Spain and the Hispanic World: treasures from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library
Royal Academy of Arts
Until 10 April 2023
In 1882, the 12-year-old Archer M Huntington, son of American railway magnate Collis P Huntington, had just begun an extended trip to Europe with his family when he came across a book on Spain that captured his interest. This passion for Spain – and his experiences visiting the museums of Europe – spurred Huntington on to establish a museum devoted to the culture of the Spanish world.
Inaugurated in 1908, the Hispanic Society Museum & Library in New York has loaned some 150 works from its collections to the Royal Academy in London for a sweeping overview of art and design in Spain, from prehistory to the early 20th century, but also the colonial period in Latin America. This is the first time such a large part of the collection has visited the UK, with paintings, sculptures, textiles, jewellery, ceramics, manuscripts, and maps making up wide-ranging displays that reflect some of the cultural forces that have shaped Spain and the impact of Spain on other societies.
One such force was ancient Rome, which from 19 BC controlled the entirety of the Iberian Peninsula. This period is represented by a handful of finds including an ornate bronze oil lamp and a fine marble torso of the goddess Diana the Huntress from the site of Itálica near Seville.
Much later, in the 8th century, another significant change occurred, when most of the peninsula (apart from parts in the north) fell to the Umayyad Caliphate. This was the beginning of centuries of Islamic culture in Spain, though Christian monarchs would regain territory bit by bit over the years. The arts of Muslim Spain, or Al-Andalus, include exquisite silks from the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. One example, dating from c.1400, is a possible wall-hanging or curtain known as an ‘Alhambra silk’ for its bands of decoration, including stars, that resemble the tiles of the Alhambra, the Nasrid palace in Granada.
Innovations introduced by Muslim artisans, such as lustreware, transformed Spanish ceramics. These ceramics were highly prized, so much so that Christian rulers in Valencia encouraged Muslim potters to establish themselves in Manises. A 15th-century baptismal font from Toledo, which had fallen to the Christian Kingdom of Castile in 1088, further highlights these creative exchanges between religions. As well as a series of crosses and the inscription ‘IHS’ (for Jesus), it features small pairs of hands, protective iconography in the Islamic world that was adopted by Christian and Jewish communities.
In 1492, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile had defeated the last Nasrid ruler in Granada. They sought to unite a Catholic Spain, forcing religious conversions and expelling Muslims and Jews. A beautiful, richly ornamented Hebrew Bible in the exhibition is a poignant relic of those who suffered in these tumultuous times. Created in Spain, the book was taken to Portugal around 1492, and eight sheets were added there before Jews and Muslims were similarly forced out of Portugal in 1496.
Over the following centuries, painters would frequently depict devout rulers, the suffering of Christ, and the piety of saints, among them the celebrated artists El Greco and Francisco de Zurbarán. Spanish sculptors excelled in depicting religious characters, too, creating remarkable polychrome figures in wood, sometimes with real hair and glass eyes and tears to heighten the realism. One such sculptor was Andrea de Mena, who worked in the Málaga studio of her father Pedro de Mena and in the convent she had joined in 1671.
These centuries were also the time of colonial rule in Latin America, after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean in 1492 marked the start of violent conquest. Christianity was an important part of Spain’s colonisation efforts, as reflected by the proliferation of religious paintings. The Spanish artist Juan Carreño de Miranda’s 1670 painting of the Immaculate Conception was particularly influential: it was sent to Mexico, where it was copied by both Spanish and local artists. Polychrome sculpture was created as well. A set of four dramatic sculptures from late 18th-century Ecuador depict death, and the human soul in hell, purgatory, and heaven. They have been attributed to Manuel Chili, called Caspicara, and their small scale (popular in later Ecuadorian sculpture) suggests they were used for private devotion.
Indigenous arts continued and were incorporated into objects that suited colonial tastes. Ornate trays, for example, combined European forms and pre-Columbian mopa mopa lacquer, as well as Inca decorative motifs. An exquisite vessel from Tonalá, Mexico, has an elliptical shape that may derive from pre-Hispanic models. Decorated in slip with birds and flowers, it was further adorned with ormolu (a gold-coloured alloy), as were other vessels destined for export from Mexico.
Huntington sought to showcase Spanish art across the centuries and, though he felt that modern art was the realm of the art dealer, he still exhibited and commissioned work by his contemporary Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, who died 100 years ago in 1923. Sorolla produced for the Hispanic Society a series of large-scale works, Vision of Spain, representing different regions of the country. Though these cannot travel, some of his preparatory works – including a nearly 8m-long panorama – are on view.
Catherine and Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers
Hever Castle and Gardens, Hever, Kent
Until 4 June 2023
Two Books of Hours, each owned by a different Tudor queen, have been brought together at the childhood home of one of their owners for an exhibition that explores the similarities between the two women: Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. These two queens, the first and second wives of King Henry VIII, have often been viewed in terms of their differences and rivalry, but the devotional books illustrate how they were united through prayer. As well as the Books of Hours – Anne’s is pictured (above) – there are portrait miniatures of Catherine of Aragon, her daughter Mary I, Anne Boleyn, and Anne’s daughter Elizabeth I on view, and a previously unexhibited panel portrait of Catherine, and replicas of the coronation robes of Mary and Elizabeth (which may have been worn, too, by Catherine and Anne).
Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Until 11 June 2023
Major European institutions (the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London) have come together to create a series of three different but related exhibitions on the masterful Italian Renaissance sculptor Donatello (c.1386-1466). Following on from last year’s exhibitions in Florence and Berlin, the V&A is presenting the last show in the series, the first major UK exhibition devoted to the artist. The exhibition explores how Donatello worked on both secular and sacred commissions, with his religious sculptures showcasing his impressive ability to convey emotion. He created pieces in marble, bronze, wood, terracotta, and stucco, using aspects of classical and medieval sculpture to create something innovative but still somewhat traditional. This mix of tradition and innovation can be seen in his involvement in the revival of the portrait bust and in the small bronze spiritelli – for example, Donatello’s Spiritello with a Tambourine (below) – which were influenced by antiquity.
Being and Believing in the Natural World
RISD, Providence, Rhode Island
Until 7 May 2023
How have different societies thought about and lived with the natural world throughout history? Being and Believing in the Natural World: perspectives from the ancient Mediterranean, Asia, and indigenous North America draws together objects from across some 4,000 years to highlight how nature has been revered for its ability to provide and to destroy, intertwined with divinity, and used for the extraction of resources. Among the artefacts on view is a sumptuous vessel depicting mythical creatures, as well as a hippopotamus figurine dating back to 2040-1638 BC (above) – a dangerous creature, here covered with plants from its Nile home.
The Nature of Things: Medieval Art and Ecology, 1100-1550
Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St Louis, Missouri
10 March to 6 August 2023
Another exhibition taking inspiration from the natural world, The Nature of Things examines the relationship between art-production and the environment across Europe between AD 1100 and 1550. Sculpture, textiles, illuminated books, and stained glass – for example, this c.1250 image of God and the Tree of Knowledge (below) – reflect the interest of medieval makers and patrons in certain animals and plants, and in landscapes in general. With the range of materials including metal, cloth, wood, and stone, the exhibition also draws attention to how these works, created for churches or private homes, required the exploitation of natural resources through mining, farming, forestry, and quarrying – industries that could dramatically and permanently change landscapes.
Roman Landscapes: Visions of Nature and Myth from Rome and Pompeii
San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas
24 February to 21 May 2023
Roman artists were also interested in nature and landscapes, as this exhibition demonstrates through a selection of wall paintings, sculpture, mosaics, glass cameos, and lavish silverware from 100 BC to AD 250. One type of landscape enjoyed by wealthy Romans was the garden, which could be full of sculpture and fountains. Sculpture from villas around the Bay of Naples and exquisite, detailed paintings of gardens illustrate how these outside spaces appeared. Seascapes similarly decorated Roman homes. One 1st-century AD example from the Villa San Marco near Stabiae (BELOW) shows a villa built on a platform that juts out into the sea, which would have been a costly feat of engineering. Shrines were depicted in idyllic settings, too, in frescoes, marble reliefs, and glass cameos, but the landscape could harbour dangers as it could serve, for instance, as the backdrop for a perilous encounter with a god.
Until 21 May, visitors to the museum will be able to see as well a Roman portrait of the 1st century BC/AD, which was found in a Goodwill Store in 2018. The portrait was once on view in the Pompejanum, a replica of a Roman house, in Aschaffenburg, Germany, and was probably brought to Texas by a soldier returning from the Second World War. By arrangement with the Bavarian authorities, it is on display in San Antonio ahead of its return to Germany.
Anyang: China’s Ancient City of Kings
National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC
25 February 2023 to 28 April 2024
The Bronze Age site of Anyang in China was the capital of the Shang dynasty around 1250-1050 BC and the home of numerous oracle bones, China’s earliest surviving writing. As part of the programme marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Museum of Asian Art, this exhibition presents a range of artefacts from the site, which from 1929 (one year after Academia Sinica’s work at Anyang started) was excavated under Li Chi, who was also a member of staff at the Freer Gallery of Art (now part of the National Museum of Asian Art). The artefacts on view include ritual bronze vessels – a selection including a liding, qu, jia, jue, and yu from c.1250-1200 BC is pictured (below) – ceremonial weapons, and jade ornaments, which offer insights into ritual practices, developments in design, production, weaponry, and warfare, and funerary customs and beliefs.
EGYPT: EVERLASTING PASSION
Musée royal de Mariemont, Morlanwelz
Until 16 April 2023
From the Roman Empire to the present day, ancient Egypt has had a powerful sway on people’s imaginations. This endless fascination with Egypt is the focus of an exhibition at the Musée royal de Mariemont, which highlights the ubiquity of Egyptian inspiration reflected in all manner of things, such as the Romans’ worship of the goddess Isis, the research of figures like Jean-François Champollion, interior design, and comics and toys. As part of the exhibition, the smaller display The Multiple Lives of Coffins is on view until 9 April. It takes a look at the various people connected to ancient Egyptian coffins – the deceased occupant, but also the priest, the artisans who made the coffin, and restorers and researchers through time.
Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery
Shanghai Museum, shanghai
Until 7 May 2023
A selection of 52 paintings from the collection of the National Gallery in London has headed to Asia for a tour. The works displayed offer an overview of the gallery’s collection of Western art from Botticelli and 15th-century Italy up to Van Gogh and the Impressionists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Along the way, visitors will encounter works by Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Canaletto, and Turner, whose mythological oil on canvas painting The Parting of Hero and Leander (before 1837) is shown (BELOW). Hero, priestess of Aphrodite, and Leander, the young man who swam across the Hellespont every night to see her, are barely visible on the dark water’s edge in Turner’s imagining of the scene. The Shanghai Museum is the first stop on the tour, which continues through 2023 and the first part of 2024; the National Gallery will announce two more venues in the future.
Amarna – City of the Sun God
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen
Until 18 June 2023
Amarna’s life as the capital of the pharaoh Akhenaten in the 14th century BC may have been short-lived, but, as the Egyptian site was abandoned with no new buildings built over it, it has presented archaeologists with a wealth of information about this fascinating time. Akhenaten introduced radical changes, building this new capital and implementing monotheistic worship of the Aten, the solar disc. His reign also saw the development of the distinctive ‘Amarna style’ in which he and his famous queen Nefertiti were depicted, often with the Aten emitting rays over them. With finds from Amarna, photographs, drawings, and reconstructions, this exhibition explores the artistic style, religious life in the city, and the everyday lives of those who worked to build it quickly.
Decorated blocks are among the displays. In 2015, Egyptologist Raymond Johnson found that one in the Metropolitan Museum in New York matched one in the Glyptotek’s collection; they have been brought together for the first time in this exhibition, reuniting the images of Akhenaten and of Kiya, one of his wives (below).
SPECTACULAR! Entertainment among the Romans
Lugdunum Musee, Lyon
Until 11 June 2023
Whether gladiatorial games, dramatic performances, pantomime, or chariot races, organised public entertainments were an important feature of ancient Roman life, with theatres, amphitheatres, and circuses found across the Empire. This exhibition – in the museum of the Gallo-Roman city of Lugdunum, which boasts an amphitheatre, a theatre, and an odeon – presents a range of artefacts that reflect the popularity of these pursuits, including figurines of gladiators, oil lamps showing fights, plaques depicting chariot races, and theatrical masks. It also examines how games and shows, widely attended by people from all classes, helped social cohesion, reinforced hierarchies, and served to glorify Rome.
GOLD AND TREASURES: 3,000 years of Chinese ornaments
The skills of Chinese goldsmiths over 3,000 years are celebrated in this exhibition, which presents beautiful examples of the craft from a collection in Hong Kong, together with a selection of artefacts, including gourd-shaped vases, and bowls and plates adorned with dragons and phoenixes, from the Musée national des arts asiatiques – Guimet in Paris. Gold necklaces, bracelets, earrings, hairpins, brooches, and belt buckles demonstrate the makers’ exceptional command of techniques like hammering, casting, granulation, and filigree, and reflect the symbolic importance of certain motifs from the Shang dynasty (about 1500-1046 BC) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).
L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts, Paris
Until 14 April 2023
QUANTITY AND Quality: The World of Greek Terracottas
Altes Museum, Berlin
Until 2 July 2023
Versatile and easy to work, clay was used to create large numbers of small, brightly painted figurines in the ancient Greek world. These figurines have generally been overlooked as cheap items made using moulds that allowed for cost-effective copying and variation. As this exhibition, drawing on the collection of Berlin’s Antikensammlung, sets out to show, clay figurines were used in a variety of contexts, in temples, private homes, and graves, and while many were affordable objects, there are some more elaborate examples – such as the elegant 2nd-century BC Heyl Aphrodite (below) – which point to a taste for terracotta among the monied elites too. Mythical subjects like Aphrodite were rendered in clay, but so too were everyday tasks such as baking bread.
The Rome of the Republic: the tale of archaeology
Palazzo Caffarelli, Musei Capitolini, Rome
Until 23 September 2023
Following on from a 2018 exhibition on ancient Rome in the age of kings, this exhibition sheds light on the city in the Republican era from the 5th century to the 1st century BC and the birth of the Empire. An impressive number of objects – some 1,800 artefacts, many on view for the first time – paint a rich picture of Republican Rome. Visitors can learn about the decoration of wealthy houses, the proliferation of wells to supply water, and the production of ceramics and the use of moulds in creating votive body parts. Special attention is paid to the temples of the Capitoline Hill and the Campus Martius, but also to popular devotion at sites where votive deposits (of objects such as replica body parts) have been found. There is, for example, a large set of finds from the 4th-1st century BC, from a votive deposit dedicated to Minerva Medica (BELOW).
Freedom, Feuds, Purgatory: The Middle Ages in the North
Fries Museum, Leeuwarden
Until 7 May 2023
The medieval life of Friesland between 1067 and 1567, when it covered the current province of Friesland in the Netherlands and Ostfriesland in Germany, is in the spotlight in this exhibition, which brings together artefacts from the Fries Museum’s own collections and national and international loans. Finds including sculpture – such as the king’s head from Klaarkamp Abbey, dating from 1500-1580 (ABOVE) – jewellery, and weapons offer insights into medieval Frisian society at a time when great castles, churches, and monasteries dominated the landscape, and when Frisians governed themselves, sported a distinctive style of clothing, and spoke their own language, but also fought between clans.
Secrets of Stonehenge
Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum, AUCKLAND
Until 25 April 2023
It is an instantly recognisable icon, but the familiar face of Stonehenge today was not the first monument at the prehistoric English site, nor was it alone in its landscape on the Salisbury Plain. With stone tools, antler picks – including one from the Lesser Cursus, 3300-3000 BC (ABOVE) – pottery, and gold and bronze artefacts, as well as videos and digital animations, this exhibition investigates what we know about Stonehenge, its significance, and the people who built it. Research into the monument reveals details about its construction, the transport of large stones from the Preseli Mountains in Wales, and its evolution, but the finds on view also explore its relationship with nearby Durrington Walls, where the Stonehenge-builders may have lived and where another henge was built.
SHIPWRECKS: submerged history
Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya, Barcelona
Until 30 July 2023
Shipwrecks are fascinating sites offering insights into subjects as diverse as ancient trade and Tudor warfare. With the underwater archaeology of Catalonia in the spotlight, this exhibition tells some of the stories that have been revealed by objects from these sunken sites – such as the development of navigation systems over time – and highlights the need to protect these sites. Modern work by the Centre of Underwater Archaeology of Catalonia, which was set up in 1992, is celebrated, particularly their excavation of the Roman shipwreck Culip IV and the wreck-site Deltebre I, where an English military transport ship sank in 1813, but the displays also chart the evolution of diving equipment that makes such work possible today.
Ave Caesar! Romans, Gauls and Germanic tribes on the Rhine
Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig, Basel
Until 30 April 2023
The River Rhine was a crucial force in the interactions between Gauls, Germanic tribes, and Romans, as this exhibition investigates. Starting with the impressive estates of Celtic elites around 500 BC, the displays show how the river was essential for trade and wealth, and the flow of cultural influence. Conflict also forms part of the story – with competing claims to power and territory among the Celts leading to the rise of fortified settlements from 80 BC, Julius Caesar taking advantage of these disputes to extend Roman rule in the 50s BC, the building of Roman military bases, and the establishment of conquered Germanic territories as the official Roman provinces of Germania Superior and Germania Inferior from c. AD 85. Objects on view include Roman coins and portraits of emperors and military officers, and the 2nd-century AD bronze statuette from Augusta Raurica (in Switzerland) of local god Sucellus in the style of Roman deities (below).
Perfect Love: On Love and Passion
Kunstmuseum St Gallen, ST GALLEN
Until 30 July 2023
Themes relating to love have been popular among many artists throughout history. These can be different kinds of love, such as passionate romance, maternal care, spiritual devotion, or the absorbing inspiration of an artist’s own personal muse. Paintings, sculptures, and works on paper explore some of these aspects of love in art over the past 500 years, from late Gothic devotional panels to Felix González Torres’ meeting of two clocks in Untitled (Perfect Lovers) of 1991, via Pieter van der Werff’s 1716 painting Adam and Eve (below).