One could call the “On the Reverse” exhibition presented at the Prado in Madrid unusual. Visitors will see Velázquez’s famous work Las Meninas from the back in a life-size representation.
In particular, the curator of the exhibition, the artist Miguel Ángel Blanco, proposes an unusual approach to painting, turning the works upside down in order to encourage visitors to create a new and more complete relationship with the artists who created the approximately 100 works on display .
The pious nun in ‘Kneeling Nun’ by Martin van Meytens (1695-1770) in the National Museum Stockholm has attracted interest with the back view of the painting baring her rear. This is the most impressive exhibit, which belonged to the Swedish ambassador in Paris, who kept it secret and only showed it to special guests.
The aim of the exhibition with the collected works
“The exhibition aims to remind us of something that I think Velázquez would have wanted us to think about if he were here, namely that art – and painting in particular – is not only about the image itself” said the director of the Prado Miguel Falomir.
“Art works are three-dimensional. When we focus solely on the image, which is the reproduction of a given moment frozen in time, we gain some information, but lose a lot when it comes to all that the work means as an object. I like to say that when you see a work and its back and its frame, it’s like standing in front of an archaeological discovery, in which each layer has its own story to tell us,” he added.
To this end, curator Miguel Ángel Blanco, gathered 105 works from the Prado and 29 international museums and collections and installed them in two rooms that have been painted black to create a “cavernous atmosphere” of mystery and revelation. Some of the works are visible from both sides and some have their painted side facing the wall to better highlight the messages, stamps and sketches that adorn their backs and which have remained unseen for so long.
Until March 3, 2024, visitors can visit the Prado.
Source: Museo del Prado
The sections of the exhibition that stand out
In the third section of the exhibition we find “The stretcher as cross”, the wooden cross on the back of the works that can be used to transport the painting from one place to another. His metaphor emphasizes the three-dimensional nature of the work while symbolizing the effort and difficulties of the artist.
The “Hidden Side” section includes various works in which the reverse side reveals traces of the creative process in the form of drawings, geometric designs or expressive whimsies. Many images that remained hidden on the back of the works were unrelated to the interpretation of the front, but information about the artist’s methods and personality. In some cases these are finished or almost finished compositions that were abandoned for one reason or another, and then the artist used the other side of the canvas.
B-Sides: The most impressive exhibit, according to Blanco, was the kneeling nun by Martin van Meytens. Its obverse depicts a pious nun in prayer, attended by an older nun.
Its reverse, however, shows the nun with her cassock pulled up over her bare behind.
Source: Museo del Prado
“It is an excellent example of a pornographic image half-hidden on the back, which belonged to the Swedish ambassador in Paris, who kept it hidden and only showed it to special guests,” he said.
*Information from Guardian