Lonely Planet Writer

New exhibition shows how Seville is clawing back its artistic heritage one painting at a time

Seville in Spain ruled the art world in the 17th century led by influential grand masters such as Velázquez and Murillo. But, over the course of time, much of its art has been lost or stolen.

Hopital de Venerables Sacerdotes.
Hopital de Venerables Sacerdotes. Image by Brendan Sainsbury

Determined to reverse the trend, a local foundation called Focus-Abengoa, has recently started to claim back Seville’s art heritage. The latest in a line of important acquisitions is San Pedro Penitente de los Venerables, a baroque work by Seville-born painter, Bartolomé Murillo which was returned to the city after a 206-year absence last February.

The ceiling of the chapel in the 16th century building.
The ceiling of the chapel in the 16th century building. Image by Brendan Sainsbury

Dating from around 1675, the naturalistic rendering of Saint Peter was stolen by a Napoleonic general named Marshal Soult from a chapel inside Seville’s Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes in 1810 after which its provenance becomes murky. It was recuperated with the help of the director of London’s National Gallery, Gabriele Finaldi, in 2015 and sent to Madrid’s Prado Museum where it was restored and briefly put on show. The painting joins a growing cache of vintage Spanish art amassed by Focus-Abengoa now on display in the ‘Centro Velázquez’ in the 16th century Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes.

Hopital de los Venerables, Seville.
Hopital de los Venerables, Seville. Image by Brendan Sainsbury

The historic building includes over a dozen storied works including Santa Rufina by Diego Velázquez which the foundation bought for €12.5 million in 2007. Born in Seville in 1599, Velazquez is considered one of the most influential painters of all time, but, until recently, few of his canvases could be seen in the city. The foundation has since acquired two more Velázquez paintings, along with other seminal works from the ‘Seville School’ by the likes of Francisco de Zurbarán and Francisco Pacheco. In November 2016, in a further boost for Seville’s art heritage, the Centro Velázquez will stage a special exhibition curated by Gabriele Finaldi focusing on the work of Velázquez and Murillo.