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22.8.05

Philip IV and Buen Retiro

Jusepe Leonardo, Vista del palacio del Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, MadridThere is a new exhibit at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, El Palacio del Rey Planeta: Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the birth of King Philip IV (reigned 1621 to 1665). He is the monarch who typifies Spain's golden age, a great patron of the arts, lover of painting and classic literature, and the exhibit recreates the collection of paintings that once adorned Buen Retiro, the king's palace in the center of Madrid (image at right is Jusepe Leonardo's Vista del palacio del Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid), now mostly destroyed, although its gardens, the Parque del Buen Retiro are now a popular public park. There are 62 works, and most of them passed from the king's belongings into the Prado collection, and they are shown in the arrangement designed by the king. Diane Cambon wrote a review (Philippe IV ou l'amour de l'art, August 12) for Le Figaro (my translation):

Once you passed through the first room, where you can admire two portraits of Philip IV painted by the Spanish artist Velázquez, you enter into the cycle dedicated to ancient Rome. The Spanish monarch's passion for Italian painting led him to buy, between 1630 and 1640, dozens of canvases by the period's most important artists, like Giovanni Lanfranco, Giuseppe de Ribera, and Domenichino. For the first time, this series of works, that used to adorn the palace's rooms, is shown in its entirety to the general public. All the works are organized around the same theme: Roman antiquity, the funerals of emperors, gladiator battles, or arena scenes.

From there, we enter the world of spectacle. In addition to his love of painting, Philip IV was a lover of theater. He commissioned several plays on mythological themes from the most brilliant playwright of the period, the illustrious Calderon de la Barca. A series of six comic actors painted by Velázquez are shown around an equestrian portrait of Count Olivares [who helped build Buen Retiro]. These actor paintings were originally hung in the apartments of the Queen, Isabelle Elisabeth de France [my correction: the sister of Louis XIII, King of France], who was as passionate as her husband about court divertissement.
El Palacio del Rey Planeta: Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro will be open to the public at the Museo Nacional del Prado, in Madrid, through November 27.

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