In celebration of its 50th anniversary, SMU’s Meadows Museum opened its special exhibit Treasures from the House of Alba: 500 Years of Art and Collecting on Friday, Sept. 11.
This special collection, curated by the former director of Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado, is the first major exhibition in the United States of one of Europe’s oldest and most extensive art collections. Once owned by the Alba family, one of Spain’s most prominent noble families, this collection contains over 100 pieces and are now on loan from a number of museums across Europe.
Originating in the 15th century with Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, who was named Count of the Spanish town Alba de Tormes, the family established connections with some of the most powerful European lineages in history over the course of several centuries. These relationships, along with their patronage and devotion to the arts, have led to the development of one of the greatest private collections in the world.
A vast array of paintings, sculptures tapestries, manuscripts, historical documents, and books will be divided into seven periods of Alba family history, spanning from the 15th century to the 20th century. Organized chronologically, the exhibition begins with works collected after the dynasty’s origin and concludes with works from artists such as Picasso and Renoir that were collected by the late Duchess Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart and her father during the 20th century.
Most notably, the collection contains the painting The Virgin of the Pomegranate by famous Italian Renaissance artist Fra Angelico. This piece, acquired in 1817, has remained one of the centerpieces of the Alba’s collection.
Also on display is one of explorer Christopher Columbus’ logbooks, containing his hand drawn map of the New World and personal letters written during his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
The piece I found most intriguing was what is known to be one of the earliest translations of the Old Testament from Hebrew into a romance language. Named the Bible of the House of Alba, this original manuscript was part of the library for the kings of Spain and was recovered by the Alba family in 1622.
Director of the Meadows Museum Mark Roglán writes, “These extraordinary works of art, many of which have never crossed the Atlantic before, are a treasure trove and a fount of new art historical knowledge. We are honored to present the first exhibition of this outstanding collection in the United States, sharing these works of art that tell the story of a remarkable family and provide an opportunity to explore the panoply of cultural achievement and European history.”
The exhibit, running from Sept. 11 to Jan. 3, in the Meadows Museum, is free for all SMU students.