The Prado, like the Louvre, takes a bit of context. It is a Royal Collection, and the royalty in Spain was; Well, full of stories, to say the least. The Spanish had an enormous empire, but two provinces of supreme artistic value were Naples and the Lowlands (they had the Spanish Netherlands from 1579 – 1713 – roughly corresponding to Belgium and Luxembourg).
In 1700 the mentally infirm Hapsburg King Charles II of Spain named Louis XIV’s second grandson, Philip (Duc d’Anjou), as his heir. At 16, Philip V (formerly le Duc d’Anjou) was the first of the Bourbon kings of Spain. Needless to say this forged a Spanish-French alliance to the highest degree… which of course off-set a balance of power in Europe, which in turn brought on yet another war. This one aptly called the War of Spanish Succession (1700 – 1715). I will leave a proper background to this for another time, but if you’d like just the lightest touch of context I recommend http://www.spanishsuccession.nl/ (please note the NL in this URL!). Before moving on, however, I’ll include a painting of Charles II to give you a sense of just how mentally infirm he looked, poor inbred man that he was. He looks as contorted, deranged and plain-old-scary as the Appalachians in the film Deliverance.
Suffice it to say the 17th century saw an artistic surge in the Lowlands with Pieter-Paul Rubens (knighted by Philip IV), Anthony Van Dyck and a myriad of wonderful still life painters such as de Heem (as touched on in the post, Food in Art!), all of whom had either a sojourn to Spain or were directly affected by the Spanish crown.
The inimitable Spanish presence in Naples and Sicily (later called the Kingdom of Two Sicilies) had a profound impact on both the Spanish and Neapolitan Baroque. To name just a few big hitters the magnificent Baroque painter Jusepé de Ribera flourished in Naples (though proud of his Hispanic roots, apparently he signed some of his paintings Jusepé the Spaniard”, suitably acquiring the nickname Lo Spagnoletto), Neopolitan painter Luca Giordano was a court painter in Spain for ten years under Charles II (after having studied in Ribera’s studio), Velazquez was sent by Philip IV to Italy, which is considered a turning point in his style.
All of this is really just a laundry list of countries that were miniscule on the scale of Spain’s global dominance (think of a small continent across the pond called South America, let alone the discovery of another small space north of those Peruvian gold mines). But both the Netherlands and Italy were hotbeds of the Baroque, and their inseparable connection and influence on and by Spain has been the subject matter of the lives and careers of many art historians.
In great anticipation of beholding each of these masters at the Prado in person, I’ve had a ball brushing up on some background reading. And in terms of my belly and our little trio alighting a plane fast as a gazelle? I’m already packed a day in advance – a rare occurrence!