Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Collectors: Cerralbo Museum & Museum Lázaro Galdiano

10/04/11, 10/05/11
In the U.S. today, many of us feel overwhelmed by inanimate objects.  Witness the scolding television show Clean Sweep, or the horror stories of Hoarding: Buried Alive.  We’ve developed a narrative of simplification, exhorting us to jettison clothes we haven’t worn in the past year, to discard one item for every new thing we bring into our home, to re-purpose the attic storage space as a meditation room.  The modern aesthetic craves clean lines, and I hasten to agree in theory—it’s much easier to dust an empty sideboard.

Then again, it’s easy to accumulate when you have servants to do the dusting for you.  The seventeenth Marqués of Cerralbo, don Enrique de Aguilera (1845-1922) and the financier/publisher/art critic José Lázaro Galdiano (1862-1947) were both avid collectors of fine objects: paintings, books, arms and armor, ceramics, bronzes, antiquities…the list is long.  The aristocrat Cerralbo inherited wealth, while Galdiano made it and then married into more.  Each man sported the whiskers of a Victorian gentleman, built a mansion in Madrid around the turn of the twentieth century to hold his treasures, and later gave everything to the nation of Spain. 

The Marques of Cerralbo
The Cerralbo Museum (calle de Ventura Rodríguez, 17) preserves the original decor of the 1893 mansion as it looked in Cerralbo’s day.  In his bedroom, we can see the stylish chair in which Cerralbo expired in 1922.  The main staircase was built to impress, and it does.  The art collections are displayed throughout the rooms and hallways, but the function of each room, from billiard to ballroom, is clear.  The moviemaking team of Merchant and Ivory could begin filming a period drama tomorrow.  Lovely chandeliers of Venetian Murano glass adorn the ballroom and several other living spaces.  Their pastel colors, delicate flowers and airy glitter provide visual relief from the heavy, ornate furniture and draperies.  We get a peek at a powder room just off the ballroom, and another bathroom with a massive marble bathtub, a rare amenity for the time. There is no spigot, and one wonders how the hot water was provided.  (In fact, the only glaring omission from this museum is the servants’ quarters—the folks responsible for all that dusting).

Lazaro Galdiano
By contrast, the Museum Lázaro Galdiano (calle Serrano, 122) has remodeled the former living spaces of the 1903 building into four floors of galleries.  Like Cerralbo, Galdiano collected fine examples of just about everything.  From a church that was being remodeled—much to Galdiano’s dismay—he rescued the towering XV c. choir stall seat of the Count of Urgell, carved in oak and walnut.  There are paintings from the XV to the XIX century, including the artists Goya, El Greco, Velazquez, Bosch, Boltraffio (from the Milanese circle of Da Vinci), and Brueghel the Younger.  Even British artists make an appearance: Lely, Reynolds, Romney, Stuart and Constable.  Boltraffio’s Young Christ (1490-95), pictured below, has a haunted expression, and is painted in a style that closely resembles Da Vinci’s.  I was surprised to find here Brueghel’s mid-XVII c. painting The Animals Entering Noah’s Ark—a reproduction of this very picture has been thumbtacked to my garage wall in Wisconsin for years. 

Young Christ (1490-95)
After his wife Paula Florido died, Galdiano continued to travel the world, collecting and exhibiting his finds.  He lived in Paris and New York following the Spanish Civil War, and returned to Madrid in 1945.  On the top floor of the museum is a collection of rare textile fragments, some from as early as XIV c. (Granada), showing the influence of Moorish design. On the ground floor we can gawk at Paula’s jewels.  Her modern-looking lariat necklace by Cartier, with two huge diamonds, is the cat’s meow.  I’d gladly dust it. 

1 comment:

  1. "all that dusting" Here is a link to the dusting of a 21st Century Chihuly chandelier in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.