Prado re-frames Velazquez masterpiece The Spinners

Self portrait by Diego Velazquez.

One of the great masterpieces of European art, The Spinners by Velazquez, is presented with a new frame that hides the later 18th century additions to the canvas from view and allows the visitor to contemplate the composition as conceived by Velazquez. The work is integrated into an innovative installation specially designed for the masterpiece and incorporates new technical features for conservation.

The recovery of Velazquez’s composition marks the first action of the “Reframing the Prado” project which aims to develop new solutions and adequate framing features for the best presentation of the Prado’s collection. “Reframing the Prado” is supported by American Friends of the Prado Museum and the American Express Foundation.

The Spinners or The Fable of Arachne is a principal composition of Velazquez mature period with a complex meaning. The new framing system developed by the Prado Museum now displays the work in the best conditions for visitors. The project, supported by American Friends of the Prado Museum thanks to the sponsorship of American Express Foundation, helps the viewer understand original significance of the painting.

For Javier Solana, Chairman of the Board of the Trustees of the Prado Museum, “The support and collaboration from institutions like American Express Foundation and American Friends greatly help the Prado undertake innovative projects to best display these extraordinary collections for the public.”

In the 18th century, the canvas was extended around its perimeter with wide band of canvas above the original composition, the archway and dormer window, and slimmer bands onto the right, left and lower edges. This type of intervention was frequently performed in the Spanish royal collections, but in the case of The Spinners it detracts from the perception of the painting as conceived by Velázquez. The scene in the foreground is distanced from the scene in the background, converting its mythological content, considered key to understanding the work, to a genre scene.

The Prado Museum, aware of this effect yet conscience to preserve the historical additions, reframed The Spinners in the past few years with a system that allowed the Velazquez composition to be seen. However, this system made access to the back of the painting difficult and since 2017 the museum has been developing an improved installation that permits access to review the work at all times and shows the original composition. This process now reaches a successful and optimal conclusion.

An innovative modular system to view the original Velazquez composition incorporates improved technical aspects for preservation

The new system consists of a thin, modular wall which will cover the additions of the painting and frame the Velázquez composition. The system addresses the dual requirements of aesthetically integrating the work into the gallery and including technical advances for preservation and protection. The installation is undetectable to the viewer, providing the most natural experience between the visitor and Velázquez’s masterpiece.

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Deirdre Tynan

Deirdre Tynan is an award-winning journalist who enjoys bringing the best in news reporting to Spain’s largest English-language newspaper, Euro Weekly News. She has previously worked at The Mirror, Ireland on Sunday and for news agencies, media outlets and international organisations in America, Europe and Asia. A huge fan of British politics and newspapers, Deirdre is equally fascinated by the political scene in Madrid and Sevilla. She moved to Spain in 2018 and is based in Jaen.