September 28, 2011

Architectural Paintings Exhibit at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Fundacion Caja Madrid

Exhibition: Architectural Paintings. From Renaissance to 18th Century Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Fundacion Caja Madrid
Curators: Delfin Rodriguez and Mar Borobia, 18 October 2011 - 22 January 2012

Architectural Paintings. From Renaissance to 18th Century at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Fundacion Caja Madrid in Spain comprise a group of more than 140 paintings from the Renaissance to the 18th century that depict buildings and cities, either as the principal motif or as the background for the depiction of other subjects. The exhibition will aim to show the visiting public the development of these architectural motifs or settings and the wide range of issues that contributed to the independence of the genre in the 18th century.


Attributed to Girolamo Da Cotignola (Girolamo Marchesi) (Cotignola, 1470/1480 – Roma, 1531), Vista de une ciudad, 1520
View of a City, 1520 – 67 x 50 cm
Pinacoteca Nazionale, Ferrara

Painted buildings were one of  the options  chosen by numerous artists  to emphasize  the scenes  and  episodes  depicted  in  their  paintings,  among  them  leading  painters  from  the Mediterranean world and northern Europe between the 14th and 18th centuries including Duccio di Buoninsegna, Canaletto, Giovanni Paolo Panini, Tintoretto, Gaspar van Wittel, Hubert Robert, Maerten van Heemskerck and Hans Vredeman de Vries. Curated by Delfín Rodríguez,  Senior  Professor  of Art History  at  the Universidad  Complutense, Madrid,  and Mar Borobia, Chief Curator of Old Master Painting at the Museo Thyssen‐Bornemisza, the exhibition brings  together works by  these  renowned artists, with outstanding  loans from private collections and museums around the world, among them Musei Vaticani, National Gallery of Art (Washington), Galleria degli Uffizi, Museo del Prado and Patrimonio Nacional. 

By  including  architectural  motifs  in  their  works,  artists  established  the  setting  for  the movement or position of the figures and provided them with a context that was credible in spatial, visual, historical, mythical,  legendary and imaginary terms. In addition, such works could become innovative painted architectural projects or eloquent fragments of structures that steered the viewer’s emotions and the narrative thread through the use of walls, windows etc. The  link between the painting of buildings and cities with travelling is another key theme in this exhibition, as is an analysis of the architectural ideas and solutions that these artists frequently presented in their works. 

Behind their apparent objectivity, painted structures – cities, palaces, temporary constructions, ruins and designs – conceal symbols, recollections, or forms of political and religious propaganda, in some cases of considerable complexity. The works of these artists, who became increasingly specialised, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, responded to demand from the religious and political authorities and from intellectuals. On occasions they painted fantastical buildings inspired by ancient and modern travellers’ accounts or by religious or secular texts. These were backdrops and buildings charged with sacred or political resonances and symbolism, transformed into expressions of wealth and luxury, eulogies of particular individuals, emblems of cities or nations or recollections or exaltations of triumphs and journeys or visits. In other cases these artists painted buildings under construction or ones contemporary with the painting, introducing the very process of building into the representation: machines, tools, workmen, etc. They also painted ruins, which in the case of religious scenes such as the Nativity or the Adoration of the Magi, referred to the destruction of a pagan past over which the “new  architecture” of Christianity arose. Similarly, the depiction of the classical architectural orders symbolised the new order of Humanism.

Painted buildings and settings were soon incorporated into the theory of representational systems, particularly those of perspective and architectural theory. Painting and architecture and their respective idioms thus began to express inherent tensions and conflicts through works that moved from painting to architecture and from planned or built architecture to painting. To paint buildings was a form of designing them and, conversely, to design and build them was a way of painting and adorning  the world, including the world represented on the two‐dimensional surface of the canvas. 

The exhibition is structured both chronologically and thematically. The first part, on display at the Museo Thyssen‐Bornemisza, spans the 14th to the 17th centuries, a period in which the painting of buildings and city views was considered a minor genre but in which these elements frequently appeared as the backgrounds to religious, historical and mythological scenes. The depiction of such elements would become increasingly important until it triumphed as an independent genre in the 18th century, which is the subject of the second partof the exhibition in the exhibition  space of Fundación Caja Madrid. It includes works by the great masters of the vedute, landscapes with ruins, capriccios etc.

Exhibition catalogue "Arquitecturas pintadas" published in Spanish.

Thyssen‐Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
Caja Madrid Fundacion

Paseo del Prado 8
28014 Madrid, Espana