The fortune of a museum or the decentralization of art


An image of the ‘Virgin Cumberland’, by Rubens.

In March of this year, the news of the donation of part of the Flemish painting collection of Hans Rudolf Gerstenmaier (1934-2021) to the Museum of Fine Arts in Valencia. The German’s move caught the Valencian museum itself so off guard that they suspected nothing of such a generous donation; as well as other national centers that in their hearts also craved a part of such a select and curious collection. The mystery completely surrounded the donation, since it had not transcended the number of pieces or which would be, among the treasured, those that would land in the museum. The only thing that was known is that it would only be of Flemish painting. This suited the museum like a glove, and this was stated by its director, Pablo González Tornel, in several interviews after hearing the news.

The Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia It has extraordinary collections of painting from the 15th and 16th centuries, especially those related to the avant-garde Valencian school of that period and Italian and Spanish painting of the 17th century, but it was a bit lacking in Flemish painting from this last moment despite the extraordinary Equestrian portrait of Moncada by Anton van Dyck, – just for this work and the Self portrait by Velázquez The visit to the Fine Arts of the city of Turia is more than justified. Now, with the arrival of the Gerstenmaier donation, the museum will have a very good representation of Flemish painting from the late 16th and 17th centuries. From the singular Crucifixion by Adriaen Thomasz Key, a painter better known for his portraits than for his religious scenes, the landscapes of Joos de Momper and the still lifes and flowers of Jan van Kessel and Gaspar Verbruggen. His works bring together three of the artistic genres that gave the Flemish school of painting its reputed fame and popularity, as pointed out Francisco Pacheco, Velázquez’s teacher, in his book on the Art of Painting.

Among all the pieces, perhaps the one that causes the greatest expectation among all the legacy is known as Virgin Cumberland. Made on board, the enameled sense of colors and the endearing daily life of the two characters respond to the most genuine characteristics of this school: the taste for the representation of the surrounding reality and the precious finish of their works. If we add to this that this composition was devised by the most prestigious painter in Europe in the seventeenth century, they make the piece itself a jewel. Peter paul rubens poses this scene of the mother with her naked son standing in the foreground on the left wing of the Michielsen Triptych, currently in the museum of fine arts in Antwerp. In front of the scene of the triptych, the painting of Valencia gives greater amplitude to the figure of the Virgin, reducing the space in height and lowering her right hand next to the feet of the Child. The differences between them show that the Valencian version is not a mere copy, but an interpretation of the artist that many others followed. Rubens in this image presents an icon of motherhood. An archetype that transcends any religious interpretation. It is a mother protecting her child in his first steps. In fact, the painter possibly used the features of his first wife, Isabella Brant, and his son Albert, for their faces.

Regardless of these anecdotes around the Virgin Cumberland and the Flemish paintings that have landed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Valencia, the most interesting of all this news are two aspects. The first is the importance that private collections and level collectors have within our country and the second is the generosity that is their own, leaving part of their collections to public centers. The Valencia museum has already experienced this with the Orts Bosch legacy; the Asturias museum has also benefited from the collections Plácido Arango and widowed countess of Villagonzalo; and that of Bilbao, a museum much more accustomed to the Basque elite donating part of their works, has received in recent weeks a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi. Art with capital letters is no longer concentrated in the big capitals thanks to the great collectors. Now, in the provinces, as it was said in the past, one can enjoy a Sunday afternoon with the great artists of the History of Art.

Valencia now has a place where Rubens, Van Dyck and the most significant painters of the flamenco schoola in its various genres come together to give a concise image of what it meant in the seventeenth century. They would only have to leave a space for a work by Jordaens.

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