The Bank of Spain, last tenant on Madrid’s Golden Mile of art


The portrait of José de Toro-Zambrano, the first director of the Banco de San Carlos, painted by Goya, cost 2,328 reais of fleece. That amount appears in an accounting book in the name of Ceán Bermúdez so that the payment of said painting to the Aragonese painter, who had not yet been appointed as a court painter, could be executed, although he was already pointing out ways of the great master in whom he would soon become . It is the first portrait that Goya would paint for him. Bank of San Carlos. Those 2,328 reals of fleece give the title to an exhibition with which a new and brand-new exhibition space is inaugurated in the heart of the Golden Mile of art in Madrid, that

adds carats to the Paseo del Prado-Recoletos axis, recently declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

José de Toro-Zambrano, first director of the Banco de San Carlos, portrayed by Goya
José de Toro-Zambrano, first director of Banco de San Carlos, portrayed by Goya – ERNESTO ACUDO

On a corner of Plaza de Cibeles, flanked by Paseo del Prado and Calle de Alcalá, stands one of the most outstanding buildings in Madrid: the Bank of Spain. It was planned that in October 2019 this space with a permanent vocation would open its doors. It is the old lobby of the building in the chamfer of Cibeles (one of the most photographed corners of Madrid), which has been renovated as an exhibition hall. Thus one of the building’s historic entrances is recovered.

It will be shown to the public, through long-term temporary exhibitions, his splendid collection, made up of more than 5,300 works (paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, prints and pieces of decorative arts), divided into two sets: the historical part (20%) and the contemporary part (80%). A treasure that in almost 240 years of history Only bank workers and those who attended the guided tours have been able to enjoy the institution. Some temporary exhibitions have been held, such as the one in 1982, on the occasion of the institution’s bicentennial; the one in 2009 that commemorated the ten years of the euro in Spain or the one that traveled to the Mohammed VI Museum in Rabat in 2014. But these funds are still unknown to the general public, that it was very difficult to access them.

Isabel II, portrayed as a child by Antonio María Esquivel
Isabel II, portrayed as a child by Antonio María Esquivel – ERNESTO ACUDO

With Pablo Hernandez de Cos as governor of the Bank of Spain and Yolanda romero as curator of its collection, the institution has wanted spread its cultural and artistic heritage and share it with the whole society. Not surprisingly, it is a public collection. «It is not an encyclopedic collection – warns Yolanda Romero -, but a collection of artists (Goya, Maella, Madrazo), whom the bank supported in their careers with commissions. Contemporary art has been collected, involving the most important artists of each historical moment. It is a living collection, which continues to grow.

First, in the midst of a pandemic, the reasoned catalog, in three volumes, from the Bank of Spain’s painting, drawing and sculpture collection, with 1,200 works. Later those of engraving and decorative arts will be undertaken. It was also launched a heritage web portal. And tomorrow this exhibition hall opens to the public, which today has been inaugurated by the King. It will be of Free access, although at the moment you have to book tickets ‘online’. Capacity: 80 people. It is a small space, barely 350 square meters, divided between a central room and two adjoining triangular rooms.

Two portraits of Fernando VII, in the exhibition.  On the left, the work of Vicente López.  On the right, painted by Zacarías González Velázquez
Two portraits of Fernando VII, in the exhibition. On the left, the work of Vicente López. On the right, painted by Zacarías González Velázquez – ERNESTO ACUDO

The inaugural show, curated by Manuela Mena and Yolanda Romero and which will remain open until February 26, 2022, emphasizes the singularities of the collections of the Bank of Spain. 28 paintings, a sculpture, a drawing, 7 pieces of decorative arts and 96 documents from the Historical Archive and Library of the Bank of Spain are exhibited. The tour begins with a first section dedicated to the origins of the institution and its unique work of patronage and promotion of the arts, an illustrated ideal. They go back to Bank of San Carlos (founded in 1782), whose leaders commissioned the most powerful artists of the time to portraits of Kings, heads of state, finance ministers, directors and governors of the institution, which decorated different rooms of its headquarters. It is one of the best galleries of official portraits in Spain. Over the years, the funds from the Banco de San Fernando and Banco de Isabel II, from whose merger the current Bank of Spain would be born in 1856.

English table clock, made by ThomasWindmills
English table clock, made by ThomasWindmills – ERNESTO ACUDO

In that portrait gallery stand out ten signed by Goya, eight from the Collection of the Bank of Spain. Of the latter, six were commissioned by the bank: the portraits of Carlos III (protector and first shareholder), Francisco de Cabarrús (main promoter of the project to create a national bank, which was carried out by a group of illustrated men), José de Toro-Zambrano, the Marquis of Tolosa, the Count of Altamira and Francisco Javier de Larumbe y Rodríguez. Later two more were acquired. In 1986, the exceptional portrait of the count of Floridablanca (Goya self-portrayed by his side) and in 1993 that of Miguel de Múzquiz, count of Gausa. He was Minister of Finance of Carlos III. All the works on display are from the Bank of Spain, except for three loans from the Prado, National Calcography and a private collection.

In the foreground, table of the Council of Ministers of Fernando VII.  Behind, from left to right, portrait of the Duke of Osuna painted by Federico de Madrazo;  portrait of Ramón de Santillán, by José Gutiérrez de la Vega, and portrait of Pedro Salaverría painted by Federico de Madrazo
In the foreground, table of the Council of Ministers of Fernando VII. Behind, from left to right, portrait of the Duke of Osuna painted by Federico de Madrazo; portrait of Ramón de Santillán, by José Gutiérrez de la Vega, and portrait of Pedro Salaverría painted by Federico de Madrazo – ERNESTO ACUDO

Manuela Mena, for years responsible for the Goya Collection housed in the Prado, underlines the value of commissions to the painter in these early years of his career: «They are very early paintings. An immense evolution is seen in them. In his portraits, Goya enters the character, knows how to elevate the person. It is a great portraitist, a master of simplicity, of concreteness». Remember that he was elected Academician of Fine Arts of San Fernando by acclamation. There was no vote. I become professor of anatomy at the Academy: «Its anatomical perfection is absolute». And, suddenly, he drops: «You shudder when you see Goya attributions in great art fairs. I have lost hope of one day seeing his reasoned catalog. But he throws the stone and hides his hand. He does not say in which fairs or in which galleries he has seen these supposed false Goyas.

The exhibition has a section dedicated to oratory that the bank opened in its original headquarters, on Calle de la Luna. Yolanda Romero explains that this oratorio was created to maintain «the employee productivity and that they could fulfill their religious obligations without having to leave the building where they worked. Works from this oratory hang, such as ‘La Virgen del lirio’, by Cornelis van Cleves, or ‘Saint Charles Borromeo supplying viaticum to the dying in the plague of Milan’, from Maella.

Ceán Bermúdez, portrayed by Goya.  Particular collection
Ceán Bermúdez, portrayed by Goya. Particular collection – ERNESTO ACUDO

The second part of the exhibition focuses on the works that are being incorporated from the Banco de San Fernando and the Banco de Isabel II. In the center of the room, the memorial table that presided over the Council of Ministers of Fernando VII. It has drawers: one for each Ministry. On one of the walls, a courtly portrait of the monarch painted by Vicente Lopez. Although the commission came from the Banco de San Carlos, it was already paid for by the Banco de San Fernando, despite the fact that the Board considered it a waste due to its high price. Near him, the ‘Portrait of the Duke of Osuna’, signed by Federico de Madrazo and considered the best male portrait of Spanish Romanticism. On the opposite wall, two portraits of Isabel II: one, as a girl, painted by Esquivel, and the other one of maturity, the work of Benito Soriano. Among the decorative objects are three beautiful clocks. The enlightened elites were very fond of time-keeping machines. Cabarrús was a great watch collector.

The program is already closed until 2024. The next exhibition will focus on the collection of contemporary art and still life. There will be others dedicated to Eduardo Adaro, architect of the main headquarters of the Bank of Spain, and to the decorative arts of the 1930s. In principle, the rooms are expected to remain open for around six months a year.


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