Picture ‘Spinners’, one of the great masterpieces of European painting, can be seen from this Monday at the Prado Museum just as Velázquez wanted it to be seen, by recovering its original size through a movable frame that hides the additions that were made in the 18th century.
Diego Velázquez painted ‘Las hilanderas’ between 1655 and 1660, a work measuring 167 centimeters by 250 centimeters, to which in the 18th century a wide upper band and three smaller ones were added in the lower one and the right and left ends that enlarged the painting to the measurements of 220 by 289 centimeters, as as seen so far.
The reason for this enlargement of the painting, as it happened with other works of the time (two of them equestrian portraits also by Velázquez) was purely decorative: the walls of the recently opened Royal Palace had to be filled and large paintings were needed, he explained in Rueda press the head of Conservation of Spanish Painting of the Prado Museum, Javier Portús.
But in the case of ‘Spinners’, which adorned the king’s dining room in the Royal Palace, these alterations, in which an arch and an oculus were added, affected the reading of the content of the painting as they caused the scene that takes place before the tapestry that reproduces’The Rape of Europa‘, in the background behind the weavers, was perceived further away.
Thus, for a long time the viewers of the painting have seen the representation of an everyday scene in an upholstery workshop with a close-up in which Velázquez represented spinning related tasks and a background with ladies standing before a tapestry.
This plane now takes on the prominence that Velázquez wanted to give it by not seeing these additions, since the main elements of the story that the painter tells are found in the background space, where the goddess Palas argues with Arachne. And after them the tapestry of “The Rape of Europe”, which Titian painted for Philip II and in turn copied Rubens.
The delicate state of preservation of “Las hilanderas” has prevented the additions to Velázquez’s original work from being eliminated as has been done in other paintings in better condition (for example, the equestrian portraits of Felipe III and Margarita de Austria) and That is why it was decided to restore its original size through a mobile frame that has been developed by the Prado with the support of American Friends of the Prado Museum and the sponsorship of American Express, has indicated Portus.
The new vision of the painting, the original one painted by Velázquez, has been presented at an event held this Monday in which the president of the museum’s Board of Trustees, Javier Solana, highlighted the collaboration of the entities that have sponsored this action, the first of the project “Framing the Prado“.
Since 2017, work has been done on the search for a system that allows access to the painting at all times but at the same time shows only the original part of “Las hilanderas”, a process that has resulted in this system, a masking panel conceived as a global museum project.
As explained by Andrés Úbeda, deputy director of Conservation of the Museum, the system used to return “Las hilanderas” to its original size and vision is a “pioneer in the world” prototype: “There is no other similar specimen, since it is something more than a frame.”
Thus, this framework allows a total aesthetic integration of the work in the architecture of the showroom without altering its original perception and simultaneously presents high technical performance, preventive conservation and sustainability, Without interfering between the work of art and its viewers, Úbeda stressed, highlighting that the new framing does not cast any shadow on the painting.
In this way, the four canvases that were added in the 18th century remain hidden and only the central part is contemplated, which is the one that Velázquez painted, thus canceling the displacement of the axis that the enlargement maneuver caused in the painting, said the person in charge from Conservation of the Prado.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.