Museums

A Nightmarish History of Spanish Drawings

by Allison Meier on February 6, 2014

Eugenio Lucas (1817–1870) Death Reading from a Human Lectern, Congregation in Background, ca. 1850 Black chalk and brown wash The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; I, 111c Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Eugenio Lucas, “Death Reading from a Human Lectern, Congregation in Background” (c. 1850), black chalk and brown wash (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, purchased by Pierpont Morgan) (all photos by Graham S. Haber)

For the first time, the dark manifestations of the Spanish drawings held by the Morgan Library and Museum are seeing the gallery lights. Visions and Nightmares: Four Centuries of Spanish Drawings opened last month as the museum’s inaugural foray into the overlooked history of drawing in Spanish art.

Francisco Goya (1746–1828) Pesadilla (Nightmare), ca. 1816–20 Black Border Album (E), page 20 Black ink and wash The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; 1959.13 Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard J. Bernhard, 1959 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Francisco Goya, “Pesadilla (Nightmare)” (c. 1816–20), black Border Album (E), page 20, black ink and wash (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard J. Bernhard) (click to enlarge)

“It was traditionally assumed that Spanish artists rarely drew,” the Morgan explains in its press release, “but recent research has demonstrated that drawing was, in fact, central to artistic practice in Spain.” The exhibition, despite its name that suggests a survey of epic proportions, gathers just over 20 works in the small Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery off the main atrium. With big names like Francisco Goya and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, as well as some names less trodden by art history, like Eugenio Lucas and Alonso Cano, the show argues for drawing as a significant part of the process for these artists, and a reflection in its own right of a tumultuous four centuries in Spain.

Given that the spread of the Catholic Church brought the brutality of the Inquisition, it shouldn’t be surprising that saintly specters and phantasmagoric gore make appearances throughout the drawings. From Eugenio Lucas’s murky depiction of the Grim Reaper pondering a book propped upon a kneeling man to Francisco Goya’s tormented woman pulled from her sleep to the back of a raging bull, unsettling visuals abound. Those aren’t even the afflictions of a more biblical nature, like Father Andrés being tortured in a preparatory drawing by Vicente Carducho (which was scrawled on by his patron, who asked that the poor soul be drawn larger and more central), and José de Ribera’s macabre depiction of the skinning alive of St. Bartholomew (skin flaying being something of a passion for the artist — a drawing by Ribera of the satyr Marsyas tied to a tree awaiting the same fate is also included). Curiously, though, the central part of the exhibition is taken up by some manuscripts and letters, and while the 1780 Don Quixote is beautiful, it seems like a missed opportunity for more exploration of the subject.

The Morgan holds almost 12,000 drawings in its collections, mostly from Europe before 1825. Spanish drawings make up only a small fraction, but through their presentation — which, by the nature of its broad historical scope is far from cohesive — you can still see the foundations of an argument for an increased focus on them. Sure, it’s the promise of eerie art that might get you in the door of a show called Visions and Nightmares, but it’s the surprising variety and execution of the art that’s likely to have the most lasting impact.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1618–1682) Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, ca. 1665–70 Brown ink and wash, over black chalk The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; I, 111 Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, “Virgin of the Immaculate Conception” (c. 1665–70), brown ink and wash, over black chalk (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, purchased by Pierpont Morgan)

iguel Barroso (ca. 1538–1590) Design for a Cope with SS. John and Luke, ca. 1587–89 Brown ink and wash, with opaque lead white, over black chalk, on blue paper The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; 1985.53 Purchased on the Lois and Walter C. Baker Fund, 1985 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Miguel Barroso, “Design for a Cope with SS. John and Luke” (c. 1587–89), brown ink and wash, with opaque lead white, over black chalk, on blue paper (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Lois and Walter C. Baker Fund)

Attributed to Juan Carreño de Miranda (1614–1685 ) Studies of Christ in Glory, ca. 1660s Brown ink, brown and gray wash, heightened with white gouache The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; 2013.90 Purchased on the Seligman Charitable Trust Fund, 2013 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Attributed to Juan Carreño de Miranda, “Studies of Christ in Glory” (c. 1660s), brown ink, brown and gray wash, heightened with white gouache (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Seligman Charitable Trust Fund)

Pedro de Campaña (1503–ca. 1580) The Visitation, 1557–62 Brown ink and wash, lead white chalk, over black chalk, on blue paper The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; 2007.76 Purchased on the Edwin H. Herzog Fund and as the gift of Hubert and Mireille Goldschmidt, 2007 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Pedro de Campaña, “The Visitation” (1557–62), brown ink and wash, lead white chalk, over black chalk, on blue paper (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Edwin H. Herzog Fund and as the gift of Hubert and Mireille Goldschmidt)

Francisco Goya (1746–1828) Muy accordes (Close Harmony), ca. 1816–20 Black Border Album (E), page 50 Black wash The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; 1984.1 Thaw Collection Photography: Graham S. Haber

Francisco Goya, “Muy accordes (Close Harmony)” (c. 1816–20), Black Border Album (E), page 50, black wash (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, Thaw Collection)

Attributed to Alonso Cano (1601–1667) Virgin of Mercy, ca. 1667 Brown ink and wash, over black chalk The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; 1974.45 Purchased on the Fellows Fund with the special assistance of Mrs. James J. Rorimer, 1974 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Attributed to Alonso Cano, “Virgin of Mercy” (c. 1667), brown ink and wash, over black chalk (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Fellows Fund with the special assistance of Mrs. James J. Rorimer)

 José de Ribera (1591–1652) Marsyas Bound to a Tree, ca. 1630s Red chalk The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; 1976.48 Purchased as the gift of Mr. Frederick R. Koch, 1976 Photography: Graham S. Haber

José de Ribera, “Marsyas Bound to a Tree” (c. 1630s), red chalk (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, purchased as the gift of Mr. Frederick R. Koch)

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682) St. Felix of Cantalicio Holding the Christ Child, ca. 1665–69 Brown ink and wash, with opaque lead white, over black chalk The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; I, 110 Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, “St. Felix of Cantalicio Holding the Christ Child” (c. 1665–69), brown ink and wash, with opaque lead white, over black chalk (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, purchased by Pierpont Morgan)

Eugenio Lucas (1817–1870) Crowd with Fallen Figures, ca. 1850 Brown wash and watercolor The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; I, 111g Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Eugenio Lucas, “Crowd with Fallen Figures” (c. 1850), brown wash and watercolor (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, purchased by Pierpont Morgan)

Vicente Carducho (ca. 1576–1638) Martyrdom of Father Andrés, ca. 1632 Brown wash, over black chalk, with lead white chalk The Morgan Library & Museum, New York Gift of Gertrude W. and Seth Dennis, 1986 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Vicente Carducho, “Martyrdom of Father Andrés” (c. 1632), brown wash, over black chalk, with lead white chalk (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, gift of Gertrude W. and Seth Dennis)

Mariano Salvador Maella (1739–1819) St. Lawrence, ca. 1800 Graphite and brown wash, squared The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; 2013.91 Purchase, 2013 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Mariano Salvador Maella, “St. Lawrence” (c. 1800), graphite and brown wash, squared (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum)

Francisco de Herrera the Younger (1627–1685) Design for a Processional Sculpture of the Vision of St. John on Patmos, with Five Variant Plans, 1660–71 Brown ink and wash, over black chalk The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; 1960.12 Purchased as the gift of Walter C. Baker, 1960 Photography: Graham S. Haber

Francisco de Herrera the Younger, “Design for a Processional Sculpture of the Vision of St. John on Patmos, with Five Variant Plans” (1660–71), brown ink and wash, over black chalk (courtesy Morgan Library & Museum, purchased as the gift of Walter C. Baker)

Visions and Nightmares: Four Centuries of Spanish Drawings continues at the Morgan Library and Museum (225 Madison Avenue, Midtown East, Manhattan) through May 11.  

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