Brooklyn Museum Acquires Shell Inlaid Mexican Folding Screen

An extremely rare mother-of-pearl-inlaid Mexican folding screen, commissioned about 1700 by the viceroy of New Spain has been purchased by the Brooklyn Museum from Salvart Limited in London.


Circle of the González Family (Mexican, late 17th to early 18th century), Folding Screen with the Siege of Belgrade (front), ca. 1697-1701. Tempera and resin on wood, shell inlay (enconchado), 90 1/2 x 108 5/8 in. (229.9 x 275.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Lilla Brown in memory of her husband John W. Brown, by exchange, 2012.21.

The work was officially accessioned by the Museum’s Board of Trustees on April 19. Representing a combination of Asian, European, and American artistic traditions, this six-panel screen is encrusted with mother-of-pearl and painted with oil and tempera. At the time it was acquired, it was the only recorded surviving shell-inlaid folding screen, or biombo enconchado, that remained in private hands. The funds for this acquisition came from the proceeds of the sale of Vasily Vereshchagin’s Crucifixion by the Romans (1887), which was sold last November at Christie’s London for nearly $2.7 million to benefit the Brooklyn Museum’s Acquisition’s Fund.

These panels constitute half of a twelve-panel screen, created after Asian models by artists working in the circle of the celebrated González family in Mexico City, where it was displayed in the state rooms of the capital’s viceregal palace. The other half of the screen is in the collection of the Museo Nacional del Virreinato in Tepotzotlán, Mexico. The complete screen was commissioned by José Sarmiento de Valladares y Aines, the count of Moctezuma y Tula, during his reign as viceroy of New Spain from 1696 to 1701. Appointed by Spain’s last Habsburg king, Charles II, Sarmiento declared his allegiance to the Habsburg dynasty in the New World by having the front of his monumental folding screen painted with a major Habsburg victory over the Ottoman Empire, a scene from the Great Turkish War (1683-87). He requested a hunting scene modeled in part after prints by the Medici court painter Johannes Stradanus for the back of the screen, which would have served as a backdrop for the women’s sitting room in the palace. Both sides of the screen are framed with a mother-of-pearl encrusted floral decorative border inspired by Japanese lacquerware created for the export market.

This six-panel screen will be the highlight of Behind Closed Doors: Power and Privilege in the Spanish American Home, 1492-1898, a traveling exhibition organized by Richard Aste, Curator of European Art at the Brooklyn Museum, where it will be on view September 20, 2013, through January 12, 2014, before continuing on to three additional U.S. venues. – www.brooklynmuseum.org

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