess and her father since the beginning of the 20th century, which includes the acquisition of works by such artists as Peter Paul Rubens, Joshua Reynolds, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Pablo Picasso, among others.
- The show features works from the family’s three most prominent palaces in Spain: the Palacio de Liria in Madrid, Palacio de las Dueñas in Seville, and Palacio de Monterrey in Salamanca.
In addition to works currently housed in the Alba collection, the exhibition includes loans from distinguished museum collections that were once part of the Alba holdings. These loans serve to complement the contributions from the Alba family and showcase the full scope of the family’s collecting history.
The exhibition’s highlights include:
- The Duchess of Alba in White by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1795, above right), a portrait that serves as testament to the close relationship between Teresa Cayetana de Silva Alvarez de Toledo, the 13th Duchess of Alba, and the famed Spanish painter.
- Charles V and the Empress Isabella by Peter Paul Rubens (c. 1628), a double portrait painted after a lost work by Titian.
- Girl with Hat with Cherries by Pierre Auguste Renoir (1880, at right), a portrait painted toward the end of the artist’s Impressionist period.
- The Bible of the House of Alba, an early 15th-century illuminated manuscript and one of the earliest known translations of the Old Testament from Hebrew into a Romance language. It contains commentary written by both Christian and Jewish theologians, and was an attempt to encourage stronger ties between Christians and Jews.
- One of Christopher Columbus’s logbooks, a set of manuscripts documenting the explorer’s journey of discovery of the New World in 1492. The House of Alba’s archive of 21 Christopher Columbus documents includes nine personal letters (one of which is addressed to Columbus’s son Diego) and four of the only remaining documents written during the time of his four voyages.
- The Virgin of the Pomegranate by Fra Angelico (c. 1426), a centerpiece of the Alba family’s collection since 1817 when it was acquired in Florence by then-Duke of Alba Carlos Miguel Fitz- James Stuart. Rarely publicly displayed, the painting depicts the Madonna and Child engulfed in a golden cloth and flanked by two angels, and showcases Fra Angelico’s mastery of naturalistic compositions through the figures’ delicate features and surrounding drapery.
- Mercury Enamored of Herse by Willem de Pannemaker (1570), one of eight mythological tapestries that comprise the only complete surviving example of a series depicting Ovid’s tale of the loves of Mercury and Herse.
The House of Alba — for centuries the most illustrious household in Spain, with close ties to the monarchy — remains one of the foremost noble families in Europe, with roots dating back to the mid-15th century when Fernando Álvarez de Toledo was named Count of the town of Alba de Tormes. The Albas have since forged connections with members of some of the most prominent dynasties in European history, including the House of Stuart; the Count-Dukes of Olivares; the Duchy of Veragua (descendants of Christopher Columbus); Napoleon III and his wife, Eugenia de Montijo; and the Churchill family.
Over the past five centuries, the Alba family’s patronage, connoisseurship, and ties to Western royalty have shaped the growth and trajectory of the Alba collection, now one of the greatest private collections in the world. Until her passing in November 2014, the head of the Alba family was Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, the 18th Duchess of Alba, who bore more recognized titles than any other noble today. She is succeeded by her son, Carlos Fitz-James Stuart y Martínez de Irujo.
“Our will is to share the works and pieces that make up the collection of the House of Alba Foundation with a public that is increasingly knowledgeable and more interested in culture and history,” said Carlos Fitz-James Stuart y Martínez de Irujo, Duke of Alba. “This selection of objects allows us to present different works and documents that have survived the vicissitudes of history and represents the greatest treasure of the legacy of our family. It is also an extraordinary opportunity for making the public aware of the steady and silent work of preservation and upkeep that the House of Alba has been doing for centuries.”