Visitors to the Frist this spring will have a uniquely Nashville opportunity to view an expansive exhibit of works collected by a noble Spanish family and the singular work of a 21st Renaissance man.
Featuring works by Durer, Goya, Murillo, Ribera, and Rubens from the palaces of the Alba dynasty in Spain, Treasures from the House of Alba: 500 Years of Art and Collecting has made its second and final stop in the United States at the Frist.
Exhibition highlights include such masterpieces as Francisco Goya’s The Duchess of Alba in White (1795), her dog in matching accessories. Several Christopher Columbus documents are on display, including Columbus’s list of men who accompanied him on his 1492 Journey of Discovery and a drawing of the coastline of Hispaniola, the first island he discovered in the New World (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti). Another feature of the exhibit is the illuminated Alba Family Bible, finished in 1430, one of the earliest known translations of the Old Testament from Hebrew into a Romance language.
“It is a diverse collection from three large palaces in Spain: one in Madrid (an 18th century palace), one in Salamanca (a 16th century palace), and one in Seville (a 15th century palace),” said Mark A. Roglán, director of the Meadows Museum, co-organizers of the exhibit. “The works represent 19 generations of collecting,” and many interesting stories, including one about a fight over a table.
“The table was owned by Napoleon of France (Third Empire style). During the Spanish Civil War, it changed hands temporarily and was used by Francisco Franco. When the Duke of Alba, who was an ambassador for Spain, came back after the war to see Franco, he saw the table and told Franco that the table was his.
“Franco asked, ‘How can you prove that?’ and the Duke of Alba let him know that there was a device in the table that would open a secret compartment, so the men opened it and several Alba documents came out. Franco gave the table back, but before doing so, he made a copy, which he used throughout his entire regime. Nashville has the original table; Franco has a copy.”
Among the other furnishings featured in the exhibit are tapestries made of silver and gold wool and silk, still in pristine condition.
“The tapestries have had little exposure to light,” said Roglán. One of the tapestries, which covers a sizeable wall in the Ingram gallery, “looks like a stamp on the staircase between the first and second floors of the palace from which it came,” Roglán said.
Highlighting the 20th and 21st century portion of the exhibit is the 18th Duchess of Alba (dona Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva, “Cayetana”), who died in 2014.
“Long before Kim Kardashian, there was the Duchess of Alba, famous for simply being famous and fantastically wealthy,” said NPR’s Lauren Frayer.
The Alba exhibit has a painting of Cayetana on a horse as a girl. In the foreground of the painting is Mickey Mouse in one of his earliest representations in fine art. The exhibit also features numerous photographs of Cayetana with such dignitaries as Jacqueline Kennedy, as well as a profile photograph of her in her eighties, adorned in colorful jewels and a magenta jacket, her full head of unruly gray hair behind her to accentuate her personality.
Guido van der Werve: Nummers 2 6 8 14 features four films from Dutch artist Guido van der Werve’s Nummers (Numbers) series, which juxtapose grace and absurdity in whimsical or unsettling effects.
Incorporating a wide range of physical and auditory expressions, from classical music and ballet dancing to long-distance running and swimming, van der Werve’s understated works offer the pleasure of the unexpected.
“Guido van der Werve . . . merges poetry and pathos in unpredictable ways,” said Mark Scala, chief curator at the Frist. “Being in Nashville, we are especially interested in artists who use music in the crafting of aesthetic experiences. Van der Werve does this with classical music, often of his own composing, providing an almost dreamlike counterpoint to his films.”
“I grew up playing classical piano,” said van der Werve. “I always loved to play Chopin. What I really admire about art is if you can get to some level of simplicity. Chopin was the master at that. It’s a bit like sports: The better the athlete, the easier it looks.”
Van der Werve’s film “Nummer 14” reflects Chopin’s link between Warsaw and Paris. Chopin, born in Warsaw to a French father and Polish mother, asked his sister to have his heart removed upon his death and buried in Warsaw and for the rest his body to be buried in Paris, also the burial city of such luminaries as Charles Baudelaire and Jim Morrison.
“It’s one of the stories I’ve always loved about Chopin,” said van der Werve. “I started working on the film in 2010, at age 35. For the first time in my life, I started to look back a little bit and think, ‘Where do I belong?,’ so I wanted to make somewhat of an autobiographical work.”
Born in Amsterdam in 1977, van der Werve studied industrial design, archaeology, music composition and Russian language and literature before creating his first videos in 2000.
“I got very used to the direct and emotional connection that music has to a person, and I found it again in film, because people often cry as much in the cinema as they do in the concert hall,” said van der Werve. “I draw from pure personal inspiration, my emotions, my frustrations, what I’m dealing with, and I try to abstract that to a level where other people can also relate to it. I think in the best case, a person looks at the work and thinks it’s about them.”
The Alba and van der Werve exhibits will continue through May 1. For more information, visit the Frist’s official site.