As mentioned in my inaugural post, I not only want to share my global exploits, but also those intriguing experiences closer to home. This weekend I got to partake in a unique pairing of art and fine dining. The Metropolitan Museum of Art offered members a double delight: a viewing of Goya’s 18th Century portraits of the aristocratic Spanish Altamira Family and, in celebration of the first time these pictures are being exhibited as a group, a customized dinner with wine flights inspired by the great culinary history of Spain.
The Altamiras were a great banking family and its patriarch, Vincente Joaquin Osorio de Moscoso y Guzman Fernandez de Cordoba (1756-1816) held more titles than any other nobleman in Spain, including seven dukedoms, eleven marquisates and seventeen counties. In addition to being one of the directors of the Banco de San Carlos, Altamira also held degrees from the Universidad de Granada and was also a knight of the Golden Fleece and a lieutenant-general of Castille and Madrid and a major art patron.
What makes Altamira’s accomplishments all the more outstanding is the fact that in person, Altamira was quite the little guy:
Altamira was described by the English politician Henry Richard Vassall Fox, the 3rd Baron of Holland as “the least man I ever saw in society and smaller than many dwarfs exhibited for money.” Goya tried to deflect attention from the lack of Altamira’s height by having him seated, but as you see the relationship between the man and the furniture leaves no doubt as to his diminutive state. He was indeed “remarkable for the lowness of his stature and the greatness of his family” (Baron Fox’s wife). And his family, most specifically his son, is now infamous.
You may recognize the portrait – Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga (1784-1792) was the 3 (or 4) year-old son of the conde de Alatamira. Sadly, Manuel passed away when he was 8. His famous portrait is also known as the Boy in Red and is considered one of the most popular and admired paintings in the Met’s collection. This portrait is noticeably different from that of his elder brother Vicente as you will see in a moment. As a younger son Manuel was not, as was common at the time, depicted as an heir and future title holder, so his portrait could be painted as he was – just a little boy. Unlike his sibling, he does not have a wig, his hair is naturally long and he is wearing a red jumpsuit rather than formal wear. He is also accompanied by his pets – three cats, goldfinches in a cage and a magpie on a string. Interestingly, if you look closely at the card the magpie is holding with its beak you can see that it is actually the calling card of the painter, Goya – quite an ingenious way to include his signature on the painting, don’t you think? Also upon closer perusal, you can see that those cats are quite intent on the magpie, as if at any moment they will pounce and all havoc will break loose:
Some interpretations cast these felines as Fortune, TIme and Fates and their voracious look at the magpie, who can symbolize Destiny foreshadow the early demise of Don Manuel; however since it was not usual for a family to request a posthumous portrait of a deceased child, this is most likely not accurate. Simply, these creatures are simply common pets of the era.
Now contrast the innocent portrait above with that of his brother, Vicente Isabel, Conde de Trastamara at ten years of age:
As heir Vicente was portrayed as an adult, complete with a powdered wig. Like a miniature version of his father (although considering his father’s lack of height, maybe not so miniature) Vicente wears a formal jacket rather than a jumpsuit like Manuel, as well as a waistcoat and velvet breeches. He is holding a tricorne hat and his sword and buckles of his breeches and shoes are encrusted with diamonds. The position of his hand inside his waistcoat is also identical to his father (it’s not a Napoleonic thing – just one of the favored poses of the time). Goya included the little dog after the figure of Vicente was completed and it is thought that the playfulness of the dog was meant to offset the severity of the boy’s pose. Vicente did end up inheriting his father’s wealth and titles and went on to marry and father six of his own children.
To complete the Altamira family portrait reunion, here is the Condesa de Altamira, Maria Ignacia Alvarez de Toledo with her daughter Maria Agustina (1787-1788). Contrasted to the previous portraits, this one is soft and almost ethereal, as if to foretell the quick passing of baby Maria:
After viewing the other Goya paintings, and taking a quick walk through the Temple of Dendur (frankly having personally visited Egypt this exhibit has lost some of its allure) we made our way to the museum’s top floor to the Member’s Terrace Lounge for our Spanish themed dinner:
First course: Jamon Iberico and crushed plum tomato crostato with a glass of Bodega Pazos del Rey Sla Menica, Monterrel, Spain 2011:
Second course: Day Boat Squid a la Plancha with black rice and beans, saffron aioli and espelle pepper, paired with Bodegas Terra Sigillata Filon Real Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain, 2011
Third course: Spring lamb, artichoke, white asparagus, fava beans and piquillo pepper with a glass of Bodegas Mano a Mano Venta la Ossa Vino del la Tierra, Castilla La Mancha, Spain, 2010 (sorry, no Pancho Villa):
Dessert: Torta des Tres Leches, salted marcona almond brittle and orange confit served with a delicious sherry, Alvaro Domecq Jerez-Xeres, Aranda Cram, NV:
Thanks to executive Chef Fred Sabo and Pastry Chef Randy Eastman. You have forever changed the way I visit a museum – for the infinite better – Salud!