The Prado is presenting a survey of the artistic culture of Latin America which reached Spain in the Early Modern age

Return Journey. Art of the Americas in Spain, sponsored by Fundación AXA, recounts a little known phenomenon: the fact that following the conquest of Latin America and until its independence, more works of art arrived in Spain from that continent than from Flanders or Italy and that the movement of works was not one-directional, from Spain to Latin America, as is generally suggested. These thousands of objects, many of them created by indigenous or mestizo artists, often make use of materials, subjects and techniques unknown in Spain, while their creation reflects a range of intentions: reaffirmation of the dominance of the imperial power or the identitary aspirations of the Creole elites, as well as documentary, devotional and aesthetic reasons.

The exhibition, which also benefits from the collaboration of the Committee for Viceregal Art of the Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, features more than 100 works from Latin America which have been housed in Spanish cultural and religious institutions for centuries: objects that have become part of both Spain’s everyday experience and its historical and cultural heritage, even though all trace of their origins has sometimes been lost.

A number of the exhibits were formerly in the Spanish royal collections, displayed in the same palaces that housed canvases by Rubens and Velázquez, a reality that has not previously been acknowledged by the Museo del Prado. The present exhibition aims to remedy this and to offer a richer and more complex vision of the circulation and reception of artistic objects in Spain in the Early Modern age.

The exhibition, which can be seen until 13 February in Rooms A and B of the Jerónimos Building, allows visitors to discover the culture of the South American viceroyalties, with a particular focus on the symbolic and iconographic values of these objects and those attributed to them by the societies to which they were sent.

63 national and 3 international lenders have contributed to the organisation of this exhibition through the loan of 95 of the 107 works on display, created in Peru, Colombia, Mexico and elsewhere. Of these exhibits, 26 have been specially restored for the exhibition. Furthermore, the fact that 25 of Spain’s provinces have loaned works indicates the geographical scope of the exhibition.

According to Javier Solana, President of the Royal Board of Trustees of the Museo Nacional del Prado: “This is a landmark exhibition for the Museo del Prado given its aim of analysing an entire artistic culture, in this case that of Early Modern Latin America, as an indissoluble part of Spain’s national historical narrative.”

The exhibition is curated by Rafael López Guzmán, senior professor at the Universidad de Granada, with the assistance of Jaime Cuadriello and Pablo F. Amador, members of the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas of the UNAM in Mexico City, and with the support of Fundación AXA. A notable effort has been made to include works that were dispersed across all of Spain’s regions, many of them now loaned from the churches and religious houses which they originally entered centuries ago. There has also been an impressive restoration campaign encompassing 26 works: paintings, sculptures and examples of the decorative arts. According to Miguel Falomir, Director of the Museo Nacional del Prado: “An exhibition of this kind can only happen through a major collective effort. I would therefore like to thank all those who have made it possible, particularly the large number of lenders. I would like to express my special thanks to Fundación AXA, which has once again reaffirmed its commitment by sponsoring an exhibition which, for the Museum, means much more than that.”

Return Journey. Art of the Americas in Spain includes 107 works, of which 95 are now housed in cultural institutions, religious spaces and collections across Spain (25 provinces), plus 3 international lenders. These are objects of enormous interest for their technical and aesthetic merits, symbolic content and social functions and they are interpreted in the exhibition in all their complexity rather than as mere isolated curiosities, with a particular focus on the reasons for their arrival from Latin America (Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala, Colombia and Cuba) in the Early Modern age. For Josep Alfonso, Director General of Fundación AXA, this is a praiseworthy initiative in which “once again and as with previous cutting-edge cultural initiatives, Fundación AXA is collaborating in order help to ensure that the project becomes a reality.”

The exhibition is presented as four principal sections with the first gallery articulated in symbolic terms around the concept of “the plaza”, a fundamental element in Latin American city planning. This provides the context for the first two, interconnected sections, entitled “Geography, conquest and society” and “Images and cults, away and back”, as it was in the plaza that the design of the city, its most important buildings, its peoples, markets and church all came together, embodying the complex process of cultural evangelising and hybridisation.

In the second gallery the articulating concept is the idea of the conventual atrium: places of religious and educational interaction in Latin America. It provides the perfect context for a dialogue between the itinerant objects that made up domestic and ecclesiastical treasures, displayed in the section “Art crossings”, and those characteristic of indigenous identity, presented with the heading “Legacy of the New World”, the latter focusing on the material nature of the objects through the new subjects and techniques that arrived from both Europe and Asia.