Now I love art history and I can tolerate the driest of history programmes (much to Tom’s boredom) but even I find art museums can often be hit-and-miss. Fortunately for us both (poor Tom) every aspect of this museum surpassed expectations.
Firstly, the building is a masterpiece and pays homage to the region’s Moorish, Visigoth, Catholic and Arabic heritage. With loads of architectural detail to enjoy, you could spend hours in the museum’s outdoor courtyards listening to the birdsong and running fountains, dozing on a bench in the sun under the dappled light of the rustling palm fronds, or watching the bright blue sky above. Pure delight. (…is my poetic writing selling it yet?).
For architectural buffs there’s exquisite detail found in pretty much every corner – grand staircases, frescoes in the great hall, carved wooden ceilings; magnificent to enjoy (….if you haven’t fallen asleep in the courtyard first). Originally a convent (lucky nuns), the use was changed to an art gallery in the mid 1800’s. See the front of the building here.
European art collections can be hit and miss too: often a few chance second-rate pieces cobbled together, but this collection does not disappoint. It isn’t too large but the quality is top notch, and what it does have tells a convincing story – how refreshing.
Representing all of Europe from the 1400’s to the present day, like the Wallace Collection in London, this museum houses paintings, drawings, sculpture, firearms, ceramics, fabrics and more – much donated by local citizens. But most of it is not on display sadly – I wanted more!
The collection starts in room one by exploring the region’s Catholic heritage with few but exemplary paintings of Spanish Medieval and Renaissance of the 1400’s and 1500’s. With typical gold-adorned altarpieces and stylistic portraits of saints and religious figures, this really sets the scene for Spanish art.
Focusing on quality not quantity, the rooms swiftly move you through the story of art: High Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classicism, Romanticism, Realism and on to the 20th Century. All extremely absorbing.
What works best about this museum is that while the collection convincingly tells the story of the whole of Europe, it brings the conversation back to Sevillian art. It houses some of Spain’s biggest artists such as Velazquez, Zurbaran, Murillo and Juan De Mesa, leaving you feeling that you’ve learned something locally cultural, and are that bit closer to this vibrant society. This is a museum and people proud to declare their artistic and cultural heritage.
Stand-out hits for me are works by Zurbaran, El Greco and a four-canvas series by artist Barrera, showcasing the four seasons and the harvest from each. Zurbaran is one of my favourite painters for his drama, realism, attention to detail and exquisite technique – while a couple paintings reside in the National Gallery in London, little is available outside of Spain so this was a treat. (His ability to represent fabrics still impresses me – see the image below.)
The most memorable is the art of the Sevillian school of the early 20th century. It is a movement less well-known outside of Spain than the earlier greats and so for me the most interesting. Vibrant and colourful canvases by Javier de Winthuysen, Eugenio Hermoso, Diego Lopez and Felix Lacárcel, López Cabrera and Jiménez Alpériz to name a few. This all contributes significantly and importantly to telling the story of 20th Century Sevillian art.
And if all else fails: you have little time on your schedule or aren’t an art lover (….what are you going here?), the public push-bike station is right outside the entrance so you can whip round, whizz past, and swiftly refresh yourself at the local tapas bar down the street (the kind where they don’t speak English and instead serve pigs’ trotters – *not obligatory to eat by the way – Tortilla Espanola available too*). Phew.