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Behind the scenes at the Prado Museum

Community issues 20 June, 2012

* Author: Carmen Recio *

After seventeen years of environment-related duties at Iberdrola, my arrival just over two and a half years ago at the Fundación marked a turning point in my professional career. It gives me great satisfaction to initiate projects related to art, culture and biodiversity from Fundación Iberdrola, thereby helping to present the gentler face of the company.

As you are aware, the company has been firmly committed for a number of years to major museums such as the Guggenheim and Bellas Artes in Bilbao, and at the end of 2010 this commitment deepened when Fundación Iberdrola became a sponsor of the Restoration Programme of the Prado Museum. Our chairman, Ignacio Galán, became a member of the Board of Trustees a short time later.

Our partnership has coincided with the unveiling of major restorations including the equestrian portraits of Phillip III and Margarita of Austria by Velázquez, sculptures such as Seneca and Nero by Eduardo Barrón and the Roman piece Ariadna Sleeping, and also with the sensational discovery of the painting The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, considered by Manfred Sellink, director of the Musea Brugge, to be the most important discovery of Flemish painting in the last 25 years. None of these achievements would have been possible without the endeavours of the Prado’s prestigious Restoration Workshop, one of the world’s leading art research facilities.

For the vast majority of non-expert art lovers, of whom I am one, the work of these magnificent professionals is conducted without fanfare until one day the results of months of their endeavour and research hits the headlines and the TV news bulletins. Just recently the restoration of the Prado’s copy of the Mona Lisa ahead of its dispatch to the Louvre’s temporary exhibition on Da Vinci garnered huge international coverage. Formerly regarded as just another replica, this painting is now yielding key insights into the workings of Leonardo’s workshop because research has revealed that it was created at the same time as the original.

At this point I would like to share the insights I gained into the work of the Restoration Workshop, this restricted-access area which is concealed from the eyes of visitors. The Workshop consists not of one but of several spaces in different locations where the restorers of sculptures, drawings, frames, supports and paintings go about their business, not forgetting a facility where state-of-the-art equipment is used to carry out x-radiography, infrared reflectography and a host of other tests, leaving the visitor to to reflect that they could be in a medical laboratory rather than a museum.

The key figures in the workshop are the restorers, seemingly normal men and women entrusted with the onerous responsibility of returning masterpieces to their former glory. Whist on one side all manner of springs and devices are being created to smooth the surfaces of a collection of panels by Rubens, on another a huge and beautiful work, The Crucifixion by Roger van der Weyden, brought in for restoration a year ago from the Royal Monastery of El Escorial, catches the eye. At the same time these experts are also attentively restoring paintings by Goya, Titian and other major artists.

It was deeply moving to walk among works that I had previously seen either hanging on the museum’s walls from an appropriate distance or in the pages of books. However, the most satisfying experience of all for me was conversing with these restorers, who listened with infinite patience to the ceaseless stream of questions from we lay observers as they revealed the details of their work.

The immense care, gentleness and professionalism with which they go about their duties can only be defined with one word: passion. Passion for an outstanding job performed with consummate dedication. This passion, which I have seen displayed by colleagues throughout my career at the company, is what I endeavour to bring to my work, albeit on a more modest – though nonethess significant – scale than that shown by the Prado Museum‘s restoration team. I have been looking at paintings and sculptures with an entirely different perspective ever since my moving visit to the Prado workshop.

Author: Carmen Recio
Bio: I joined Iberdrola’s Sales business in Madrid in 1985. In 1992 I moved across to the Environment Department, where I gained invaluable experience and know-how in this key area of the company’s activity. Since November 2009 I have been part of the Fundación Iberdrola team with responsibility for Art, Culture and Biodiversity.

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