Masterpieces arrive in Australia
Drawn from one of the world’s most celebrated collections, Italian Masterpieces from Spain’s Royal Court, Museo del Prado will feature over 100 works produced between the 16th and 18th centuries.
Italian Masterpieces from Spain’s Royal Court, Museo del Prado is a highly anticipated exhibition being displayed at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) from 16 May until 31 August 2014. It includes 70 paintings, many measuring over 3 metres, and more than 30 exquisite drawings.
“The exhibition is very important for Victoria and it is not going anywhere else. It has come straight here from Spain and will go straight back to the Prado after the exhibition,” says Minister for the Arts, Heidi Victoria.
“An exhibition like this shows how highly regarded the NGV is, not only in Australia but in the world. Prado has never travelled this exhibition before, so we are really fortunate to have it here. Many of the pieces have never left the country. I think it really is testament to the work that NGV director Tony Ellwood and his team do. The NGV is the 24th most visited gallery in the world. It has developed a great reputation far and wide,” she adds.
The Italian Masterpieces exhibition has been a long time in the making. It is the result of relationships between the NGV and Museo del Prado which have been developed over the course of several years.
With so many of the artworks measuring over 3 metres, the logistics of getting the exhibition to NGV was also a mammoth task that required much thought and consideration. “Logistically it is very difficult,” says Ms Victoria. “The pieces had to be transported in climate controlled crates. Because they are so old, they needed to be kept at the correct temperature and humidity. Even getting pieces this size through some of the gallery doors at the NGV is very difficult.”
Approximately one third of the artworks were restored especially for this exhibition. “They are in incredible condition, like they were painted yesterday,” Ms Victoria adds.
In celebration of Italian Masterpieces, renowned Melbourne restaurateur and patron of the arts, Ronnie Di Stasio (pictured left), has installed a larger than life representation of an artwork being featured at this exhibition in one of his iconic venues, Bar Di Stasio.
Ronnie has chosen to display a print of an artwork titled Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence by Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera, who had spent time living and working in Italy. Owned by NGV, the original oil on canvas was completed between 1620 and 1624, and measures over 2 metres wide.
“Anything Italian that comes to Australia really interests me, so I knew I wanted to do something to represent the event,” says Ronnie. “I have created a cultural movement called Italianality. It is a brand that covers the café, the bar, the winery and other initiatives I am involved in. This sort of activity adds a new dimension to what I do.”
Ronnie initially had a discussion with Ms Victoria and Tony Ellwood to decide what he wanted to do, and that is how it all began. “Tony is very gracious and humble. He keeps thanking me for promoting the exhibition, but the honour and privilege is all mine. I knew Prado had a great exhibition and these Renaissance paintings really interest me.”
Ms Victoria also praised Ronnie for his work in helping to promote the exhibition. “Ronnie is one of those cultural icons of Melbourne. He is everything Italian. He lives Italian and breathes Italian, and the Italian community are very lucky to have him. Ronnie is also very generous. When he heard about the exhibition, he said he wanted to promote it – and he has done this out of the goodness of his heart.”
Ronnie decided to develop a centrepiece for the Italian Masterpieces exhibition, which now forms a stunning backdrop at Bar Di Stasio. Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence was chosen by Ronnie, together with graphic designer David Pidgeon and NGV’s head of marketing, Jane Zantuck. This piece “was an instant decision”, says Ronnie.
“NGV came out to view the space and arrange the installation of appropriate lighting. I am not an expert in art and I don’t claim to be. I didn’t want to just hang the piece as if it were a poster. It had to be showcased professionally and properly. It was really exciting to have NGV staff and curators involved in setting this up.”
Professional lighting was also installed to illuminate a second print displayed in the front window of Bar Di Stasio. It is of a famous piece by Italian artist Raphael called Holy Family with Saint John or Madonna of the Rose. Ronnie describes it as priceless. “I don’t think you can put a value on this Raphael.”
To mark the opening of Italian Masterpieces, Ronnie also hosted a cocktail party attended by the directors of Museo del Prado and NGV. This will be followed with an exclusive invitation-only closing event.
“There really is something in this exhibition for everybody, whether they are an art enthusiast or just learning. Italian Masterpieces is also great from a cultural point of view. It appeals to people with a love of the history of art, but also anybody with a love of history in general because it shows what was going on in the Spanish courts at the time,” says Ms Victoria.
“This and other cultural activity at NGV and around Victoria generates $11.5 billion a year and keeps many people employed. The arts are a big contributor to our state.”
Italian 1703-1766, worked in Spain 1753-62
Allegory of Justice and Peace (Allegoria della Giustizia e della Pace) c.1753–54
Oil on canvas 216.0 x 325.0 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
(P00104) Spanish Royal Collection
Photography courtesy of National Gallery of Victoria and David Pidgeon