Art in the Castillo Hotel Son Vida
From Morell to Anckermann to Ribas
Fausto Morell y Bellet (1851 – 1928)
Work and importance
Fausto Morell was known for his exquisite imitations of the 15th-century Flemish style. His most important works are paintings of historical events, religious scenes and portraits. Morell was a descendant of a very prominent Mallorcan noble: Prince Orlandis, the founder of Casal Solleric (18th century), which is now Palma’s municipal cultural centre in the Passeig d’es Born.
He grew up in a very art-minded family: by the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, Casal Solleric had already become a private cultural venue for symposiums and artistic events. Among the visitors were writers, musicians and painters, as well as Austrian Empress Elisabeth (known to posterity as “Sisi”), who came in the company of her relation Archduke Ludwig Salvator, and of course incognito, to see Fausto Morell’s studio. In addition to the archduke, who sat for a portrait, Morell’s circle of friends included the musician Pau Casals, the poet Miguel Costa y Llobera and Ricard Anckermann. Fausto Morell interceded on several occasions when differences arose between the proprietor of Son Vida at the time, Fernando Truyols, and the artist Ricard Anckermann regarding the dining room decor. One of Morell’s idiosyncrasies was to invite friends like Pau Casals or Archduke Ludwig Salvator to his studio and, while painting, to engage in heated conversations often revolving round the subject of the work in progress.
The other Fausto Morell
There’s another important painter named Fausto Morell: viz. Fausto Morell y Orlandis, the father of the aforementioned artist. Heirs of a rich aristocratic family, both enjoyed the privilege of not having to cater to patrons and their tastes, which left them at liberty to develop their style and subject-matter freely.
PIECE OF ART
King Jaume, triumphant entry into Ciutat de Mallorca
This scene took place on 31 December 1229 and is still commemorated every year on the same site: the triumph of Jaume I at the head of the Catalan-Aragonese army that defeated the island’s Arab rulers and so reconquered Mallorca for Christendom. This painting captures the mood of the immediate aftermath of battle.
It shows the flames, the wounded and dead lying strewn about the ground, and in the background the gate, called Bab el Kofol by the Arabs, through which the Catalans had entered to take the city. What is remarkable about the picture, apart from its atmospheric density, is the balance it strikes between the authenticity of historical representation and the aesthetically-ordained arrangement of figures and pictorial elements.
An anecdote: On the occasion of Saudi-Arabian King Faisal’s visit to the hotel in 1967, the management covered up the painting so as not to give umbrage. Years later, one of the ministers who had accompanied the king returned to Son Vida. The draped picture had already aroused his curiosity during his first visit: this time around he got to see it, and remarked that covering it up was a considerate gesture, to be sure, but unnecessary, for it was, after all, a picture of an historical event.
The Battle of Llucmayor
This painting represents another turning-point in the history of the island: the battle of Llucmayor. The defeat of Jaume III in 1349 portended the downfall of the Kingdom of Mallorca.
El archduke Karl of Austria y his consort Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel
These paintings were, in all likelihood, commissioned works. In the Spanish War of Succession, the bulk of the Mallorcan nobility sided with the Hapsburg heir apparent, namely the Archduke portrayed here. The Marqués de la Torre, Nicolás Truyols, one of the most fervent supporters of the Hapsburgs, was picked by the island’s aristocrats to bring Mallorca’s pledge of allegiance to the Archduke (1707). One of the Marqués’ descendants, Fernando Truyols, built Son Vida and commissioned Ricard Anckermann to decorate the dining room. He was also the one who bought the two historical paintings from Fausto Morell and commissioned the two portraits.
Pictorial details and background
Archduke Karl lost the fight for the Spanish throne, but was subsequently crowned Austria’s Emperor Karl VI.
The Hapsburg coat of arms can be seen in the background to this whole-body portrait of the Archduke. Both paintings convey the reverence of the Mallorcan nobility for both of these personages long after the War of Succession. One of the chief reasons for this reverence was the Hapsburgs’ federalist stance, as opposed to the centralized state favoured by the Bourbons.
Ricard Anckermann (1842 – 1907)
Work and importance
Ricard Anckermann is considered one of the most important Mallorcan artists of all time and far and away the most important of the latter half of the 19th century. The decoration of the Son Vida dining room was his last major project, which he finished three years before his death. The only comparable work of Anckermann’s is the Ballroom of the elite society club “Círculo Mallorquín”, a large-scale work that made Anckermann the figurehead of the insular art scene. As the “Círculo Mallorquín” building is now used for the Balearic Parliament, Anckermann’s paintings and decors adorn the stateroom of the highest institution in this autonomous region.
Anckermann was born in 1842 in Palma de Mallorca. As his surname suggests, he was of German descent: at the end of the 18th century his grandfather, Karl Angermann, was recruited by a Swiss regiment to serve as armourer. The regiment hired their services out to the Spanish crown and were transferred to Palma. The alteration of the name Angermann was due to civil servants’ errors in writing the unfamiliar name and the prevailing tendency to bring spellings into line with Spanish pronunciation. Ricard Anckermann’s father, Jordi Angermann/Ankermann (there are over a dozen variants of the family name), in turn served as armourer in a battalion of the Mallorcan militia.
Ricard Anckermann’s talent was conspicuous even from a young age. After his first years of study and a very brief career as municipal councillor of Palma, he fled from politics to Paris, to give himself entirely over to his art. When he ran out of money, his brother, an engineer supervising the building of a steamship in England, found him a job as interior decorator, and with the same ship that was later to ply between the island and mainland under the name of “Lulio”, Anckermann returned to embark on a brilliant career as an artist and art teacher.
Ricard Anckermann had an astoundingly wide range of interests. He felt at home and achieved consummate mastery in vastly different styles, subjects, formats and materials. He took a serious interest in other pursuits as well. He loved music not only as an inactive listener, but played the cello and even composed works of his own, one of which he sent to his brother Carles, director of the Tacón theatre orchestra in Havana, Cuba. His other passions were literature and historical research; in the latter field he published two treatises.
PIECE OF ART
Decoration of the Son Vida dining room
At the turn of the century Ferran Truyols, the Marqués de la Torre and owner of Son Vida, commissioned Ricard Anckermann to decorate the dining room. The artist spent four years working on it, his last major project. The work consists of canvases that are mounted on frames and cover the walls of the room. They depict ten scenes from a royal hunting expedition in the 18th century.
The scenes show: The Departure from the Castle, Riding to the Hunting Grounds, The Pursuit of Game, A Bolting Horse, the Prince and His Bride, Open-Air Cooking, Banquet, Dancing, Games and the Return to the Castle.
In contrast to his previous works, the painter here entirely dispenses with heavy symbolism and concentrates all his efforts on a naturalistic portrayal without ulterior motives.
Antoni Ribas (1845 – 1911)
Work and importance
Antoni Ribas exemplifies the artist who, despite tremendous talent, never took the leap into the international art market because he preferred the security of steady employment at home to the prospect of a precarious existence as an artist abroad. And that in spite of the sensation he’d caused by winning the gold medal at the exhibition of the Academia de Bellas Artes in Barcelona in 1866: against the phalanx of established Catalan artists who had embraced the prevailing trend of historical Romanticism, the unknown 21-year-old Mallorcan pitted a naturalistic landscape, which took first prize. With this achievement, Ribas reinforced and consolidated the revolution that had already begun in Spanish painting towards realistic depictions of landscapes.
After his success in Barcelona, he took up work in 1868 as a set designer at the Teatro Príncipe de Asturias in Palma and in 1872 as an art instructor at the Academia de Bellas Artes, also in Palma. As an artist he had already received honorary titles from an early age. Towards the end of his career, however, Ribas, the one-time pioneer, came to be seen as a figurehead of established academic painting, against which the turn-of-the-century modernists revolted. Ribas was friends with O’Neille, Ricard Anckermann and Fausto Morell, with whom he started up an artists association (Fomento de la Pintura y Escultura) in 1876.
PIECE OF ART
The Landing near Santa Ponça
This picture seems to contradict the above assertions, for it does depict an historical scene – and what’s more, a turning-point in the history of the island: viz. the landing of the Catalan-Aragonese army at Santa Ponça on 10 September 1229.
Nonetheless, the scene is not rendered in the style of historical Romanticism, which would call for looming cloud banks and close-ups of the protagonists. It is, rather, a realistic landscape that plays the leading role in spite of the importance of the event. One can only make out the scattered outlines of the Christian fleet in the bay, whilst Arab scouts have settled in the shade of the trees and only a few riders can be clearly discerned, though not in dramatic poses, but as if in a photographic snapshot.
Despite the absence of sensational elements, there is an intangible suspense in the air. It is the moment just before an historical encounter that was to culminate two and a half months later, on 31 December, in Jaume I’s entry into Madina Mayurqa, as Palma was called at the time (see Anckermann’s rendition thereof).
Juan Pantoja de la Cruz (1553 – 1608)
Life, work, importance
Juan Pantoja de la Cruz ranks among the leading Spanish portraitists of the late 16th century and is an exponent of Spanish Renaissance painting. In 1598 upon Philip III’s accession to the throne, he was appointed court painter.
PIECE OF ART
Don Pedro Enriques de Avecedo, Conde de Fuentes
This whole-body portrait shows the count clad in half-armour holding a sceptre in one hand. This attitude and his almost theatrical appearance against a velvet-draped backdrop was fashionable in late 16th-century northern European portraiture.
Count Fuentes (1535-1610) is a legendary figure in Spanish history. He was as intelligent as he was brutal, and a notorious warhorse on the battlefield. As Portugal’s commander in chief he led the defence of Lisbon in 1589 against Sir Francis Drake’s attacks. In 1592 he was sent to Flanders and appointed Governor-General of the Spanish-occupied Netherlands. He subsequently proved his acumen as a political and military adviser, as commander in chief of the army of the whole Spanish Empire and later as governor of Milan and Lombardy.
SPANISH SCHOOL PORTRAITS
Attributed to Bartolomé González, 1564 – 1627
The artist’s life and importance
Both paintings are attributed to Bartolomé González, a specialist in portraiture who was officially appointed court painter of the royal house in 1617, thus following in Pantoja’s footsteps and entering into direct rivalry with the young Velázquez.