The Hispanic Society of America.
Velazquez and Goya paintings.
The Interior of the building suggests a Spanish patio; but as the ground floor is arranged as a reading-room, the architect has introduced a glass roof. Let us accompany a Stranger who, maybe, enters this unique museum for the first time.
Ascend the stairs, noting the tiles and mosaics embedded in the walls, belonging to the periods of the Roman domination and the Moorish occupation. He passes on to the gallery and leaning over the balustrade gazes down upon the patio reading-room. Austere but comfortable look the mahogany library tables on terra-cotta bases. He notices that piers of that warm, imperishable substance, decorated in relief with coat-of-arms of Spanish provinces and cities, support the galleries, and spring upward to the roof. He observes that round the four walls range Spanish pictures. The decorative effect is magnificent even if all the works be not masterpieces.
On the south wall facing him are a range of large portraits of Spanish nobilities; the north wall glitters with Spanish Primitives, some gold-crusted in the manner of Crivelli, the uncouth splendor of Byzantium over all; to the east he notes, if he is something of a connoisseur in painting, the saccharine religiosity of Murillo (1617-'682), and the gaunt, elongated types of El Greco (1545?-1614); and on the west wall a fine Goya (1746-1828), an attractive rendering of the much-painted Duchess of Alba (ill. no. 43), who is pointing to the signature of the artist at her feet.
Near this is a direct and forceful portrait of General Foraster, more restrained than is usual with Goya, who would sometimes paint a portrait in a day, working from morn till evening, `in absolute silence, with extraordinary concentration and vigor.'
Although the pictures are not all of the first rank, in their environment and regal position on the walls they seem to re-create Spain with a force more vivid than is produced by the Spanish masters adorning the galleries of London and Vienna.
I linger before a portrait by Juan de Pareja, first slave and then servant of Velazquez, who accompanied his master to Rome when he visited the Eternal City for the second time. In that year Velazquez produced the incomparable portrait of Pope Innocent X, which hangs in a room of the Doria Palace. Velazquez's brush had been idle for months, and 'to get his hand in' he painted a trial picture of his servant. It created a sensation. The Romans when they saw it said: `All else seems painting, this alone truth.'
On the walls of the Hispanic Society, Juan appears as an artist on his own account, and many worse works are produced today by eminent painters than this portrait by the body-servant of Velazquez, who `practiced painting in secret,' and did not blush to find it known.
To students of Velazquez the `Head and Shoulders of a Cardinal' is of surpassing interest. It is a magnificent work, distinguished by the apparent ease of the recondite craftsman-ship, the just values and the reticent but forceful color that we associate with Velazquez." Two other words by the master hang on this wall—the portrait of the Count-Duke of Olivares (ill. no. 44), Prime Minister of Philip IV, and that of a little girl believed by Beruete to be the grand-daughter of the artist.
Then our Stranger's eyes drop from Velazquez and Goya to the glass cases that stand treasure-full against the walls here a rare collection of old Spanish treasures—crosses, monstrances, carvings, images; there specimens of primitive pottery followed by carvings on ivory dating from the era of the Phoenicians.
Yonder, against the south wall, is an array of Hispano-Mauresque luster ware. These beautiful objects dazzle while they charm; the eyes turn almost with relief from their iridescent loveliness to the calmer beauty of the illuminated manuscripts and the Spanish volumes ranging from the first book printed in Spain with movable type in 1475 to the manuscript of George Borrow's `Bible in Spain.'"
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