Here follows a report by Dr Encarna Montero Tortajada, a post-doctoral researcher from Valencia, who in 2015 was awarded a £3000 scholarship to conduct research in the UK.
From the 7th of January 2016, I spent forty days in London conducting research on Spanish art in the United Kingdom, thanks to an ARTES scholarship granted last year. The first week was almost entirely consecrated to preparing the talk “Architectural Practice in Spain, 1370-1450: Documents, Drawings and Historiography”, delivered on the 18th of January at the Courtauld Institute. After that, I conducted my research in the Warburg Library and in the Courtauld Library, where I found new and very useful papers about several historiographical problems within my field of academic interests. Moreover, the stay was a superb opportunity to attend lectures and seminars related to medieval art, for example Mary Carruthers’ seminar on the Art of Invention in Cambridge (“Vividness, Evidence, Proof: the Role of Visions”), and Lina Bolzoni’s talk about Memory Palaces in the Renaissance at the Courtauld Institute. Besides, I was kindly invited by Nicola Jennings and Tom Nickson to join their lessons in the V&A about Spanish Medieval Art and Gothic architectural drawings, respectively. I could visit, too, the medieval collections of the British Museum and the National Gallery, and prominent architectural monuments such as Ely Cathedral and Saint Alban’s Abbey. Furthermore, in addition to the aforementioned scholars, I met researchers as Susie Nash, Barry Taylor, Rose Walker and Kirstin Kennedy, who all gave me sound advice about my work.
The main focus of my research in London was the altarpiece of Saint George (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1217-1864), an exceptional work of art and very well preserved. The piece was bought in Paris art market in 1864, and was said to have been removed from a church of Valencia. Little more is known about its original context. In order to discover more about the circumstances of its purchase, I reviewed the files referring to Saint George’s Altarpiece in the Prints and Drawings Study Room of the V&A, as well as other documents lent by the Conservation Department of the Museum. Key information was provided by Blythe House Archives, particularly the files of Sir John Charles Robinson, John Webb and Juan Facundo Riaño. Robinson’s words on the altarpiece put its acquisition into context: Spanish medieval art had begun to be greatly appreciated in France and Britain ca. 1864, partly because of the influence of the French Empress, and partly because of the 19th century’s love affair with the exoticism of Southern Europe. Robinson’s voyages to Spain testify to this allure (exemplified by the V&A’s cast of El Pórtico de la Gloria ). Webb was summoned
by Robinson to examine the Altarpiece of Saint George, and his diagnosis was key: the piece was deemed worthy of its asking price. The reports of Juan Facundo Riaño, who wasn’t directly involved in the issue, reveal also a whole world of antique dealers, painters, diplomats and connoisseurs operating in Spain. The reading of bibliography related to the art market in mid 19th-century Europe completed this survey of the vicissitudes of the Saint George Altarpiece. I hope that the outcome of this research will be published soon in a forthcoming paper.