Hispanist Jonathan Brown, great expert on Velázquez, dies


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The prestigious North American Hispanist Jonathan Brown, a great expert on Velázquez, has died at the age of 82, as confirmed by the Prado Museum in a message in which he “deeply” regrets his loss. “We fondly remember the close relationship he had with the Prado Museum,” they add in the art gallery.

Born in New York in 1939, Brown was a professor at the Institute of Fine Arts of the University of the American city and worked in a large number of North American museums as a scientific advisor. He was a specialist in Spanish painting and Latin American art of the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as in collecting history.

His colleague and friend John Elliot told a Third that Brown had a hard time when he began his career in the 1960s.

“The History of Art in Spain, with only six university departments, was a much smaller field than that of medieval, modern and contemporary history, and the dominant approach was largely empirical, driven by an almost obsessive concern with the accumulation of ‘scientific “of new data. Although this method produced many quality works, its interpretive power was limited. There was a whole world waiting to be explored and colonized. But it would take a long struggle and the emergence of a new generation of historians of the art before the Jonathan’s “contextualizing” approach bring together a sufficient number of followers, not only in the US but -what is even more important- in the departments of Art History and Spanish museums, to give an unstoppable impulse to the task of renovation“.

Jonathan’s challenge to the dominant method of studying Baroque painting came with the publication in 1978 of his collection of essays ‘Images and Ideas in Seventeenth-Century Spanish Painting’. It included the famous article on ‘The meaning of Las Meninas‘, in which Brown related the composition of the painting to Velázquez’s personal ambitions and his ambition to raise the social status of artists. Elliot recalled that these forays into the history of intellectual and social influences on the creation of works of art had the explicit goal of widening the scope of research in a field where “a small number of traditional, though essential, conceptions of the discipline of Art History» had «downplayed the complexity and richness of Spanish painting and overlooked its common links with the art of other European countries».

Brown and Elliot met in the fall of 1973 at Princeton and it didn’t take long for them to strike up a conversation and realize that their interests intertwined. As a result of their relationship, the idea of ​​telling a “total history” of the Palacio del Buen Retiro, built in the 1630s for Felipe IV for his favorite, the Count-Duke of Olivares. Their collaboration would materialize in the book ‘A palace for a king: the Buen Retiro and the court of Felipe IV’, published in 1980, and republished in 2003.

Among his outstanding works on Spanish baroque painting, ‘Velázquez, painter and courtier’ (1986), ‘The golden age of painting in Spain’ (1990) or ‘The triumph of painting. About court collecting in the 17th century’ (1995).

He was the curator of various exhibitions at the Prado Museum, such as the one dedicated to Velázquez, Rubens and Van Dyck, during the commemoration in 1999 of the fourth centenary of the birth of the Spanish painter, or the one entitled ‘The auction of the century’, which he organized together with Elliott in 2002.

Jonathan Brown was a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, of the American Academy of Arts and of San Carlos de Valencia. He also belonged to the American Philosophical Society and the Duques de Soria Foundation.

He had been awarded the Fine Arts gold medal, the great cross of Alfonso X the Wise and the Elio Antonio Nebrija award from the University of Salamanca.

immeasurable dimension

Professor Benito Navarrete has shown regret for the loss of this expert “generous and visionary” in a post on social media. “Historian of immeasurable dimension, he taught us to see images and ideas in Spanish painting in a different way, he opened new paths to understand Hispanic-American art”, explained the art historian.

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