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The power of images and their value as historical documents are the themes of the 7th edition of the Baroque School

November 22, 2010

  • Starting today until Thursday, the Focus-Abengoa Foundation is hosting a new edition of its Baroque School, which this year opens its doors to anyone interested in this subject.
  • Richard L. Kagan, the prestigious hispanist and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (USA), is directing this edition in collaboration with Bethany Aram, lecturer in modern history at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide.

Seville, 22 November 2010.- The Focus-Abengoa Foundation, in collaboration with Menéndez Pelayo International University (UIMP), today opened the seventh edition of the Baroque School, entitled The Power of Images: Portraits of the Baroque City, which will bring together important historians, hispanists and specialists in art, iconography, imagery and architecture, at the Hospital de los Venerables in Seville.

Anabel Morillo León, Director General of the Focus-Abengoa Foundation, opened this new edition of the school accompanied by Antonio Miguel Bernal Rodríguez, Chairman of the Academic Board of the UIMP-Seville and a professor of the School of History and Financial Institutions of the University of Seville; Patrocinio Rodríguez Ramos, Director of UIMP in Seville, and the director of this new edition, Richard L. Kagan, prestigious hispanist and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA.

The objective of the School is to learn about daily life in European cities (Spanish, Italian, Flemish, Dutch, American, etc.) in the 16th and 17th centuries by analysing prints, portraits or engravings, or indeed any image of the era that serves as a historical document. During the opening session entitled The Itinerant Tower: The Giralda in Seville through space and time Richard L. Kagan stated out that “it is fascinating to compare the different forms in which these cities were depicted and the techniques used by the artists responsible, as well as their use of these techniques in each case, and of course the media used”.

Drawing on his life, the director of the School remembered how as a child he had become interested and inspired by the power and the value of the image of a city, and emphasised the power that an image of a city had then and still has now. “Today, institutions, tourism offices and local associations invest and dedicate significant resources and effort to projecting an attractive and interesting image of their cities, which helps to attract tourists, investors, and so on, which reflects the real power of the image”; a power that is intrinsically linked with the risk of “giving a poor image, something that everyone tries to avoid”.

The same occurred between the governing parties and the authorities in the 16th and 17th centuries, who were also concerned about the image of their cities, although generally for reasons other than tourism. “In those days, urban images were a symbol of their dominion, and reflected, like mirrors, the power of the nobility that controlled them. For example, Phillip II commissioned various cityscapes to hang them on the walls of his palace in Madrid to impress his guests with the cities that were under his domain and control”, explained Richard L. Kagan.

The professor of history at Johns Hopkins University has listed and analysed other uses of images during this period. “It was not just a symbol of power for the monarchs; it was also the local authorities – the city councils – that commissioned portraits in order to show citizens the benefits of their governance. Furthermore, they can also be considered as a type of propaganda, aimed at a very specific and small target audience. More specifically, an image could help to promote a harmonious city and to transmit wellbeing and happiness”. In this list, Professor Kagan also included the works that were commissioned “to commemorate historical occasions or an important event, such as the victory of a battle”, and not forgetting the informative and educational characteristics of many of these works: “such as the case of the topographic or chorographic vistas of the cities”.

Images were used for many things and all of them demonstrate the power that they had, and that they continue to hold today; an importance that explains and justifies why the Foundation has focused this edition of the School on this theme.

To a certain extent, this interest and value of the image is what led the Focus-Abengoa Foundation to put on the exhibition from its own collection, entitled See Seville. Five views through 100 prints, at the Hospital de los Venerables, after three years without an exhibition. The exhibition, which can be seen until 8 December, has been adapted to new technologies and allows visitors to delve into Seville’s era of high splendour during the 16th and 17th centuries, while also offering a graphic insight into the evolution of the city through to the 20th century.

The collection of prints, comprised of engravings and lithographs belonging to the Foundation’s iconographic collection, aims to communicate the value of these documents as a graphic testimony of the future of the city between the 16th and 20th centuries.

As well as the students registered for the course (more than 30 from various universities), this year the School wanted to open its doors to anyone interested in the subject. Entry to all of the scheduled sessions is therefore free, while places are available.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, the day will begin with a talk by the historian Fernando Olmedo Granados, who “will travel” to the Seville of 1617. He will be followed by Sussan Babaie, from the University of Munich, who will delve into the daily life of Istanbul and Esfahan in the 17th century. Later on, and once the debate has finished, moderated by Carlos Alberto González, lecturer on modern history at the University of Seville, the speakers and participants will be offered a guided tour of Seville Cathedral led by Luis Méndez Rodríguez, lecturer in art history.

The afternoon will feature the Mexican art historian, Oscar Mazin Gómez, who will analyse the cathedrals and cities of the New Spain of the 17th and 18th centuries, and Víctor Pérez Escolano, architect and lecturer of the College of Architecture of Seville. A new debate will bring the second day of the School to a close, moderated by Ramón M. Serra Contreras, professor of American history.

The Baroque School is the result of a collaboration agreement between the Focus-Abengoa Foundation and Menéndez Pelayo International University, which has resulted in the organisation of two schools with a three-year schedule, which offer their programs and activities during the autumn and the spring at the Hospital de los Venerables, turning the headquarters of the Focus-Abengoa Foundation into a forum for learning and reflection, given by international lecturers and researchers.

The two schools, which form part of the academic program of the UIMP in Seville, combine educational, scientific and cultural issues, and reflect the aim of the Focus-Abengoa Foundation to contribute to satisfying general interest needs from a multi-disciplinary perspective.

The Focus-Abengoa Foundation was created in 1982 as a result of the cultural work begun in 1972 by Abengoa with the publication of the works Themes of Seville (“Temas Sevillanos”) and Iconography of Seville (“Iconografía de Sevilla”). A collection of documents, books and engravings on the Kingdom of Seville and by Sevillian authors was created during the same period. This initial cultural work showed Abengoa’s directors the importance of the company’s involvement in activities that directly benefit society, beyond its core technology work, which led to the creation of the Seville Cultural Fund Foundation.

The UIMP has an interdisciplinary academic and cultural program, which combines tradition and innovation with quality and prestige. It is currently the only presence-based university associated with the Ministry of Education. The University does not have its own academic staff, but operates by continually inviting the academic, intellectual, scientific and artistic elite, in Spain and from abroad, to lecture in its classrooms.

Additional information

Wednesday 24 November

The third day of the Baroque School will begin with the session entitled, The Image of the Court: representation and its limits in 17th century Madrid, given by Jesús Escobar, a specialist in art, architecture and town planning in modern Spain and lecturer in art history at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

The morning will also feature Krista de Jonge, lecturer in architectural history at the Université Catholique de Louvain; Boudewijn Bakker, researcher from the Amsterdam municipal archive; José Jaime García Bernal, lecturer in modern history at the University of Seville; Lucia Nuti, lecturer in the history of architecture and urban history at the University of Pisa, and Fernando Marías, professor of art history at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

Thursday 25 November

The final day of the School will start with the session by Benito Navarrete, lecturer in history at the University of Alcalá and the scientific adviser to the Diego Velázquez Research Centre, under the title Painted Seville: the urban development of a city of dreams.

At the end of the School, participants may visit the exhibition See Seville. Five views through 100 prints, guided by the curator of the exhibition, Alfonso Pleguezuelo, lecturer in art history at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Seville.

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