I recently came across an interesting piece by the New York Times on a “royal battle” of sorts between the renowned Prado and a new royal museum set to open in fall 2016 that can’t quite seem to settle down over in Spain. The new museum, the Museum of Royal Collections, is demanding that the Prado give up four paintings, two of which are the Prado’s top attractions, namely, Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and Rogier van der Weyden’s 15th century depiction of the descent of Christ from the cross.
The Prado’s response to the demand was strong and clear that the new museum would not be receiving the four disputed artworks.
It has been reported that the disputed art works were taken from the royal San Lorenzo de El Escorial monastery and kept for safekeeping with the Prado by government officials nearly 80 years ago during the Spanish Civil War. The Patrimonio Nacional, the heritage agency that acts as the administrator of all royal holdings (from antiques, artworks to palaces it has lent over the years), however, is insisting that the paintings be returned to it for the new museum.
Understandably, museums throughout Spain are keeping a close eye on the fight over ownership of the four paintings, fearful that pieces with a royal provenance among their collections could be removed next. Of the about 1,000 works loaned to other museums by the heritage agency, several have already been recalled. In particular, the agency’s president has signaled an interest in recalling works by such artists as El Greco, Velazquez and Goya out on loan.
Disputes between museums over ownership of art are not exactly new in Spain. In a past high-profile case back in 2010, the Prado was unsuccessful in its attempt to reclaim Picasso’s “Guernica” from the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.
With deep cuts in state subsidies endured by cultural institutions throughout Spain, the heritage agency’s demand for the recall of the paintings is for financial reasons. The Patrimonio Nacional spent about $178 million in public money on the new museum. It is hoped that with the addition of some key attractions among its 150,000 works in the royal collection, more visitors will attend.
It appears clear that the disputed artworks belong to the agency’s royal collection as even the Prado lists them as being on “temporary loan.” Bosch’s work described as an “ambitious symbol-laden tryptich by the Dutch medieval painter,” was acquired by King Philip II and presented to the monastery in 1593, where it hung for 340 years until it was sent to the Prado for restoration in 1933 and then put on loan for safekeeping in 1936. As for the van der Weyden painting, Maria of Hungary acquired the work and left it to her nephew King Philip II. The painting was given to the monastery in 1574, where it remained for 362 years until it was sent to the Prado for safekeeping in 1936.
The disputed paintings, however, remain in the Prado’s possession, which has “forcefully pressed an emotional claim” as well as its “trump card” as the most popular museum in Madrid, receiving 2.5 million visitors this past year.
If you are wondering what the royal family thinks of all this, think no more as it has wisely stayed out of the dispute. The Spanish deputy prime minister has indicated that the dispute is over and that the paintings will stay – even if that is so, it is apparently not evident to the two “bickering institutions.”
In recent weeks, tensions surfaced again as the agency offered previews of its new museum, which is designed to blend in with the architecture of the nearby royal palace. The latest “skirmish” took place when the Prado attempted to extend the well-received van der Weyden exhibition a month past its scheduled closing of June 28, but its request was refused. In recent days, a number of government meetings have taken place in an effort to work out a solution, however, the Prado would not compromise.
I intend to follow this intriguing story as I am very interested in how it all turns out between the two institutions.