Within the context of the Prado’s celebration of its Bicentenary, the Museum is presenting Velázquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer: Parallel visions, an ambitious exhibition devoted to Dutch and Spanish painting of the late 16th and early 17th centuries which benefits from the sponsorship of Fundación AXA and the special collaboration of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Comprising 72 works from the Prado, the Rijksmuseum and a further 15 lenders (including the Mauritshuis in The Hague, the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York), the exhibition offers a reflection on the traditions of painting in Spain and the Low Countries. While the art-historical literature has considered these traditions to be essentially different, the exhibition juxtaposes the historical myths and artistic realities of these two artistic centres in order to reflect on their numerous shared traits.
Velázquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer: Parallel visions is an exhibition that encourages visitors to not only appreciate the quality and importance of the 72 works on display, some by the most admired painters of 17th-century Europe, but also to establish points of comparison between them.
The traditional and long-standing idea of the art produced in different parts of Europe is that it is notably different: that Velázquez, for example, is “very Spanish” and Rembrandt “very Dutch”. This viewpoint is based on the excessive influence that 19th– and 20th-century nationalist mindsets and ideologies have had on our way of understanding art. Studies from that period placed enormous importance on the idea that every nation had a different national character, as a result of which the notion that these differences were manifested in the art of each country became widespread. This perspective functioned to minimise the traits shared by European artists.
The case of 17th-century Spanish and Dutch painting is symptomatic of this. Separated by a war, the art of these countries has traditionally been interpreted as opposing. Nonetheless, the legacy of Flemish and Italian painting, the influence of which defined all of European art, was interpreted in a similar way in the two places. In the 17thcentury both countries saw the emergence of an aesthetic that departed from idealism and which focused on the real appearance of things and the manner of representing it. In their works the artists represented in this exhibition did not express the “essence” of their nations but rather gave form to the ideas and approaches that they shared with an international community of creators.
“The unity of Western painting is one of the great realities that reveals the unity of European culture.” José Ortega y Gasset
Curator: Alejandro Vergara, Museo del Prado Senior Curator Flemish Painting and Northern Schools (to 1700)