Company for the engraving of the paintings of the Royal Palaces

In 1789, the Company for the engraving of the paintings of the royal palaces was established in Madrid, with the purpose - as Manuel Godoy would later recall - of "promoting throughout the kingdom the study of the great national and foreign models and spreading the news and the glory of the old Spanish school, little or nothing known in most of Europe". On November 16th, 1789, Carlos IV authorized the Company so that the paintings in the royal collection could be drawn. Three months after the royal authorization was granted, preparations began to open the first plates. The Count of Osuna contacted the Duke of Fernán Núñez, ambassador in Paris, to provide him with news about the French engravers who could be hired to work in the French capital or be transferred to Madrid and José Nicolás de Azara took care that the best Italian engravers opened the first plates. The artistic direction, at least for some time, was carried out by Manuel Salvador Carmona in engraving and Francisco Bayeu in drawing. From the beginning, the Company found itself in a difficult situation. The sale of engravings was very scarce, while the expenses increased gradually. Faced with the unsustainable economic situation, the Company, already ruined and without any activity, proposed to the king in 1800 "that the Royal Calcography [...] take all the Company's belongings to continue its enterprise, so decent for the whole Nation", and, at the same time, assume all the debts it had contracted. The paralyzed situation lasted until 1812, the year in which it was ordered to deposit in the Royal Printing Office, for protective purposes, the sheets and belongings of the Company. They were there in 1816, when the acquisition by the Royal Calcography of the plates, prints and drawings was proposed.

During the scarce ten years of the Company's activity, 95 works were scheduled to be engraved, of which 74 plates were ordered to be opened; only 50 of them went to the Royal Calcography and only 24 were published.

Important engravers from Europe worked for the Company. Plates were opened not only in Rome, but also in Paris and London as well as in Madrid. The Company's plates constitute a paradigmatic example of intaglio reproduction engraving.

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