Treasures from the House of Alba Opens at The Frist


Featuring works by Dürer, Goya, Murillo, Renoir, Ribera, Rubens, and more from the splendid palaces of the Alba dynasty in Spain, Treasures from the House of Alba: 500 Years of Art and Collecting will be on exhibition at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts through May 1, 2016.

Co-organized by the Meadows Museum and the Casa de Alba Foundation, the exhibition brings together more than 130 works of art, dating from antiquity to the twentieth century, drawn from one of the oldest and most impressive private collections in Europe.

Exhibition highlights include masterpieces of Dutch, Flemish, German, Italian, and Spanish painting, such as Francisco Goya’s The Duchess of Alba in White (1795), along with four other major portraits by the great Spanish master, two of which will be on loan from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. Several Christopher Columbus documents will be on display, including his list of men who accompanied him on his 1492 Journey of Discovery and a drawing of the coastline of La Española (Hispaniola), the first island he encountered in the New World (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti).

The illuminated Alba Family Bible (finished in 1430) is one of the earliest known translations of the Old Testament from Hebrew into a Romance language. Prints and drawings, sculptures, historical documents, illuminated manuscripts, decorative objects, and tapestries provide further insight into the influential role of the Alba family in European history.

The House of Alba is one of the most prominent noble families with ties to the Spanish monarchy since the fifteenth century. “Today, the Alba name is most closely associated with the glamorous lifestyle of the 18th Duchess of Alba, doña Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, who died in 2014,” says Frist Center Curator Trinita Kennedy.

“Charismatic and vivacious, Cayetana was one of Spain’s best-known and most recognizable public figures. She was a lifelong champion of the arts and understood the historical significance of her family and its art collection.”

Through commissions, acquisitions, and dynastic marriages, the family’s dukes and duchesses have assembled a collection whose objects tell a story that extends beyond Spain to include many cultural developments that have shaped Europe. From Renaissance Italy to the Dutch Golden Age, and from the courtly splendor of the Baroque to the high ideals of the Enlightenment, the collection offers an extraordinary window into European history.

The exhibition curator is Dr. Fernando Checa Cremades, former director of the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, who also served as editor of the accompanying catalogue. The exhibition is organized in a manner that explains the historical development of the family and the collection from the end of the 15th century to the present day. Aside from selected works from other lenders such as the Prado Museum’s Goya portraits that were once part of the Alba collection, a majority of the objects in the exhibition originate from three of the splendid palaces that historically belong to the lineage.

The first of them is the Liria Palace in Madrid, an 18th-century building influenced by Parisian architectural styles that was severely damaged during the Spanish Civil War and rebuilt under the 17th Duke of Alba and the 18th Duchess of Alba; the second palace is the Dueñas Palace in Seville, a magnificent Renaissance/Mudejar construction from the 16th century, the most important in this style preserved in Spain; the third is the Monterrey Palace in Salamanca, a masterpiece of the Spanish Renaissance.

The Frist is only one of two institutions in the United States who has had the privilege to exhibit this magnificent collection of works.

Image appears courtesy of The Frist Center of the Visual Arts: Peter Paul Rubens. Double Portrait of Charles V and Empress Isabella, ca. 1628. Oil on canvas. Dukes of Alba Collection, Liria Palace, Madrid