It is not very nice, but it is hypnotic. He seems to have an air of superiority and draws a mean expression, or simply Michele Marullo Tarcaniota did not need to please anyone and he shows himself as he is, without ambiguity. He was of high rank, protégé of the Medici, poet and soldier, a man of the Renaissance. And this is how Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) immortalized him in a painting very different from the usual ones by the Florentine master. Different for its “realism”, for getting away from the idea of the “most stereotyped” beauty, for showing a defiant character who pursues the viewer with his gaze, as explained this Tuesday by the director of the Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia, Pablo González , on the occasion of the presentation of the work. Beside him, Francesc Guardans-Cambó nodded.
The representative of the family that owns the only portrait of Botticelli in Spain recalled that as a child he was a little scared by the painting hanging in the living room of the family home. From there she seemed to be looking at everyone like the Mona Lisa, but without her smile. It was “the jewel” of the grandfather’s collection, as defined by the politician, businessman and patron Francesc Cambó (Verges, 1876-Buenos Aires, 1947). Now it will be exhibited in the Valencian museum for three years under the loan agreement signed by the owners and the Valencian Ministry of Culture. It will be an undoubted attraction for a museum that has a valuable collection, one of its iconic works being a self-portrait of Velázquez. The Renaissance portrait was offered by its owners to the museum, which is state-owned and managed by the autonomous communities, through the Department of Culture.
Guardans pointed out that the election of Valencia responds to the “enormous work” of the museum and the good reception of the regional government. “When we made the list, this [museo] I was at the top, because my grandfather made a large donation of painting to Catalonia [en el MNAC] and it is the main donor to the Prado Museum in history, so we thought it was ideal for a city like Valencia to be ”, he said. “Rarely have we had such an easy decision as to bring the painting here,” he added. In a few hours, the counseling prepared the contract papers.
The painting was exhibited between 2004 and 2017 in the Prado Museum. The family decided to sell the work, but being protected and declared Cultural Interest (BIC) it has a series of limitations, such as leaving Spain for a long time, which have reduced the price and the possibilities of sale. The Prado did not acquire it. In 2019, the painting was offered at the Trinity Fine Art gallery during the fair London Frieze Masters for about 27.3 million euros, an amount much lower than its real value, but it did not find a buyer either. In January, another of Botticelli’s very rare portraits was sold for € 76 million at an auction in New York.
Now, the portrait of Michele Marullo Tarcaniota, painted around 1491 and bought by Cambó in 1927, is exhibited in the central room, among the late Gothic altarpieces and the beginning of the Renaissance. “Both themes benefit because they dialogue and you can see the European reality, but also the Mediterranean reality and Florentine humanism”, underlined the director of the museum.
The Minister of Culture, Vicent Marzà, confirmed that the painting will travel in September to an exhibition at the Jacquemart-André museum in Paris and will return in January. He highlighted the relevance of the work, which he said could be an incentive to “advance much more in getting the museum recognized as it deserves.” Along these lines, Carmen Amoraga, general director of Heritage, pointed out that the Fine Arts is “in the heart of the city, but it has been difficult for it to get into the hearts of the citizens”, a situation that is changing, as he added. The art gallery will receive in the coming months the valuable donation of 41 flamenco works from the German collector Hans Rudolf Gerstenmaier, who died on January 30 in Madrid.
Francesc Guardans-Cambó did not comment on a possible extension of the loan agreement. Nor did he refer to the family’s claim to sell a work that was stored in a warehouse before being exhibited in Valencia with the honors of being the only portrait in Spain of Botticelli’s Renaissance genius.