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Prado Museum presents Mengs and Azara. Portrait of a Friendship

Prado Museum presents Mengs and Azara. Portrait of a Friendship an exhibition on view through 13 October 2013.

José Nicolás de Azara, Rafael Mengs. Oil on panel, 77 x 61,5 cm, 1774, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
José Nicolás de Azara, Rafael Mengs. Oil on panel, 77 x 61,5 cm, 1774, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

The exhibition focuses on the friendship between Mengs and Azara, the affinities between their aesthetic ideas and their close artistic collaboration. It also looks at the way they were depicted in portraits, Azara’s collecting activities, and his role in the promotion and dissemination of Mengs’s works.

In addition to the recently acquired painting, other eloquent proofs of the friendship between the artist and his patron are the two bronze busts of Azara and Mengs of 1779 by the Irish sculptor Christopher Hewetson. The exhibition also includes a Self-portrait by Mengs (ca.1761-1765) dating from the time he first met Azara and their collaboration on the production of a medal to commemorate the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Asturias, which is also on display. Another later Self-portrait of around 1774-1776 was the primary model for the dissemination of the artist’s image in Spain. It is present here through a copy in pastel by Mengs’s daughter, Ana María, and a print after it by Ana María’s husband, Manuel Salvador Carmona.

As examples of the affinity between the two men’s aesthetic ideas, the exhibition includes a drawing by Mengs of the classical sculpture of Antinous as Osiris (original in the Vatican Museums), and a print after a drawing by Mengs of one of the mural paintings in the Villa Negroni.

In 1779 Azara initiated an excavation project in Tivoli near Rome. Following the discovery of fifteen portraits of Greek philosophers and poets and other small sculptures in the so-called Villa dei Pisoni, Azara began to collect classical portraits and sculptures, possessing around 70 examples by the end of his life. His collection, which is now divided between the Real Casa del Labrador in Aranjuez and the Museo del Prado, is represented here by sculpted portraits of the poets Homer and Menander, the Epicurian philosopher Hermarcus and the Attic general Miltiades, in addition to a statue of a Dacian from Trajan’s Forum in Rome and one of Fortuna. Also on display is a copy of the Life of Cicero by Conyers Middleton, edited and translated by Azara and illustrated with prints of sculptures from his own collection. Azara’s role in protecting and disseminating Mengs’s artistic legacy is conveyed in the exhibition through a print of his portrait by Mengs, engraved by Domenico Cunego; a commemorative medal of the “philosopher painter” by Caspar Joseph Schwendimann, in which Azara included his own image; Las Obras de D. Antonio Rafael Mengs, edited and with commentaries by Azara, published in Parma and Madrid in 1780; and the first biography of the artist written in 1780 by Ludovico Bianconi and illustrated with a print relating to Azara’s homage to Mengs after his death when he installed a bust of him by Hewetson in the Pantheon in Rome.

Finally, Azara’s friendship with Napoleon arising from his diplomatic mission of 1796 is documented through two works: a commemorative gold medal issued that year by the Senate in Rome in honour of Azara and his negotiation of the Armistice of Bologna; and a medal with a portrait of Napoleon that commemorates the Peace of Amiens, which Azara signed in 1802 as the representative of the Spanish monarch.