The palace, also known at the time as Palacio de Buena Esperanza in allusion to another of the Marquis of Gaviria’s aristocratic titles, opened in 1851 with a ball presided by Queen Isabella II. That year, the daily newspaper La Nación remarked that no other building in Madrid “equalled it in luxury and magnificence, in sumptuousness and good taste”, while underscoring its “Bramantesque style.”
Made according to the Italian style then so much in fashion, the inspiration for the palace came from Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Also followed in other constructions during the period, like the Palace of the Marquis of Salamanca, this style was all the rage among the high society of Madrid in the post-Romantic era. The building is laid out around two courtyards and an imposing staircase with a marble balustrade, still intact today. The staircase is decorated with classic-style sculptures in ornamental niches. The palace’s Andalusian courtyard has been recently restored and converted into an additional exhibition space.
The lower section of the façade features salient dressed ashlars while the rest of the storeys are in brick, with a particular mention for the first floor whose balconies are crowned with simple curved pediments.
At present, the exhibition space occupies not just the public area of the palace, where power and wealth were once flaunted, but also the private rooms previously accessible only to the family. Thus, one of the first areas the public comes across is the chapel, an outstanding part of the palace, complete with altar, sacristy and a dome with four medallions, four pendentives with angels and four lunettes. In the corridor leading to the chapel is a unique image of the Sacred Christ of Lezo, one of the rare depictions of Christ on the cross without a beard.
Also worth noting in the public area are the ceilings, painted in their day by Joaquín Espalter y Rull, an artist trained in Italy. Visitors can also admire a series of paintings extolling Queen Isabella II’s namesake, beginning with images of Isabella of Castile and the conquest of Granada.
Equally noteworthy are the mythological scenes with figures representing the ancient gods Hermes and Athena. One can also admire mirrors and other original elements that decorated the palace’s salons, whose arrangement is respected in all exhibitions on view here. Originally, paintings by masters such as Murillo, Juan de Juanes and Pereda, among others, hung on the walls of this room.
The smaller private rooms have wooden coffered ceilings, shields and a number of images depicting bullfighting, a subject close to the heart of the Marquises of Gaviria. The present-day shop was once the entrance hall through which guests at receptions could access the public area without entering the private rooms.
But the palace has not been used solely as a residence since its construction. It has been used as the headquarters of the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War, as the Ministry of Supplies and a repository for confiscated goods, and as a leisure and events centre. Since February 2017 it is the exhibition space in Madrid of Arthemisia, a leading producer and organiser of international art exhibitions. Since then, it has housed retrospectives of M.C. Escher and Alphonse Mucha and the group exhibition Duchamp Magritte Dalí. 20th Century Revolutionaries. Masterpieces from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. With its fourth show, Tamara de Lempicka. Queen of Art Déco the palace expects to reach the figure of one million visitors, less than two years since it was re-opened.
© 2018 • All rights reserved
All the pictures © Tamara Art Heritage / ADAGP, Paris / VEGAP, Madrid, 2018