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The good hand of the copyists of the Prado


Two centuries after its inauguration, the Madrid museum is one of the few that still allows artists and amateurs to learn oil painting face to face with the geniuses of ancient art.

The morning light of Madrid's winter breaks into prisms as it passes through the windows of the sculpture passage of the Prado Museum.

On a wooden bench, collected from visitors, sits Víctor Cageao, general coordinator of Conservation of the art gallery.

It advances that this year the institution will dedicate an exhibition to the copies.

Surely we will see

La Gioconda

from Madrid or, perhaps, the version that Rubens painted

of Caravaggio 's

The Descent .

"For now it is in process, we will tell more," he says.

More information

The Prado Museum tells its "most personal" story in a 265-piece installation

In the Prado it was copied before, even, it was the Prado (in 1819).

When it was the Royal Museum.

Copying was essential for the formation of the artist.

Velázquez, Rubens, Lucas Giordano (sometimes bordering on what we would understand today as a forgery) or Goya.

They all copied.

Fernando VII wrote it in the introduction to the catalog of 1828. He wanted to show the works so that "the young people who dedicate themselves to such a noble art have an inexhaustible source of riches where they can be trained, without having to go looking for them in foreign countries."

The women also walked the halls.

Micaela Adán, daughter of the 18th century sculptor Juan Adán, a friend of Goya, or Emilia Dulongval, who presented a copy

of Rafael 's

Sagrada familia belonging to the Prado at the San Fernando Academy in 1845.

In a miserable Spain very few could travel to Italy to train and Velázquez, Murillo or Zurbarán were distant echoes that only a few listened to.

Upon his return to Paris, in 1865, Manet wrote to his friend Baudelaire: "Finally I meet Velázquez, and I assure you that he is the greatest painter that ever lived."

The genius was beginning to be a painter of painters and the copies spread his immense talent.

Bernardo Pajares, manager of the copy office of the Museo del Prado.

samuel sanchez

Bernardo Pajares, head of the Copy Office, entered the gallery at the age of 23, was a general services assistant, is currently 39 years old and knows copyists by name.

It is his responsibility.

Who are the most copied?

How many works have been produced?

What are the rules for copying?

And the fate of the paintings?

There are no surprises.

The most reproduced are Velázquez, Goya and Murillo, according to Pajares.

The copyists' registry book (from 1871) counts more than 5,000 works.

Those pages are also the narrative of how the years have reduced the practice.

Between 1964 and 1965 alone, 358 copies of Velázquez, 305 of Goya and 244 of Murillo were finished.

About 90 a month.

Back in 1964, 1,099 canvases were completed and during 1965, exactly 1,049.

Before, in 1895, 1,102 were completed.

Today the numbers read differently:

clear rules

The rules have changed, a lot.

In the first decades of the museum it was allowed (something now unimaginable) to use grids and trace the original.

That disappeared.

There is no maximum number of copyists.

But there are only 19 easels.

The museum only allows you to bring the materials and a 1.50 meter rubber to place it on the ground and avoid dirt.

Acrylic is not allowed and watercolor is rarely allowed.

And never reinterpret the paintings.

It is a place to learn oil painting.

The copyists work from Monday to Thursday during the hours (from 10 in the morning to 8 in the afternoon) of the gallery with a special pass.

The easels are put away on Friday.

And perhaps when they leave the art gallery, and move those secret trunks that are memory, they will remember that the most copied works are

Los borrachos

, el

Crucified Christ


The Spinners

, by Velázquez, and, behind, the Goyesques

The grape harvest


blind man's chicken


the parasol


They will also feel the privilege.

The Prado (next to the Louvre) is one of the few museums that allow copyists.

“The copies” —says Bernardo Pajares— “must be five centimeters larger or smaller on each side compared to the original so that they cannot pass for a replica”.

The maximum measurement is 1.3 meters and only one copyist per room is allowed.

In the Roman statuary, hardly used, you can hear, over the silence, the chord of the soft strumming of the charcoal running through the paper.

Elena Martín (44 years old, Bilbao) copies the sculpture

Apollo with a zither

(175-200 AD, marble).

She is a classical dance teacher at the Escuela Mayor de Danza and an actress.

"I'm out of my mind in the latest video clip of the singer Lola Indigo,

Toy Story

," she says.

The Apollo

will finish it in two weeks.

She will have completed about 30 drawings.

“I come three days a week and dedicate four hours to it,” she adds.

“The works, in principle, are for me.


learn and enjoy drawing.

Doing it in the Prado is incredible”.

Elena Martín makes a drawing with an easel of the Roman sculpture 'Apollo with a zither' in the Museo del Prado.Samuel Sánchez

There are those who—particularly in an earlier generation—converted

the copy in a profession.

Enrique Fernández Ventura went from painting movie posters on the Gran Vía to recycling himself as a professional copyist, just like Antonio Ramírez Ríos.

Both, recently deceased, were over 80 years old.

“It was a great loss, because they were part of the family,” acknowledges Pajares.

Because the copies and their destiny belong to those who create them.

The museum documents, photographs and catalogs them before leaving the art gallery.

Perhaps there is a relief (now copyists are between 20 and 30 years old and they are interested, above all, in the 19th century) to this way of looking at life.

Jesús Carrasco is self-taught.

His parents run two fishmongers in Toledo.

"Painting is a passion that runs through my blood," he defends.

He is 28 years old and has sold copies of it in London or Mexico.

He travels four hours a day from Almorox (Toledo) by bus to copy in the museum.

We discovered him in a little-traveled room unraveling Goya's

El pelele


The minimum age to paint is 18 years.

But a month after his birthday, he was already facing a

Van Dyck


“For me it was a



Painting in the Prado! ”, He recalls.

He has a list of orders that continue with

La nevada

(Goya) and




Víctor Cageo, general coordinator of conservation of the Prado.

samuel sanchez

Some will be impossible.

The Prado prohibits copying

Goya's Majas,




Boys on the Beach


The Descent

(Rogier van der Weyden),

Judit at Holofernes' Banquet

(Rembrandt) and since 2016 —after the experience of its massive exhibition— all



Rooms are always full.

12,174 kilometers from Madrid, in a town in Argentine Patagonia called Veintiocho de Noviembre, the words of Leslie Soto, who at 32 years old has one of those voices loaded with paint, arrives clearly over the phone.

Due to the pandemic,


Christ embracing the cross

had to be kept in storage.

"It was a joy to copy in the Prado: I cried when they told me," he says.

In September he returns to finish his canvas.

And he thinks that maybe, in this world, he will find a life support.

The history of art is the history of copies of it.

A book of geniuses and


Between October 1897 and February 1898, Picasso registered in the Prado's copyists' book as Pablo Ruiz, to study Velázquez.

One canvas —writes the art historian Manuela Mena— represents the late and black

Portrait of Felipe IV

, and in two drawings she left quick notes on the

Jester Calabacillas

and the

Boy from Vallecas.

In another, the figures of the infanta Margarita and the menina Isabel de Velasco in

Las meninas


The genius from Malaga is not the only famous


(a term used at the time that is somewhat confusing, because many were artists as such) who has passed through the museum.

Courbet, Renoir, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec (whom a photo from 1885 reveals is copying a


!), Monet or Botero.

Decades later, to be a copyist some basic requirements are necessary.

Send the museum six photographs of the candidate's work, a letter of recommendation from a professor of Fine Arts, design or similar teaching, ID or passport.

Foreigners are also required to provide a document from the embassy or consulate proving their activity as a painter.

Each copy costs 100 euros and 30 as a "registration".

About 100 requests arrive a year and 95% are usually accepted.

Velázquez, in the background, smiles with his historic phlegm.

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Source: elparis

All life articles on 2023-02-07

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