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A tribute to Ian Robertson, by Susan Wilson

Susan Wilson’s copy of Robertson’s Blue Guide to Spain

Susan Wilson writes:

I have a dog eared copy of Robertson’s Blue Guide to Spain which I bought in 1977. I had hitchhiked around Spain in 1976 for three months curious to see what was happening to the country-after the death of Franco. I was 25 and interested in politics.

Many journeys followed, always with the Blue Guide. I would read it aloud to my companions, in a tent in Toledo or a pension, at night, in simple plain rooms devoid of tv, radio, or devices! We would laugh at hilarious, indignant passages where he expressed himself in trenchant terms. Here he is, noting that ‘although Spain no longer admits to being a police state, the police are still very much in evidence…’

‘In the countryside, where they now serve little purpose, the ubiquitous olive green uniformed Guardia Civil, always patrolling in pairs (and known familiarly as “La Pareja”, the couple) wearing incongruous but distinctive patent leather tricorn hats. Formed in 1844, members of this strong but singularly ineffective arm of the law, raised originally to combat rural banditry and who have since regularly intimidated rural peasantry, are seldom-officious, but are not invariably civil.’ He continues, ‘In addition…when students, Basques, crowds, demonstrations, or “Manifestations” may, in their opinion require “Supervision”… the autocratic police, recently designated “Policia Nacional”…in the process of changing from a grey uniform (when they were familiarly know as “grises”) to a brown (and already called “chocolate con porras”- the latter being a truncheon shaped fritter!). They also guard embassies, ministries, ministers, nervous capitalists, stations banks, etc. Some of them have met with violent death in recent anti-authoritarian disturbances.’ (p. 93 Blue Guide to Spain).

There is a wealth of excellent quotes from Richard Ford. Some years later I was given the three volume Handbook to Spain by Sir Brinsley Ford as part of The Richard Ford Award to Spain, but took Ian Robertson’s guide with me on the several journeys I made.

Mine is underlined, my routes marked on maps, as I followed the Guide along roads, hills and in unbearably slow forever stopping overnight trains. One, from Atocha to Granada one spring, where passengers in a compartment with eight seats told funny stories, mimed silly antics, and shared food and wine with us.

I wandered alone and with various companions to obscure churches and towns in Extremadura … and over bridges (the Alcantara bridge, Roman, still in use, was one).

Informative, scholarly and amusing, it remains a definitive guide although I am afraid that it is no longer in print and that publishers of guide books began to underestimate their readers’ appetite to see and understand a culture. Robertson made a huge contribution to the travellers’ understanding of Spain.

If you can find a copy, don’t part with it. Reading this in the pandemic is strongly recommended!

by Susan Wilson

Ian Robertson – Hispanophile and Richard Ford Scholar

Ian Robertson, who has died aged 92, embarked on a lifetime’s scholarship on Spain and a prodigious production of travel guides inspired by an unlikely combination of the Duke of Wellington’s campaigns in the Peninsular War and Richard Ford’s accounts of his Spanish journeys. He became a leading authority on both.

His Spanish interests led to a commission to write the Blue Guide to Spain. A succession of further Blue Guides followed on France, Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus, Austria and Switzerland, but his work on Spain, and especially Ford, remained his abiding passion and his crowning achievement.

In addition to several titles on Wellington’s campaigns, Robertson’s seminal work was the authoritative Los Curiosos Impertinentes about English travellers in Spain in the 18th and 19th centuries, which was published in Spanish in Madrid in 1977. Richard Ford, a major biography, was published in London in 2004. Along the way, he edited Ford’s Hand-Book for Travellers in Spain and Gatherings from Spain.

Richard Ford both inspired and informed him. “Time has not dimmed the scintillating perspicacity of Ford’s observations,” Robertson wrote.

Robertson’s own observations were equally masterful – combining waspish wit, artistic detail and encyclopedic knowledge – and even today it is a challenge to find a cloister or remote chapel that he had not visited and written about in his Blue Guide. The same is broadly true of all of his guides.

Robertson died in hospital from heart failure on 7 December 2020 in Arles which had been his home for the last 20 years.

Written by Gail Turner

María del Carmen Garrido Pérez, former Prado conservator, 1947-2020

María del Carmen Garrido Pérez was one of Spain’s leading conservators who specialised in the technical research and conservation of Spanish paintings from the 15th through to the 20th century. Having studied Art History at the Autonomous University of Madrid, where she was awarded her doctorate in 1979 with a thesis on the physical and chemical analysis of Hispano-Flemish paintings of the Renaissance, she went on to work from 1980 until 2015 at the Prado Museum’s Technical Documentation Office, which she headed from 1982. The result of her research and technical studies are the numerous books, articles and monographs, including: a technical study of Picasso’s Guernica (1981, in collaboration with María José Cabrera), and one of many technical publications on Velazquez in 1999. Over the years she also contributed to and collaborated with others in many exhibitions and participated in many associated conferences. In 2006 she collaborated with Gabriele Finaldi (now Director of the National Gallery in London) in the Prado’s exhibition El trazo oculto. Underlying drawings in 15th and 16th century paintings.

Text courtesy of Xanthe Brooke


Christmas in Puebla – a new album of 17th-century Mexican music

Please click here to buy the album, listen to a preview, or for more information

By the early 1620s – when Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla migrated from Cádiz to New Spain (modernday Mexico) in search of new horizons as a music director, composer and instrument-maker – the colony was an important and wealthy outpost of the Habsburg Empire, keen to maintain the religious and musical customs of its mother country. The cathedral of the young, thriving city of Puebla de los Ángeles was still a magnificent work in progress, but its music provision could already rival its European counterparts. Padilla stayed there for forty years, composing prolifically right up to his death in 1664, and had at his disposal a sizeable body of men and boys who not only sang but also played instruments – including guitars, sackbut, dulcian, and simple percussion such as the cajón.

Siglo de Oro’s programme explores the rich soundworld of this time and place: a sonic landscape ultimately quite different from the one Padilla had left behind in Europe. Evoking a Mass at Christmas Eve affords the opportunity to include a number of villancicos – energetic, dance-like pieces whose captivating mixture of Mexican, Afro-Hispanic and Portuguese influences would have invigorated even the most sober churchgoer.

The Maius Masterclass with Professor Susan Boynton, 31 July 2020, 4pm on Zoom

For the final event in the Maius Masterclass series, on Friday 31 July at 4pm, they are delighted to welcome Professor Susan Boynton (Columbia University). Susan’s research has focused on such topics as music in the Iberian peninsula, liturgy, manuscript studies, and intersections between music and the visual arts.

Please click here to register for the Zoom Webinar.

The series is kindly supported by a Hispanex Grant from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and SPAIN Arts & Culture/Embassy of Spain in London.

Museum Reopening Update: The Prado

Watch the installation of Reunited (6/6/20 – 13/9/20), as the Prado’s director, Miguel Falomir, discusses the exhibition on the museum’s Youtube channel

The Prado has reopened a quarter of its gallery space with Reunited, a new display of nearly 200 paintings from its permanent collection. The exhibition will run until 13 September 2020. The museum’s masterpieces are displayed in novel juxtapositions, offering a new perspective on the permanent collection. For example, for the first time Rubens’ 17th-century “Saturn Devouring His Son” will be adjacent to Francisco Goya’s depiction of the same subject, painted nearly 200 years later. See the Prado’s website for more details on the works included, the new pairings, and additional videos on the exhibition.

The Prado has reopened with a limited capacity of only 1,800 people per day, compared to 15,000 on peak days last year. Visitors will have to book at least 24 hours in advance, have their temperatures checked at the entrance, wear masks throughout the visit, and there will be markings on the floor to indicate safe distances. The museum’s finances remain a concern despite reopening. Ticket prices will be halved until September 13th, and as the museum receives approximately half its funding from ticket sales. Furthermore, foreign tourists usually represent 70-80% of its visitors. The director of the Prado, Miguel Falomir, plans to showcase the museum’s permanent collection, which will help lower costs. Like many in the art world, he is concerned about the sustainability of the expensive ‘blockbuster exhibition’ model, which relies on loans from international collections and includes high insurance costs. However, in an interview with AFP, Falomir ended on a positive note, stating ‘It will take a while, but tourists will once again fill up the museums’.

Information for this post was taken from AFP Relax News, Hoy es arte, and El Museo Nacional del Prado.

Watch online: The conservation of Prince Baltasar Carlos in the Riding School by the Studio of Velázquez at the Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection has produced a short documentary on the year-long process of the cleaning, restoration, and technical analysis of their painting, Prince Baltasar Carlos in the Riding School, by the Studio of Velázquez. This conservation and analysis was generously supported by the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica. More information about the project and the painting can be found in this Wallace Collection blog post.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Reopens with ‘Glory of Spain: Treasures from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library’, museums in Europe to follow?

Photo: Todd Spoth for The New York Times

The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas became the first major American museum to reopen earlier this week. Under the state government’s orders, the museum was allowed to open at 25% capacity with strict hygiene guidelines, including mandatory masks and temperature checks. As reported by the New York Times, first in the socially-distant line was nurse Joan Laughlin, who had come to see one of the museum’s current exhibitions, ‘Glory of Spain: Treasures from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library’.

The traveling exhibition focuses on the art of Spain, Portugal, Latin America, and the Philippines, and spans more than 4000 years. The 200 objects on loan from the Hispanic Society of America include paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, maps, textiles, porcelains and ceramics, and metalwork and jewelry. The exhibition is organized chronologically into six groups: Antiquity in Spain, Medieval Spain, Golden Age Spain, Viceregal and 19th-Century Latin America, Enlightenment in Spain, and Modern Spain.

This may mark the beginning of the post-lockdown era for cultural institutions in Europe. Museums in Madrid and Barcelona were also allowed to open at limited capacity from May 25th, and French museums will follow at the beginning of next week.