Research Trip to Madrid, November 2017

Our recent research trip to Madrid was a major event in the project so far, thanks to funding from the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Pippa Stephenson (Curator of European Art, Glasgow Museums), Mark Richter (Technical Art Historian, University of Glasgow) and I were able to benefit from a one-day workshop with our colleagues at the Prado Museum. We exchanged information and ideas on sixteenth-century portraits in the Prado in comparison with those in the Stirling Maxwell Collection, presented preliminary results of technical examination of the five other portraits in our study, and discussed these in relation to results for the Lady in a Fur Wrap, which was examined by the Prado in 2014. We also had special out-of-hours access to the Prado galleries to study comparative portraits.

Another privilege was our visit to the art collections of one of our project’s funders, Banco Santander, which coincidentally also owns one of the key comparative portraits we were very keen to study. The collections are housed in one of the impressive modern buildings within the Santander Financial Group’s ‘city’ or campus on the outskirts of Madrid. The painting in question is a delightful portrait by Alonso Sánchez Coello of the Duchess of Béjar as a young girl attended by a dwarf. Not surprisingly, it was a particular favourite of the late Chairman of Grupo Santander, Emilio Botín, who also visited the University of Glasgow and the Stirling Maxwell Research Project in 2011. As in Sánchez Coello’s portrait of the Infanta Catalina Micaela in the Prado (see our Introductory video on the project), the sitter looks facially similar to the Lady in a Fur Wrap. We wanted to examine the similarities close up and to consider whether these also extend to the painting style and techniques.

We likewise used our research trip to follow up some important comparisons relating to two of the other Stirling Maxwell Collection portraits in our study – Philip II by Sánchez Coello and Don John of Austria, attributed to Jorge de la Rúa (Georges van der Straeten). We visited the attractive sixteenth-century royal convent of Descalzas Reales in the heart of Old Madrid to see the only known signed and dated portrait by Rúa, a full-length portrait of Queen Isabel of Austria, 1573, whose beautiful finery includes rich fur sleeves. We also examined its X-ray in the Conservation Studios of the Royal Collections which are housed in the Royal Palace itself.

Video highlights of our visit to the Royal Armoury at the Royal Palace to examine the armour worn by Philip in the portrait now in Glasgow are also posted here and hopefully help to convey what a special experience this was for all of us.

During our visits we were shadowed by the filmmaker Joseph Briffa, who is helping us to document our project. Look out for some more of the footage from our research trip in future blog posts.

We are grateful to the following institutions and individuals for their help in making our visit so stimulating and enlightening:

Museo Nacional del Prado: Leticia Ruiz (Curator of Sixteenth-Century Spanish Paintings), Dolores Gayo (Head of Scientific Analysis), and other members of the Scientific Conservation team there, especially Maite Jover, Laura Alba and Inmaculada Echevarria

Fundación Banco Santander: María Beguiristain (Curator of Art & Exhibitions), and Board Members Paloma Botín and Belén Fernández

Patrimonio Nacional, Dirección de las Colecciones Reales: Álvaro Soler del Campo (Chief Curator, Real Armería), Ana García (Curator, Monasterio Descalzas Reales) and Carmen García-Frías (Curator, Old Master Paintings).

Hilary Macartney

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