June 19, 2021

The real portrait and the flying ants | Culture

The real portrait and the flying ants | Culture

It is an anonymous portrait of John of Austria, painted in 1575, and left the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial on September 27 in the direction of Amsterdam. It landed on the Rijksmuseum – after stopping 28 on the Prado Museum, of whom it is owned- and when it was taken out of its box on October 5, the mail that accompanied and watched it found that a group of winged ants had taken the back of the box, between the frame and the frame. He vacuumed all those living insects immediately and kept two, which he sent to analyze the Prado Museum, as EL PAÍS could have known. The work borrowed is part of the exhibition The War of 80 years. The birth of the Netherlands and unexpected passengers have not damaged the paint.

The Museum of the Prado yielded in deposit, in 1943, the portrait to National Patrimony, that requested it to place it in the monastery. There it is packed – they do not find anything strange – and the next day it arrives at the Prado. It is unpacked to check its status: "At the exit of the painting, during the revision of the canvas, nothing was detected and the hypothesis is that, along the way, the larval stage in which the insects were found hatched", they assure from the Prado to this newspaper.

The specialists of the Prado have not been able to locate the origins of the nest, but they assure that "the picture is in perfect conditions, because they are not xylophages". Immediately, the Prado communicated to National Heritage the incidence and results of the investigation and, as this newspaper has learned, alerted the conservation team of this institution to review the state of the room where the painting resides. They should look for a source of insect contamination. The hypothesis of the contaminated box is discarded, at least for the Prado.

Whose ants are they?

However, from the National Heritage they assure that "it is impossible that there were flying ants of origin", because when preparing the painting for its packaging they checked it and found nothing. In addition, they add that it was packed in such a way that it was not possible for anything to enter. "The flying ants do not live more than three days," they say from Heritage to point out that it is not possible that they left from El Escorial alive. What you can not know is when your larvae hatched. After the accident, the specialists of National Heritage attended the warning of the Prado and reviewed the room, but they say that they did not detect any plague of ants.

From the transport company responsible for the shipment, TTI, they point out in a clear way that no insect could enter the shipping box. "The possibility that the larvae come from our packaging are nil, because the wood is treated. Also they can not access from abroad. Something similar has never happened to us, "they tell this newspaper. According to anyone from National Heritage, he has contacted them to inform them of the fact. Anyway, in TTI it is very strange that a non-xylophagous insect lodges in the wood. And the larva hypothesis takes consistency.

The event (without consequences) adds to fall and break a few days ago the Christ crucified by Titian, whose causes have not yet been clarified by the institution. Also in the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial. The large frame was detached from the wall by the poor condition of the anchor, from a height of five meters. The president of Patrimonio Nacional, Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán, assured EL PAÍS that "the canvas was anchored to the plaster and fastened by nails for many years". However, that painting was taken down and sent to the exhibition The Renaissance in Venice, of the Thyssen Museum, in June 2017.

The exhibition of the Rijksmuseum celebrates the 450th anniversary of the start of the conflict in the Flanders War and the work in question is "one of the few surviving images of the natural son of Charles V and the German Barbara Blomberg, stepbrother of Philip II and great architect of the victory of Lepanto ". The general and strategist wears on his chest the hallmark of the order of the Golden Fleece. A lion, domesticated, appears at his feet.

The other John of Austria

The portrait, which follows the tradition of royal representation, shows a formula similar to that of Alonso Sánchez Coello, combining the portrait of the majestic majesty with the depth of the psychological study of the model. The result is a solemn and imposing presence and a meticulous study of the quality of the clothing and its accessories (something typical of the Flemish school). In fact, the other portrait of Juan de Austria -painted by Sánchez Coello, in 1567- belongs to National Heritage and is located in the Monastery of the Descalzas Reales. In this he appears armed and with an incipient beard, which further underlines his puberty. "His ability in the military field is reflected in the energy with which he holds the sword with his left hand", can be read in the catalog of the exhibition The portrait in the royal collections, three years ago.

In 1632 Velázquez ironizó with the figure of Juan de Austria (1545-1578) when portraying a jester and put his name. He places a baton, drops the armor on the ground and, in the background, there is a naval battle in allusion to Lepanto. The Sevillian painter offers the viewer a subtle game to distinguish the limits between reality and fiction, between myth and history. The last referring to Juan de Austria that has the Prado is the painting of Eduardo Rosales, entitled Presentation of Don Juan de Austria to Emperor Charles V, at Yuste, dated 1869, and which portrays the moment when the illegitimate son – about ten years old – of the emperor arrives at the monastery where his father has gone to die. In his testament, Carlos V dictated that from that moment Jerónimo will happen to be called Juan de Austria, giving him recognition like member of the real family.


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