This museum, which recently underwent massive renovations and expansion, is the major depository of Catalan art. Although its mammoth collection also covers the Gothic period and 19th and 20th centuries, MNAC is perhaps the most important center for Romanesque art in the world. The majority of the sculptures, icons, and frescoes were taken from dilapidated churches in the Pyrénées, restored, and mounted as they would have appeared in the churches in expertly reproduced domes and apses. Larger works are shown with a photograph of the church and a map pointing out its location, drawing you further into this fascinating and largely underexposed 11th- to 13th-century movement. Simplistic yet mesmerizing, Romanesque art is marked by elongated forms, vivid colors, and expressiveness. Most outstanding is the Apse of Santa María de Taüll (in Ambit [Gallery] V) with a serene, doe-eyed Christ surrounded by the Apostles. Lapis lazuli was used to create the intense blue in the piece. Also look out for a series of ceiling paintings from an Aragonese chapter house. In a more subtle color scheme, they echo Tudor miniature painting (Ambit XI). The entire collection is in chronological order, giving the viewer a tour of Romanesque art from its beginnings to the more advanced late Romanesque and early Gothic eras.
The next section you visit deals with the Gothic period, made up of pieces from the 13th to 15th centuries. All styles that were adopted in Catalonia are represented: Italianate Gothic, Flemish Gothic, and a more linear, local Gothic style. Look out for retablos by Jaume Huguet (Room XIII). The primary artist in the Catalan School, Huguet mixed Flemish and Italian influences with local Romanesque conventions. The Gothic collection also holds some Barcelonese Gothic Quarter artifacts such as giant object-signs (made for an illiterate population) that used to hang outside workshops (shoes, scissors, and the like) and other decorative pieces. The Gothic section finishes with the Cambó collection. A bequest from a local businessman, the selection of 14th- to 19th-century paintings includes works by Rubens, El Greco, and Goya.
Thanks to the MNAC's most recent acquisitions -- pieces of 19th- and 20th-century decorative art and painting, most stemming from the city's all-important moderniste movement -- the collection now spans a millennium. While moderniste architecture in the city is abundant, most building interiors have been stripped bare of their mirrors, chandeliers, sculptures, and furnishings, many designed by architects such as Gaudí. Until mid-2004 they were on display at the Museu d'Art Modern in the Parc de la Ciutadella. At the MNAC they have a stunning new home.
Highlights of this collection, which spans the neoclassical, Art Nouveau (or moderniste), and subsequent nou-centista (or fin de siècle) movements are too numerous to mention. Look out for the marquetry pieces by Gaspar Homar (a master moderniste carpenter) and the Rodin-influenced sculptor Josep Clara. The superb private oratory by Joan Busquets will leave you breathless at the Art Nouveau movement's excesses and craftsmanship. There are also many pieces taken from the interiors of homes of the Manzana de la Discordia (earlier in this chapter).
- © Frommer's 2013
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