Among his first documented work, the imposing Saint Michael triumphant over the devil with Antoni Joan, of 1468, which is exhibited for the first time in Spain, from The National Gallery in London, until its last piece, the Piedad Desplà (1490), brought from the Cathedral of Barcelona, Bartolomé de Cárdenas, Bartolomé Bermejo, as it was known, displayed "a pictorial language that transcends epochs". "That's why he was a genius", highlighted Joan Molina Figueras, the curator of the exhibition presented on Monday and with which the Museo del Prado tries to alleviate the scarce presence in its programming of "medieval Spanish painting", as the director acknowledged. from the art gallery, Miguel Falomir. Both agreed in auparlo as "the best Spanish painter of the fifteenth century."
This first monograph that the Prado, in collaboration with the National Museum of Art of Catalonia (MNAC), dedicates to a Spanish teacher of the Quattrocento, from October 9 to January 27, 2019, brings together 50 works, of which 27 are from this artist -the rest are of masters with whom he worked, plus some copies-, a reduced catalog, but "that resists the comparison with the European masters of his time", said Molina, historian of medieval art at the University of Girona . The singular Bermejo assimilated the style of the powerful flamenco school, of artists like Jan van Eyck, who visited Spain, or Hans Memling, thanks, perhaps, to his contact with the flourishing bourgeois market of art fairs.
Molina also underlined his "virtuosity and the extraordinary mastery of Bermejo's technique", which is already evident in the San Miguel, the archangel he represented with his floating red cloak and golden armor with glitter and reflections. "As if he were the medieval knight Tirant lo Blanc." This serpentine San Miguel is ready to unload with his sword the punishment on a hallucinated demon, fantastic, with four eyes, two of them on the nipples, which is at his feet. Complete this work the figure of the principal, the merchant Antoni Joan de Tous, who paid for the work, portrayed pious, which did not prevent him from acting as a pirate who assaulted Genoese ships.
The life of this artist (hour 1440-h. 1501) who signed in a little book his San Miguel, an unusual practice among Spaniards, was noticeably hazardous. Born in Córdoba, his condition as Judeoconverso marked his career. Had to nominate cities of the old Crown of Aragon: Valencia, Daroca, Zaragoza and Barcelona, where he died, to avoid the Inquisition. Although he devoted himself to religious painting, which was what he had for the commissions of ecclesiastics and nobles, included in some works unorthodox details, as in his Christ of Piety, in which under a delicate gauze, the genitals of Jesus are glimpsed. The climate of religious intolerance also persecuted his wife, the wealthy Grace of Palaciano, condemned by the Aragonese Inquisition: "You did not know the Creed and practiced Judaizing ceremonies," the court ruled.
Perhaps because he was always observed, Bermejo showed a problematic personality. "Your status as Foreign forced him, following the guild standards, to associate with local teachers to execute his work, but in many cases these artists were very inferior to him, "explains the commissioner." Others, he clashed with those who commissioned the works because they had a vision very conservative. "
The best example of his encounters occupies a central place in the exhibition. It's the only one russet painted only by him who owns the Prado. The monumental Santo Domingo de Silos enthroned as a bishop (1474-77), altarpiece for the town of Daroca of which he only made the central panel, so he broke the contract that said: "That Bartolomé Bermejo have to swear before a public notary, on the cross and the saints four gospels, and that may receive sentence of excommunication. " This is what happened. "He may not have agreed on the compensation," says Molina. This did not prevent him from achieving "a hypnotic effect of reality-fiction, playing with the architecture of the altarpiece".
On other occasions, the contracts show that he was respected and admired. He was the artist who received the most of the ten chosen to decorate the cathedral of Zaragoza. He even ordered the purchase of a lock for the room in which he worked in decorating the doors of the main altarpiece. This prevented anyone from bothering him.
The end of the exhibition Bartolomé Bermejo is for which Molina qualifies "as his masterpiece", the Piedad Desplà, restored a couple of years ago thanks to the Banco Sabadell Foundation. Bermejo transforms the traditional motif of the Virgin's pain with the corpse of Jesus Christ in his lap "in a visual spectacle". There is a flood in one corner and a sunrise over Jerusalem in the other. The artist portrays on the right Lluís Desplà, the Barcelona archdeacon who commissioned the work and who conditioned it in its composition to the point that Molina considers it "made with two hands". Throughout the oil, up to 73 plant and animal species are displayed, a feast for the spectator of then and now to contemplate the virtuosity of this little known creator, forgotten after his death, until the beginning of the 20th century, and with whom the Prado wants to close these centuries of ingratitude.
The director of the Museo del Prado, Miguel Falomir, gave thanks, during the presentation of the exhibition about Bartolomé Bermejo, to the institutions that have made it possible, especially the National Museum of Art of Catalonia (MNAC). "If culture builds bridges, museums are excellent road engineers," said Falomir, referring to the issue of independence in Catalonia. Josep Serra, head of the MNAC, added that "this is an example of how culture works transversally".