Museum Exhibition Critique

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            Last April 20, the Gund Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston opened to the public an exhibit showcasing the famous painters, El Greco and Velazquez. The title of the exhibit is “El Greco to Velazquez: art during the reign of Philip III.  It will be open until the 27th of June, 2008, aimed at showing to the people the works of these great artists and examining the fascinating period that these Spanish painters are in (Musem of Fine Arts).

            King Philip III and his court emphasized on a new style of grandeur during his time, in order to set himself apart from the previous king’s approach to governing. In line with this, there have been a lot of gala celebrations, elaborate religious fiestas, building campaigns, and many more. Because of this, most of the arts during that time were affected, as it reflected the current style, having a more naturalistic and emotionally expressive art. In relation to this, the artworks showcased in the exhibit shows much of the abovementioned characteristics, which is why the exhibit also follows suit. Showcased it the Gund Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts, there is plenty of space to accommodate the paintings by the artists. Wide walls have a positive effect on emphasizing on the paintings in the exhibit, as it focuses the attention of audience or the viewer towards the artworks itself. There isn’t much decoration in the exhibit, but there is nonetheless beauty in such simplicity of the set-up. What is more important is that it has focused on the art masterpieces being shown to the public.

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            It is a well lit gallery, though there are some parts which have dimmed lights as well as colored lights in order to set a different mood for the exhibit goers. With varying sizes in the art piece being presented, the design and layout of the paintings on the wall were arranged in a way that they would all stand out, and one of the important works would be overshadowed by the flashy positioning of other works. There is a sufficient security in the area, though their visibility were kept at a minimum in order to let the exhibit goers have the feel of freedom to view what is being on display, rather than be conscious that they are being watched by a number of people.

            There were about sixty items on display on the exhibit, some of which features the works of El Greco, Velazquez, as well as other painters. Some of the items exhibited are owned by the museum, but most of the works, especially those of El Greco, are loaned from other museums around the place. The first painting that one will see when going to the gallery is the landscape painting by El Greco of Toledo, Spain in a stormy night. This is one of the rare landscapes of El Greco, and also, it is one of the manifestations of his stay in Spain, as he worked in the area for quite a while.

Upon entering, one can see that the paintings are not ordered by their artists but somewhat by the theme that they present. Each of these works has a plaque next to it, giving side notes and facts related to the work near it. Aside from these bits of information in pieces of wood near these artworks, the gallery has knowledgeable curator which tells a lot about facts regarding the painting. He was able to elaborate some distinct points of some works, like how El Greco portrays his subjects as elongated figures, as though he was astigmatic, as well as some trademarks like two middle fingers which are pressed together, as shown by his subjects (Economou). He also pointed out how most of the artists showed influences from another known artist that time which is Titian, which is why some of the artworks are somewhat similar to another, though they were made by different artists.

The exhibit was dedicated to showcase the works of two artists, El Greco and Velazquez, though there were also some who were made by artists of the same or the latter periods. The exhibit was actually an exploration of the artists being showcases, as the works are associated with their character, as well as the society they live in during that time.

El Greco, who was born Domenikos Theotokopoulos in Crete, was one of the major contributors of the art works being displayed at the exhibit ( His works presented span from different periods of his lifetime, from his early years as a painter up to his latter years, when he was at his prime. One of his works exhibited is the famous Saint Martin and the Beggar, which showed his artistic styles depicting his subjects in an elongated manner. This is just one of his paintings showcased here which have saints as subjects, hinting that the artist has an inclination towards Christian religion. Some of his works shown include the Annunciation, a huge altarpiece, and El Greco’s first large-scale commission in Madrid. Another one is the Saint James (Santiago el Mayor) which is about the patron Saint of Spain, and is one of El Greco’s several paintings of Christ’s apostles, depicted as someone from his own world.

On the other hand, Diego Velazquez’ works showcased in the exhibits was mostly of the prominent people during that period. It is a manifestation of the kingdom’s wealth and power during that time, as the artists served the king, his court, and the Catholic Church. His works were more focused on the real people, those who posses power during that time and holds a special place in the society, making them worthy subjects of the artists’ works (Art Renewal Center). One example was Velaquez’ Luis de Gongora y Argote, where he painted the intense psychological study of the poet Gongora on his first trip to the area.

For me, going to the exhibit was such a great experience, as it has always been when it comes to works of art. I was able to learn a lot about the artist and the time they live in, just by looking at their works. They were able to express their artistic freedom through pieces like landscapes, still life paintings, and many more, despite the fact that they are also subject to the whims of those who are in position, especially the king and his court, if ever they wanted themselves to be the subjects of the art. The exhibit was really able to depict the grandeur that was a characteristic of that period, as well as the power shown by the prominent figures that were immortalized by the artists in their artworks.

The curator made valid points in explaining and expounding more about the works that we see, as he extends the knowledge that we acquire through our eyes. His key points were more on the importance of the Church at that time, as well as the power of the elite few over the people of the kingdom. The works shown in the exhibit have a lot to teach and to explain, including the daily lives of the people, as shown in Velazquez’ Old Woman Cooking Eggs, to the divinity portrayed in El Greco’s Annuciation.

The shortcomings of the exhibition is that there were only a few works which are of different media, like sculpture and decorative arts, as most of the works shown were paintings. This is party because the two artists being showcased by the exhibit itself are painters, and only a few others were of other media.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston was founded originally in 1870 and open in 1876. It is one of the largest museums in the United States, and serves as a repository of various artworks from different periods of time from different places of the world. The exhibit, El Greco to Velazquez: art during the reign of Philip III, is in line with the museum’s purpose of showcasing the artworks from different periods of time from different places. This groundbreaking exhibit examines the period of 1598 to 1621, front lined by two giants of Spanish painting which are El Greco and Diego Velazquez.

Works Cited:

Art Renewal Center. “Diego Rodriguez De Silva Velázquez”.  2006. June 26 2008. <>. “El Greco”.  2005. June 26 2008. <>.

Economou, Solon. “El Greco Meets the Brits at the Mfa”.  2008. June 26 2008. <>.

Musem of Fine Arts, Boston. “El Greco to Velázquez: Art During the Reign of Philip Iii”.  2008. June 26 2008. <>.


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