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Casa de Alba puts on a historic show

January 19, 2012 – 1:22 pm

Titian's painting of the Gran Duque de Alba, who started the Casa De Alba's art collection, now one of the most important private collections in the world.

The Casa de Alba – whose head, the redoubtable Cayetana, 18th Duquesa de Alba, recently wed for the third time in her Seville palace – has one of the most important private art collections in the world.

Amassed over the centuries, starting in the 16th, it consists of a staggering 50,000 works, valued at 600 million euros – though some pieces are priceless. The Casa de Alba collection, largely housed in the Palacio de Liria, the Duquesa’s Madrid residence, includes works by some of the most significant and influential painters in history, stretching from Renaissance masters to French Impressionsists. Names include Titian, Rubens, Rapahel and Rembrandt, as well as Spanish greats Goya, Murillo, Zubaran and El Greco.

Later additions included works by English painters Reynolds and Romney. The current Duquesa made her own contribution, adding pieces by 20th-century artists such as Renoir, Picasso, Dali, Miro and Chagall, while Zuloaga painted a portrait of Cayetana as a little girl on her pony.

Documents include the first bible translated into Spanish, the Biblia de Alba, which dates from 1433, 21 documents signed by Christopher Columbus, and a first edition of Don Quijote, as well as 30,000 other books.

La Duquesa Cayetana con vestido blanco, by Goya.

The Duquesa’s antedecent, the 13th Duchess, was famously painted by her friend Goya, and this portrait is well-known to be one of Cayetana’s favourite artworks.

Now it has been announced that a selection of pieces from this priceless collection is going on show to the public, in Madrid at the end of the year. No, it’s not Andalucia, but it’s a big enough deal to stray outside our usual geographic confines. And for someone who hasn’t been to Madrid in 15 years (big cities + small children = no thanks), it might even be enough to get me and my brood onto the AVE and up to the capital.

The pieces which will go on display include paintings, as well as documents and sculptures which are currently in the Palacio de Liria, her Madrid residence, where the Duquesa lived as a girl. One of the best things about watching the TV miniseries of her life was seeing the inside of this magnificent building – the programme was actually filmed in the palace, thanks to the Duquesa granting permission.

This year the Palace will also be hired out for private events – even the aristocracy are feeling the pinch. The Palacio de Liria was bombed during the Civil War, and almost entirely destroyed – thankfully, the art was safely stored in various locations: in the basement, in bank vaults and in the British Embassy. (During this time, Cayetana was in London with her father, who was Spanish ambassador.) In the 1940s and 50s Cayetana, then married and with her own children, oversaw the reconstruction of her home.

The last time some of these works were on show to the public was the exhibition in 2010, at Seville’s Museo de Bellas artes. Now we will be able to see an even more extensive selection from the five centuries of the finest art and historic documents as garnered by the Casa de Alba. A fantastic opportunity, and one I won’t be missing.

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