The piece of the month of April 2008


Mª Gabriela Torres Olleta
PhD in History

A series of engravings by Bartolomé Maura y Montaner that deserve to be known for their quality and historical value are preserved in the Archive of the Library Services of the University of Navarra.

The set includes the portraits of Antonio Gil y Zárate (Fig. 1); Manuel Tamayo y Baus (Fig. 2); José Echegaray (Fig. 3); Gaspar Núñez de Arce (Fig. 4); Manuel Bretón de los Herreros (Fig. 5); Tomás Rodríguez Rubí (Fig. 6); Narciso Serra (Fig. 7); Juan Eugenio de Hartzenbusch (Fig. 8); Adelardo López de Ayala (Fig. 9); Francisco Martínez de la Rosa (Fig. 10); Ventura de la Vega (Fig. 11) and Julián Gayarre (Fig. 12). All these characters, except Julián Gayarre, were important men of letters in their time, and appear in the two volumes of Autores dramáticos contemporáneos y joyas del teatro español del siglo XIX (1886), with their corresponding portrait engraved by Maura, who also wrote the title page. The work has an extensive prologue by the politician and writer Antonio Maura, brother of Bartolomé. Curiously, in these voluminous volumes of glorification of Spanish theater, the engraver is not quotation , the portraits being considered a mere adornment.

Antonio Gil de Zárate

Fig. 1. Antonio Gil de Zárate

Bartolomé Maura y Montaner was born in October 1844 in Palma de Mallorca where he began his academic training . He died in Madrid in 1926. He had arrived in Madrid in 1868 to study at the Special School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving, and there he was fortunate to have teachers such as Federico de Madrazo and Carlos Luis de Ribera.

In the second half of the 19th century, metal engraving experienced a renaissance in Spain, which Lafuente Ferrari believes can be explained by the establishment of the National Exhibitions and the creation of the School of Fine Arts. Maura attended numerous exhibitions throughout his degree program and won several prizes. In 1873 he won the first medal in his specialization program with an engraving that reproduced Las Lanzas by Velázquez. He was quite outstanding in this modality of "interpretation" engravings, both of Velázquez's work, for which he felt a special taste, as well as Murillo, José de Ribera, Zurbarán, Carducho, Goya, Pradilla, Rosales, etc. It is interesting to note Federico de Madrazo's comment in a letter to his son Raimundo (March 1871) about the pieces presented for submission to exhibition International in London: "very few things have been presented here [...] among the engravings there are some quite good ones by Maura (watercolors of Velázquez's paintings)". Maura was one of the main figures of this innovative current of the resurgence of etching, firmly defending its artistic and popularizing function, although, as Jesusa Vega points out, "with an anachronistic approach given that photographic methods opened the decisive way for the diffusion of the paintings in Spanish museums".

The engraver was successful during his lifetime and was admired as "the leading Spanish engraver of the time". García Melero published the artist's cursus honorum: in 1877 he was named Knight of the Royal and distinguished Order of Charles III; in 1883 Commander of the Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic; in 1899 academician of issue of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, etc.

Julián Gayarre

Fig. 12. Julián Gayarre

We have already mentioned two fields or genres treated by the artist: portraits and engravings reproducing paintings. Two other specialties in which he also excelled remain to be mentioned: medallistics and the engraving of banknotes.

The portraits of the FA of the UN are dated between 1880 and 1886 and are part of the gallery of illustrious personalities of the XIX century that Maura made in various series. All have been executed with the etching technique. In this method, the sheet is covered with a varnish on which it is drawn with a metal point, and then immersed in the etching that attacks the metal in the lines where the varnish has disappeared. The outlines of these lines are not as precise as in burin engravings, and their appearance is more nervous. The irregular wear of the metal causes an equally irregular accumulation of ink, which is very perceptible to the touch, and which finely shades the qualities of the fabrics or the smoothness of the bands with pictorial effects.

Maura has been considered one of the most important Spanish engravers of the last third of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, although his work is today somewhat undervalued. The portraits in particular, are formally far from current aesthetic tastes and are too "academic". If we add to this the oblivion or ignorance of many of the "illustrious characters" of the 19th century (Núñez de Arce, Echegaray, Gil de Zárate...) the result is that these plates are not very appreciated by the majority of the public. However, at the time they brought him considerable fame and money. And as if all this were not enough, we must add that Maura was a tireless worker and left a very abundant work. It is significant of what I am commenting on the fact that right now you can find in old bookstores engravings by Maura, of great artistic quality in their genre, for very little price.
The different case of the portrait of Julián Gayarre -on which I am planning a particular study- has the added attraction of bearing an autograph dedication of the tenor to the engineer Enrique de León y Mesonero. Perhaps on another occasion it could be the "piece of the month" of this Chair.

Collection of engravings
Antonio Gil de Zárate (1793-1861), politician, educator and playwright, important figure in the Spanish educational administration.
Fig. 2. Manuel Tamayo y Baús (1829-1898), dramatist
Fig. 3. José Echegaray (1832-1916), writer and politician, in 1904 he won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Fig. 4. Gaspar Núñez de Arce (1834-1903), journalist, politician and poet
Fig. 5. Manuel Bretón de los Herreros (1796-1873), playwright, poet, and journalist.
Fig. 6. Tomás Rodríguez Rubí (1817-1890), politician and playwright
Fig. 7. Narciso Serra (1830-1877), dramatist
Fig. 8. Juan Eugenio de Hartzenbusch (1806-1880), playwright, poet, critic and literary figure.
Fig. 9. Adelardo López de Ayala (1828-1879), playwright, academician and caderonist
Fig. 10. Francisco Martínez de la Rosa (1787-1862), liberal politician was a deputy in the Cortes de Cádiz of 1812, playwright and poet.
Fig. 11. Ventura de la Vega (1807-1865), lyric poet and playwright
Fig. 12. Julián Gayarre (1844-1890), tenor

- Autores dramáticos contemporáneos y joyas del teatro español del siglo XIX, Madrid, Imprenta de Fortanet, 1881 (1886).
- Barcia, A., "Sección de estampas de la Library Services Nacional", Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos, t. III, 1899, pp. 242-248.
- Blas Benito, J. (Coord.), Diccionario del dibujo y la estampa : vocabulary and thesaurus on the arts of drawing, engraving, lithography and serigraphy, Madrid, Calcografía Nacional, 1996.
- Catálogo general de la Calcografía Nacional, Madrid, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, 1987.
- Gallego, A., Historia del grabado en España, Madrid, Chair, 1979.
- García Fernández, Mª S., "Views of the Royal Sites engraved by Barto-lomé Maura", Reales Sitios, year XXX, no. 118, 1993, pp. 2-8.
- García Melero, J. E., "Bartolomé Maura, engraver", Goya, no. 181-182, 1984, pp. 100-105.
- Lafuente Ferrari, E., Sobre la historia del grabado español, Bilbao, Caja de Ahorros Vizcaína, 1989.
- Summa Artis. El grabado en España (siglos XIX y XX), vol. XXXII, Madrid, Espasa Calpa, 1988.
- Vega, J., El aguafuerte en el siglo XIX, Madrid, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, 1985.