It was traditionally assumed that Spanish artists rarely drew, but recent research has demonstrated that drawing was, in fact, central to artistic practice in Spain. Visions and Nightmares: Four Centuries of Spanish Drawings explores the shifting roles and attitudes toward the art of drawing in Spain, as well as the impact of the Catholic Church and the nightmare of the Inquisition on Spanish artists and their work. It is the first exhibition of Spanish drawings ever to be held at the Morgan Library & Museum, whose holdings in this area are relatively small but strong.
On view in the Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery through May 11, the exhibition features more than twenty drawings spanning the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. Works by well-known artists such as José de Ribera, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, and Francisco Goya are presented alongside sheets by equally talented but less familiar artists, including Vicente Carducho, Alonso Cano, and Eugenio Lucas. Complementing the drawings is a display of contemporary Spanish letters and volumes, notably a lavish 1780 edition of Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
“With one of the world’s most important collections of master drawings, the Morgan is committed to developing exhibitions that explore important subjects that may be less familiar or have been overlooked,” said William M. Griswold, Director. "The practice of drawing in Spain is relatively unexplored, by comparison to that in Italy or France, but the extraordinary works in this show demonstrate an artistry and themes unique to their country of origin.”
Among the drawings in the exhibition is one of many sheets preparatory for a series of fifty-six paintings that Vicente Carducho designed for the Charterhouse of El Paular. In the foreground, Father Andrés is tortured using a device called la garrucha; the background reveals his subsequent murder by a mob. Squared for transfer to the oil sketch that preceded the final painting, the drawing bears an inscription by the patron indicating that the suspended figure should be larger and more centrally placed. Carducho incorporated this correction into the finished canvas.
José de Ribera was drawn to violent subjects—notably, the flaying of St. Bartholomew and his pagan counterpart, Marsyas, a satyr who challenged Apollo to a musical contest. As punishment for losing the competition and for his sin of pride, Marsyas was tied to a tree and skinned alive. This drawing depicts the bound satyr screaming, his skin still intact. In a variation on the theme, Ribera portrays Marsyas with human (rather than goat) legs, thus connecting this mythological subject to the artist’s numerous other drawings of bound figures.
On view are three drawings by Alonso Cano, including his masterpiece on paper: a monumental design for the altarpiece of the Chapel of San Diego de Alcalá. Composed of seventeen joined sheets, the work is highly finished, indicating that it was a presentation drawing, offering the patron different options to consider. King Philip IV became patron of the chapel in 1657; his coats of arms appear at the lower left and right of the drawing.