The Artist

JOSÉ DE MADRAZO (1781-1859). Drawings
José de Madrazo y Agudo, the painter from Cantabria (1781-1859), is considered to be the great master of Spanish Neo-Classicism. He was one of the leading artists of his generation and the head of a long line of artists who decisively led the Spanish cultural scene for several generations in the 19th century. Following his initial steps as an artist in Madrid and thanks to a stipend from King Charles IV of Spain, José was taken on as a pupil by the French Neo-Classical master, Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). Madrazo thus played a decisive role in Spanish art of his time, as he imported the new French Neo-Classical style and was the main agent of its Spanish adaptation, to the point that it became the language for success among his elite clientele, helped by his extraordinary influence and power at Court. His social and artistic influence was already huge during the reign of King Ferdinand VII of Spain, after his return from Rome, where he had served the King’s parents in exile, but above all thanks to his role at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where he soon became one of its leading teachers.

Madrazo drove the reform of the classical language introduced by Mengs at the Academy following the Davidian dictates from an eclectic and moderate position. This impregnated the whole personal ideology of the artist and enabled total permeability of the Romantic current into academic doctrines. However, the fame of his work and, above all, his social skills, led to huge benefits that put him far more in the spotlight than his fellow artists. All the Spanish monarchs, from Charles IV to Isabella II of Spain – and their Courts – were delighted to sit for him and he soon became the mainly authority of the courtly artistic setting of that time, which played a key role in the transition of style from the Ancient to the New Regime.

José de Madrazo’s artistic career, well defined after the exhibition that Fundación Botín held of his work in 1998, has been noted up to now for turning his history paintings into one of the lynchpins of his artistic prestige and with greatest political significance. Nevertheless, his portrait work was the cornerstone of his professional work throughout his career, against his own wishes. That exhibition shared nearly all the small corpus of drawings known at the time. They revealed, in small dimensions, the different interests of the artist and were, on a small scale, the largest set of preliminary drawings gathered together up until then of a Spanish Neo-Classical painter.

The discovery of a spectacular collection of over four hundred drawings attributed to José de Madrazo in the possession of his descendants in 2006, which would be moved from some old satchels forgotten in an attic to become part of the Museo del Prado collections, was an absolute revolution for Spanish History of Art of that time and the opportunity to assess the true intellectual and artistic dimension of José de Madrazo. In this magnificent set of works, mainly from his time in Rome, the drawing is shown to be José’s most faithful work tool for his known pictorial production and it also provides valuable evidence of some of the artistic projects that he had in mind but never accomplished. Through his strokes on paper, he gave vent to his most sincere artistic and intellectual concerns and his interest in reproduction techniques such as engraving and lithography. His approach to genres that it seems he never dared to broach in painting, as was the case with his landscapes, is as surprising as his earnest interest in studying botany or anatomy treatises, which expanded the logic and established study of sculpted models of classic antiquity, an inherent feature coherent with his clear Neoclassical identity.

José de Madrazo’s education began in Santander, the city where he was born on 22 April 1781, as he first attended classes at the Nautical Institution of the Real Consulado. Shortly afterwards, in 1797, he would move to Madrid, to the Real Academia de San Fernando. There, he trained under Gregorio Ferro (1742-1812), the Spanish disciple of the painter Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779). Ferro had already inspired the young Madrazo to appreciate and value classical models as the supreme artistic benchmark, which he had learnt from the Bohemian master. In 1800, Madrazo sought a stipend to complete his studies in Paris, where he went under the patronage of Charles IV the following year. He immediately began to study directly under David, a contact that would completely condition his artistic identity and turn him into the crowning and most successful Spanish Davidian painter. There, his training would be deeply connected to the Greco-Latin tradition where the academic process, based on drawing, was instrumental. Furthermore, during his time in Paris, Madrazo began to study the antiquities not only through the pieces in the museums and collections that he could access, but also through the die-casts and engravings that circulated through Europe. Moreover, following on from this Parisian experience, José’s interests underwent a permanent shift to a markedly erudite style, inspired by the readings of the classics of Greek and Roman literature and history, and very attentive artistically to the sculptural model of Antiquity.

In the summer of 1803, Madrazo left Paris and moved to Rome, where he would succeed in setting himself up as a painter. The Eternal City was the perfect setting to delve further into the direct study of the classical antiquities and the fact that it was a capital city where arts thrived, made it easier to befriend some of the leading artists of his time, such as the Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) or the French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), which would be a determining factor for his future and ensured he mixed in international circles.

Even though it seems the first production on paper of the artist was destroyed in 1808, according to his own account, the new collection of the Museo del Prado contains a long series of drawings related to José’s artistic interests, which were specifically focused on copying models as part of his training. This was considered to be fundamental by the Neo-Classical academic culture and was both a study process by the artist himself and a learning method for his disciples and students, which would so concern him throughout his life and to which he dedicated a good part of his endeavours. Thus, particularly noteworthy are the sculptural copies of some of the works that became iconic during Neo-Classicism, such as the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon, as essential part of the demand for classical culture, and that from the moment they arrived in London were the standard bearers for the mythologized Greek artistic past. José would study classical statutes throughout his life using the originals, die-casts or taken from engravings or other drawings.

On the other hand, among José’s portfolio, a highly interesting series of drawings and counter drawings of a certain size were found that replicate the ecorché anatomical charts of a treatise. They are assumed to be drawn by José himself and reveal a clear vocation for personal learning and for teaching – which would confirm the fact that further copies remain that were produced by some of his immediate followers–, as during his years in Paris he attended the pictorial anatomical classes Jean-Joseph Sue, a court doctor (1760-1830), taught at the Musée du Louvre.

Furthermore, during his years in Rome, José would unusually learn etching, developing a technique that was highly characteristic as regards the style, with the strong strokes and highly intense features that was transmitted to some of his drawings and which he would no longer use after he left Rome, preferring lithography.

Portraits accounted for much of José de Madrazo’s pictorial work. Even though he had sporadically produced this genre from the start of his career, it was not until his stay in Italy, and above all coinciding with the Napoleonic invasion of Rome, when the artist would turn his attention to this genre professionally. He used his own stylistic resources of the international style that prevailed in the city during the Napoleonic era and thus shaped his first robust portrait models. From then onwards and until his death, he dedicated many hours working on that style and over the years became one of the artists that introduced the new Romantic traits into this genre.

The portraits capturing his models exactingly in profile in the strictly Neo-Classical fashion, as in the Roman reliefs that Madrazo so eagerly studied, stand out among his earliest drawings in this genre. Thus, in the drawings produced with astonishing neat and accurate strokes, José reveals some of his most trusted models during his stay in Italy, who were friends or perhaps clients, with whom he could produce a portrait model with an international feel and which, however, was not particularly acclaimed in Spain.

Some of his Italian drawings were the seeds of etching portraits or even painted compositions and others had validity in their own rights, as mere portraits on paper. Some examples of them have also survived in the museums and private collections and they testify to their autonomous value due to the fine degree of completion: drawn in the style of the portraits on paper that his friend Ingres produced during his stay in Italy, some were for commissions, but the majority were approached with the simplicity of an affectionate flattery, which would become an artistic souvenir of his closest circle of friends in Rome, consisting of painters, musicians and other figures from the artistic scene. They are works that José would keep or would sometimes give as gifts to his models. The fact that the subjects would, usually, belong to his circle, or that they were his acquaintances from Paris or Madrid, clearly explains that Madrazo used this technique and took great care with them, but at the same time allowed himself a certain freedom to highlight the intensity of those images. Thus, the subjects of his portraits include fellow pupils during his time with David, as is the case of Jean-Baptiste Wicar (1762-1834), or other recipients of the royal stipends of Charles IV of Spain, including the famous singer from Madrid Isabel Colbrand (1785-1845), wife of the musician Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868), or admired friends such as the German painters, Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839) and Johann Christian Reinhart (1761-1847).

Along with the portraits on paper that could stand alone as works, other drawings show the painstaking preparation methods that José dedicated to his painted portraits, parallel to those that he applied to the figures of his great historical paintings. Some very valuable testimonies of those careful processes have survived. The intense and extremely delicate study of hands for portraits provides a good idea of the care bestowed by the master from Cantabria on the details of his production.

Some of those preliminary drawings for portraits, practically unknown up until today, have an extraordinary historical value. In Rome, José had come across King Charles IV and his wife, who would spend their days in the exile to which they had been banished by their own son, King Ferdinand VII of Spain. This circumstance, together with the loyalty that Madrazo would always profess to the King that had been his patron, gave the artist the opportunity to become the favourite portrait painter of that court in exile and gradually, one of the painters that most worked in its service at that time. One of his greatest artistic successes would be in Rome, when he unveiled a couple of full-size portraits of the two monarchs seated at the Accademia di San Luca, works that are now believed to be lost. However, the Prado has an outstanding study of the face of Queen Maria Luisa of Parma, which was most likely used to prepare that work. This portrait of the Queen is one of the most intense and sincere depictions of the old face of the wife of Charles IV of Spain, just six years prior to her death, which is a dignified portrayal but without hiding the traces of the passing of time. This pastel drawing is one of the very few examples of José's use of this technique, which he reserved for the studies for his most important commissions. Along with this pastel, there is another delicate drawing of her arms (limbs the queen was particularly proud of) also produced as a preliminary work for the aforementioned unknown seated portrait, and therefore particularly valuable and significant.

Another of the highly important historical works arising from his position at the Spanish court exiled in Rome, and which also is of an extraordinarily artistic uniqueness, is the small and delicate allegorical portrait that José de Madrazo painted of the I Countess of Castillo Fiel, Josefa Tudó. The portrait features her as Diana together with Manuel and Luis, the two sons that she had by Manual Godoy, Prince of the Peace and favourite of the Monarchs. A completely unknown work whose preparatory drawing, kept in the collections of the Prado (and which had previously not been identified), shows a dizzying speed of execution that contrasts with the enamelled delicateness of the painting finishes. This small portable image, which is an extraordinary iconographic and artistic new approach to the image of the extramarital relation of this royal favourite, was for a private and intimate purpose, which would encourage the painter to dare to show the model baring a breast in the final work that is covered up in the preliminary drawing. It ties in with the sophisticated iconography of the royal favourite himself as the patron of archaeology and expert on the classical world produced by Madrazo in a pictorial portrait that is now in the safekeeping of the Real Academia de San Fernando, together with another canvas of Tudó against a landscape.

A logical consequence of his dedication to the portrait taken as a modern genre, José de Madrazo produced caricatures as the scathing other side of his flattering style in the commissioned portraits; a custom that, as a family trait, his son Federico would inherit and sometimes obscure with tongue-in-cheek hieroglyphics or inscriptions in code. Rather than social criticism or political scenes, José always preferred to satirise the physical appearance of the people around them, emphasising with great sense of humour and irony the anatomical unique characteristics that he could observe with his astuteness as a portrait painter.

José de Madrazo is mostly known for his monumental History paintings. Conceived as large Neo-Classical machines that would enshrine him as one of the most influential artists of his generation in Spain, he would have wanted to devote his time solely to them. It is precisely in the development of his Historical paintings, which are clearly revealing of his political commitments at a crucial time in the History of Europe, where his training with David can best be seen. These compositions can be used to estimate the importance of the models of his master, along with others such as those of Poussin and those of Flaxman, who were key artists for Madrazo’s imaginary. Furthermore, the surviving drawings of them provide us with clues to the meticulous study process for each one, which is now exposed in great detail, thanks to the recent finding and identification of the preliminary drawings sets linked to his most important Historical works.

The individualised analysis of the figures, the assessment and analysis of the idealised nude and inspired by the prior study of Roman statutes, the observing of the drapery and the background, together with the general preliminary approach as a progressive and standardised process, are the characteristics of Madrazo’s powerful drawings for his History paintings.

The most famous of all the history paintings produced by José de Madrazo throughout his career was The Death of Viriatus, King of the Lusitani, a monumental canvas that is today in the Museo del Prado and whose subject-matter was surely the first Neo-Classical depiction that set in Roman Hipania. Painted in Rome in 1807, it was conceived as the preamble of a series of scenes that would evoke the resistance of the peoples of the peninsula to domination by Hispania, in clear parallel to the political situation of Napoleon with respect to the reign of Charles IV of Spain, for whom the painting was produced. Even though he did not finish any of the other canvases that would have made up the series of paintings of that ambitious set, the work enjoyed extraordinary luck from its arrival at Madrid under Ferdinand, and was deemed to be a vivid scene that vindicated the Spanish fight for independence from the invading government. Produced with great care due to the importance of its standpoint, detailed preliminary drawings have survived of its figures and of some of the drapery that bear witness to the dedicated observation process used by José, along with a magnificent sketch in oil that enables the initial state of the work to be reconstructed perfectly in line with the drawing modellino. Thus, while he created a highly dynamic image in the drawing, where the encampment in the background is highly developed, the contained and iconic approach was already to be found in the painted version which he transferred to the painting.

On 28 January 1812, in the Rome under Napoleon, Madrazo signed a contract where he undertook to deliver a monumental painting 2.7 metres high x 7.2 metres wide. The work was to be painted in tempera and would have to depict the fight of the Greeks against the Trojans to recover the body of Patroclus, a theme taken from the Illiad. This painting was to become the main decorative feature of one of the panels in the room for Empress Maria Luisa of Austria, the second wife of Napoleon, in his Roman residence of the Quirinale Palace. The huge responsibility of that decorative feature, that he shared with some of the best artists in Rome at that time, such as Luigi Agricola, Giacomo Conca and Ingres himself, his fellow pupil at David’s atelier (who painted his famous The Triumph of Romulus over Acron) was an unrivalled opportunity for Madrazo to assert himself as one of the best placed artists in the Eternal City. He therefore did not hesitate to take part in the creation of that set, despite having been shortly before imprisoned in the Castel Sant’Angelo for his loyal support to the legitimacy of the Bourbons to the Spanish throne, which meant that he refused to swear an oath of allegiance to Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain.

The Museo del Prado has an abundant set of preliminary drawings that have survived and they reveal how the finished painting would have looked, as today its whereabouts are unknown, which makes them particularly valuable. Special mention should be made of the ink wash modellino, which should be considered as the most similar state to the final result of the painted composition. It is known to have been eye catching thanks to its strident colours. Along with it, some of José’s most beautiful drawings of male nudes have survived. The nudes are studied using different techniques, particularly including those using red and black chalk, and white crayon, which provide certain naturalism to the anatomical treatment of the figures mixed with the genuine monumental nature of their origin, revealing the final destination of those models.

In 1815, after King Ferdinand VII came to the throne, Santander City Council appointed José de Madrazo as mayor in absentia due to his loyalty to the Bourbon legitimate claim to the throne. In that same year, the artist turned his sights on the main events that happened in the city during the Peninsular War to depict them on a canvas for the assembly room at the town hall. Thus, in 1816, the City Council asked him to depict the taking of the oath by Captain Emeterio Velarde, together with some militia and other local residents of Santander, to defend with their lives the city’s standard until all the French were expelled. Shortly afterwards, the painter himself offered Ferdinand VII a second larger version of the same canvas, about which we only knew up until now that he spent two years working on it.

The set of drawings in the safekeeping of the Museo del Prado includes two very similar works for this project that are the iconographical depiction of the historical event in two slightly different versions, that the painter would also set in Santander's former Old Square. They can be identified with the two versions of that same subject-matter that Madrazo produced for the City Council and for the King, respectively. Previously unpublished, they are the paradoxical adaptation of the artistic model of the revolutionary oath coined by David in the Oath of the Horatii to the anti-Napoleon political message prevalent in Ferdinand's Spain.

Perhaps the most surprising find of all the drawings related to José de Madrazo’s historical paintings belonging to the bulk donated to the Museo del Prado is, undoubtedly, the one related to the Numancia painting. Despite being part of the Museo del Prado’s collection, this work could not be identified as such due to the lack of any artistic information on it. Thanks to the huge stack of preliminary drawings for that painting donated to the museum, it could be accurately established as the last great historical canvas that Madrazo produced.

Conceived in Rome for Charles IV as part of the series of scenes depicting the heroic resistance of the Spanish people against the invader to which the Viriato painting belongs, the painting would not be completed then and Madrazo would go back to it many years later. He would even redraw many of the figures of his composition when, back in Madrid, the political poetry under Ferdinand had turned Numancia into the favourite historical blueprint of Spanish guerrilla resistance that expelled the Napoleonic invaders. The final canvas was unfinished at the death of the painter, even though it provides an accurate idea of Madrazo’s artistic endeavour until the end of his life.

Madrazo’s main achievements occurred when he produced historical paintings in the Davidian style, yet the artist from Cantabria was very aware of the latest international trends right up to the end of his life. He was one of the first Spanish artists to adapt, despite his age and his good social standing, to the Romantic desire to hark back to medieval history. Aware of the emotional power of the budding Romantic painting, that combined gothic traditions with the expression of transcendental and dramatic feelings related to the vindication of the idea of Nation, he would not only embrace this new aesthetics passionately towards the end of his working life, but would also encourage the youngest generations of painters to embrace it, by means of patronage through projects designed to be produced in that style.

José dedicated much of his artistic endeavours in Rome to depicting mythological episodes and allegorical figures, reflecting his classical learning, for different purposes. A large number of drawings have been unearthed that reveal those endeavours, which were used for murals and etchings or even canvases. The allegorical paintings include some of his most famous works, such as Eternal Happiness, painted for one of the ceilings of the Sant’Alessio chapel of Charles IV, on the Aventine Hill of Rome, or what seems to be an allegorical composition of Drawing crowned over the other Arts, an academic penchant that is proof of the pre-eminence of design as the supreme and original source of artistic creation.

Given his mentality shaped in the midst of the Neo-Classical culture, José de Madrazo also used mythological and allegorical subject matters with a clear moralising message, which is in line with the desire for moral reform that underpinned the Davidian ideology. However, many of them are conceived for decorative purposes that rarely need complex compositions, to be used for engravings and apparently linked to illustrating literary landscapes.

The landscape timidly appears among the few Madrazo’s drawings discovered so far, due to the scant time he spent on it and was the result of gratifying experiences of contemplating nature or as unusual vistas and city notes, sketched in a travel journal with no specific artistic aim. Yet, the set of vistas hoarded by the artist's descendants and that are now being unearthed surprisingly reveal that the landscape must be one of the aspects on which he focused during the years he spent in Italy, both due to their quantity and their importance and monumentality.

The fact that during his long stay in Rome, he developed a close friendship with Johann Christian Reinhart, the famous Bavarian landscape artist (1761-1847) whose portrait he depicted on several occasions in pen and ink, paint and as etchings, must have deeply influenced his interest in the genre. Through the work of his dear friend, he personally embraced that artistic experience with an artistic language that is extremely similar to that of that German master.
Even though it is not known whether Madrazo ever painted any stand-alone landscape, it is obvious that he spent much time studying the genre on paper using different drawing techniques, until he managed to capture the monumentality of Rome not only through its classical antiquities, but also by means of spectacular panoramic ‘vistas’ of some of its best landscapes, directly converging with the classical landscape approach of rigorous urban planning. In these works, exhibited for the first time here, he did not hesitate to intervene on the real profiles of the buildings and of the very geography to transform them, creating ideal landscapes that represent a Rome that does not exist outside the imagination of José de Madrazo.