History

The Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country and the Arts

 JUAN LUIS BLANCO MOZO
Amigo de Número de la Real Sociedad Bascongada de los Amigos del País

From the beginnings of the Enlightenment movement, Fine Arts were very much to the fore in the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country's education program. Of all these art forms, painting was the instrument that best fit in with the pragmatic spirit and strong leaning towards useful sciences as expressed by the founding group. Far from being seen as a mere aesthetic discipline, it was established as an essential practice for improving the mechanical arts, like a basic grammar for any profession, according to the principles expressed in the literary work Discurso sobre el fomento de la industria popular (Discourse on the promotion of popular industry) (Madrid, 1774) by Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes. Painting was introduced into primary education by the elementary studies schools opened by the Royal Basque Society in Loyola, Bergara, Vitoria, Bilbao and San Sebastián, being a core subject for the professional development of commercial and craft activities. It also featured prominently in the curriculum of the Royal Seminary of Bergara.

However, where this discipline gained greater prestige and influence was in the Colleges of Art in Vitoria, Bergara and Bilbao, which were inaugurated in 1774 by the Society. It could be argued that setting up these schools brought about the teaching model of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, based on the primacy of painting as a foundation of fine arts; and the Enlightenment endeavour, along the lines of what was expressed by Campomanes, to deliver and provide adequate training to artisans. In practice, this economic aspect was complemented by an aesthetic appraisal which enriched the learning experience offered at these schools.

Architecture had its place in the Enlightenment project, albeit to a more limited extent. Included in its founding program is the well-known literary work Ensayo de la Sociedad Bascongada (Vitoria, 1768). The book entitled Discurso sobre la comodidad de las casas, que procede de su distribución exterior e interior (Discourse on the comfort of houses, which comes from its exterior and interior layout) written by José María Aguirre Ortés de Velasco, the Fifth Marquis of Montehermoso was published in a section devoted to civil architecture. This is a thorough study of the problem of the bourgeois single-family detached home, divided into two parts. The first part addresses the issues of location, interior layout and how the building communicates internally and externally, and the second part, more explicitly, brings the reader on a tour through the different rooms and areas that make up the house, which highlights the information ascribed to the problem of the stairs. Throughout this treatise, the author's splendid education is recognized, his mastery of architectural theory, from Vitruvius to the Abbé Laugier through to Palladio and fray Lorenzo de San Nicolás and his knowledge of the reality he speaks about, mainly French and Italian domestic architecture, and to a lesser extent, but also present, British and Dutch architecture.

Civil and military architecture, like drawing or mathematics, was further represented in the curriculum at the Seminary of Bergara, clearly educational in nature and never represented out of professional interest.

Tending towards having a preference to the useful sciences, the Society took a special interest in the art of engraving, being well aware of the importance of this discipline in conveying scientific and technical knowledge. Included among their faculty members were a large group of engravers from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando: the four boarders the Academy had sent to Paris in 1752 to train in this artistic technique, namely, Tomás López (1772), geographer to the king, Juan de la Cruz Cano Olmedilla (1774), Alfonso Cruzado (1775) and Manuel Salvador Carmona (1775), Tomás Francisco Prieto (1778), director of engraving at the aforementioned Academy and chief engraver of all the mints in Spain and the Indies; Francisco Asensio y Mejorada (1776), engraver of Arte de escribir by Francisco Javier de Santiago Palomares, and Gerónimo Antonio Gil (1793), the first engraver at the Mint of Mexico and general director of the Royal Academy of San Carlos of New Spain. The most outstanding of all these figures is Manuel Salvador Carmona, who would go on to engrave the Society's logo with the three hands clasped and the "irurac bat", and also of note is the portrait of the Count of Peñaflorida, drawn by the painter Luis Paret.

The Fifth Marquis of Montehermoso was the person responsible for forging links between the Real Basque Society of the Friends of the Country and the Academy of San Fernando, of which he was an honourable academician through his paintings since 1756. At Bascongada's Juntas Generales (equivalent to the Basque Parliament) in Bergara in September 1773, it was decided to create a portrait gallery of the most distinguished members that would be housed in the casa de juntas (Basque Assembly Hall) in each province. Over time the idea came together for a so-called "patriots room" located at the Royal Seminary of Bergara. When the early founders and supporters of the Society passed away, efforts were made to exhibit their portraits in this hall, either by commissioning an artist to paint a posthumous portrait or by acquiring an existing portrait that was owned by the deceased family. This was the case for the portrait of Nicolás Arriquibar which was given by his sister in 1780. There is a record of the custom portrait of Ambrosio de Meabe in 1782, another of the Marquis González de Castejón, a year later; the portrait of Francisco de Laguardia, Marquis of Castillejos in 1792, and according to a letter from Montehermoso to Lorenzo del Prestamero, there is a record of the portrait that was painted in Madrid of the Count of Peñaflorida during the early months of 1792. The painting of the Marquis of Valdelirios, the painting Marquis of Narros painted by Carnicero, which alluded to his position as Head of the laboratory at Bergara, and perhaps one of the three conserved by Eugene de Llaguno may have belonged to the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country's collection.

In addition to this information about the painting, in 1783 the Society commissioned Montehermoso to engage a sculptor in Madrid to create of a bust of Carlos III sculpted from marble from Genoa and created by the finest hands. The chosen artist would appear to have been Robert Michel, sculptor for the King and Head of Sculpture at the Academy of San Fernando, and possibly it was the same one referred to that in 1792, according to the work Guía de forasteros en Vitoria written by the aforementioned Montehermoso and Lorenzo Prestamero, was in the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country's headquarters in Vitoria.

 

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DIRECTION OF THE ROYAL BASQUE SOCIEY OF THE FRIENDS OF THE COUNTRY

Palacio Intsausti
Aptdo. 105 – 20720 AZKOITIA
Tel. 943 285 577
E-mail: intsausti.rsbap@gmail.com

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