Velazquez's Masterpiece Gets U.S. Debut at Met

By Victoria Bekiempis on April 8, 2013 7:26am 

 Velázquez’s Portrait of Duke Francesco I d’Este, which comes from Modena, Italy's Galleria Estense, will be on display for the first time in the U.S. from April 16 until July 14, 2013 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave.
Velázquez’s Portrait of Duke Francesco I d’Este, which comes from Modena, Italy's Galleria Estense, will be on display for the first time in the U.S. from April 16 until July 14, 2013 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave.
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DNAinfo/Victoria Bekiempis

UPPER EAST SIDE — A 400-year-old Italian royal will soon make his first-ever trip to the United States of America.

Velázquez’s "Portrait of Duke Francesco I d’Este," long billed as "one of the great portraits of the 17th century," will be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave., from April 16 to July 14, 2013 — and the exhibition marks the first time the painting has ever traveled to America, according to Museum officials.

The loan from Modena, Italy's renowned Galleria Estense was allowed after the institute temporarily closed for repairs following a May 2012 earthquake, according to Met officials.

The display will also kick off the Met's revamped New European Paintings Galleries, set to open in May 2013.

Xavier Salomon, the Met curator who organized this special loan, said via email that the image is significant because it pictorially represents a complex confluence of European power.

That's because the subject of the painting — a small state's ruler — was portrayed by Velasquez, who not only is "one of the greatest artists in European history" but also served as the court artist of the King of Spain — then "one of the most powerful rulers in 17th Century Europe."

"This is an image of power and the result of a diplomatic trip. The duke went to Spain to forge a political and economic alliance between Modena and Spain. The portrait is part of this history," Salomon said.

"It is an incredible portrait that works on two levels: that of state, official portraiture and a more human, personal one," he added, "Velázquez captures the power of this man, no doubt flattering him as he would have liked to be. But he also allows us to see a more human side of the Duke of Modena. Ultimately, on a very basic level, this is simply a stunning painting. There isn't much one can explain about its beauty."

Salomon added that bringing the painting to the U.S. has deeper implications for conservation of watershed artworks — especially in light of natural disasters.

"It is important to raise awareness in the US of what happened in Italy with the earthquake," he said. "The portrait of the Duke of Modena serves as an ambassador to promote the extraordinary work of the Soprintendenza of Modena in terms of dealing with the earthquake and its aftermath."

Salomon also hopes that the exhibition will help the public get to know off-the-beaten path artistic treasures.

"It is very exciting to bring it to New York for the first time," he said.

"And it is exciting to tell an American public about the artistic treasures of Modena — a city that is usually not on the list of Italian cities that tourists visit, but deserves to be."

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