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The Hispanic Society
The Hispanic Society Museum and Library in Manhattan. Source: Wikicommons

Nuestra Casa: Rediscovering the Treasures of The Hispanic Society Museum & Library

The exhibition reveals hidden gems from the expansive, permanent collection of the museum.

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If you happen to be walking near Washington Heights, Manhattan, you could miss the Hispanic Society Museum & Library (HSM&L). It's been closed for renovations for some time, but there are still things going on. For example, there is a small exhibition happening: Nuestra Casa: Rediscovering the Treasures of The Hispanic Society Museum & Library, revealing hidden gems from the expansive, permanent collection of the museum that includes more than 750,000 objects. 

Curated by Dr. Madeleine Haddon, the exhibition opened to the public on Feb. 17, 2022, and will run through April 17, 2022.

The objects featured in Nuestra Casa are a part of the HSM&L’s permanent collection and help to illuminate the wide array of arts, literature and history of the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America from antiquity to modern day. During the museum’s recent renovation, a selection of these works toured the world, from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Now, with the opening of the HSM&L’s newly renovated exhibition space in the East Building Gallery, these objects will come home for the first time in five years before many of them continue on to the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Academy of Art in London.

Among the jewels on display are masterpieces by Spanish painters such as Francisco de Goya’s The Duchess of Alba (1797),  Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of a Little Girl (1638–42), El Greco’s Saint Jerome as a Penitent (1600), and Francisco de Zurbarán’s Saint Emerentiana (1635–40). It also includes masterpieces within a range of mediums by relatively unknown Latin American artists, at times still unidentified, who have received little recognition.

There are also various decorative works, including a tile with the Star of David from a Toledo synagogue (1425–75), and a richly decorated Islamic box (ca. 966), from Córdoba. Both are reminders that for a long time, Jews and Muslims constituted important parts of the Spanish population.

goya
Francisco de Goya’s The Duchess of Alba (1797) (C) The Hispanic Society

The return of these objects to the HSM&L has prompted a re-examination of the works within the collection that have been historically defined as its masterpieces. The exhibition comes during a moment in which it is necessary for our traditional art historical and aesthetic hierarchies to be reassessed to make way for a new art history that fully incorporates the diverse populations to whom our public institutions belong. 

Nuestra Casa only scratches the surface in terms the breadth of treasures that visitors will be able to come to the HSM&L to see once the museum fully reopens it doors, says Dr. Madeleine Haddon, Curator of Nuestra Casa. “Visitors will leave with an understanding of the HSM&L as the most significant collection in the United States in which to encounter and learn about the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world.”

HSM&L was founded in 1904 Archer Milton Huntington, heir to a railroad fortune and owner of a collection devoted to the art, history, and literature of the Portuguese and Spanish speaking cultures. He wanted to show not only the art of Spain and Portugal, but also work from those countries’ vast empires.

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