As if there weren’t enough reasons to go back to the Prado museum, here is a new one: an enormous pinewood coffered ceiling, covering 66 square meters and weighing six tons, that depicts a constellation of scenes ranging from bear hunts, Biblical tales and coats-of-arms from Castilla y León, to busty women with tiny waists, harpies and dragons.
The work was created around 1400 – it is impossible to know by whom – for the choir loft inside the church of Santa Marina de Valencia de Don Juan in León. After 1970 it adorned one of the rooms inside the family home of José Luis Várez Fisa, an engineer, entrepreneur and devoted art collector.
But from this week the coffered ceiling is now resting inside the Prado’s medieval wing, in the Villanueva building, as part of a larger donation by the Várez Fisa family that was announced in February.
Another 17 artworks made between 1200 and 1500, many from the kingdoms of Aragón, Valencia and Catalonia, are distributed in the new Várez Fisa Hall under the imposing tree-like presence of the ceiling – the hanging of which caused many a sleepless night for Enrique Nuere, the architect, carpenter and scholar entrusted with figuring out how to do it.
The donation is a tribute to the generosity of art patronage at a time when everyone talks about its convenience, yet nobody – at least, nobody with the power to effect change – is lifting a finger to encourage it.
Besides the selflessness of the gesture, the donation also fills one of the largest gaps in the Prado’s vast collection. That is why Gabriele Finaldi, associate director of curatorship and research, defined the new addition of 18 medieval artworks as “transformative.”
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