In the difficult times we live in, not visiting the Museo del Prado is certainly not the greatest of our problems, but it is undoubtedly a setback for those who enjoy the contemplation or study of their works. But not being able to visit the Prado in person is no longer an impediment to knowing and enjoying some of its contents. Prado apps are an ideal tool to overcome nostalgia, a unique method to access into its collections anytime, anywhere and, in a way, always carry on its paintings with us. We will talk today about an app dedicated to one of the Prado's most exquisite collections, perhaps less known than the rest for not being paintings or sculptures: the dazzling decorative pieces of The Dauphin´s Treasure.
In the summer of 2018, the Museo del Prado presented its new exhibition space dedicated to the Treasure, a spectacular 40-meter-long curved display case. Two years later, we were surprised by an exhibition (temporarily inaccessible but extended until January 2021) of the cases designed to protect those delicate pieces. The enormous effort and the exquisite preparation that the design and the selection of materials of each one of these cases must have allowed us to imagine the importance and the exceptional value that since its creation was given to the pieces that they kept.Sometimes those pieces were appreciated above other works of art such as paintings or sculptures.
The presence of the Treasure in Spain is thus exceptional, and it is also one of the few surviving historical collections associated with major European dynasties. Described by Leticia Azcue –Senior Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Museo Nacional del Prado– as «an exceptional set of unique pieces», they were «much more valuable objects than Titian´s paintings in his time». The Treasure consists of vessels carved in rock crystal or from what are traditionally known as hardstones –agate, lapis lazuli, jasper, jade, etc.– most of them embellished with gold and silver mounts, some enamelled, and with additional ornamentation of inset diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls and other gems. There are also two services, one of them for coffee. While the Treasure includes classical Greco-Roman and medieval objects, most of its pieces date from the 16th and 17th centuries. Those produced by artists working in the Duchy of Milan, Florence, Paris, Prague, as well as in workshops in China, Japan, India and the Ottoman Empire.
The history of The Dauphin’s Treasure begins with Louis of France, the Grand Dauphin (1661–1711). Over the course of his lifetime, he assembled this important collection following the tradition of his father, Louis XIV (1638-1715). Some works belonged to prominent individuals prior to the formation of the collection: Charles V of France (1338–1380), Emperor Charles V (1500–1558) and Jeanne III, Queen of Navarre (1528–1572), among others. After the death of the Grand Dauphin in 1711, it was inherited by his son Philip V (1683-1746), King of Spain.
The Dauphin’s Treasure we can see today, in the words of the specialist Leticia Arbeteta in the guide published by the Museum as a result of the relocation of the collection, «is a mere shadow of what it was». After all, its story is worthy of an adventure novel: sent from Paris to Madrid in 1715, in 1724 Philip V had it moved to the new palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso. In 1776 the Treasure returned to Madrid when Charles III decided to donate it to the recently opened Natural History Cabinet, where it was exhibited as a mineralogical rarity. The vessels were stolen in 1813, during the looting of the capital by the Napoleonic troops. They returned to Madrid in 1815, considerably damaged and with 11 missing pieces. In 1839, the Queen Regent, on behalf of her daughter Isabel II, ceded the Treasure to the Museo del Prado. In 1867 it was installed in the Central Gallery, the museum’s most important display space. In 1918 it was realised that various objects had disappeared while numerous mounts had been stripped off others in an organised internal robbery. The Treasure was sent to Switzerland in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, together with masterpieces from the museum’s collection. It returned in 1939.
Almost all the workshops were associated with families that jealously guarded the secret of their techniques. The product of an intellectual exercise by their makers, a number of vessels express religious, philosophical, political and even esoteric ideas. Others include puzzles while some were devised so that when used they revealed aspects that gave them a new meaning.
Although for a while we will not be able to visit the spectacular Treasure room or the exhibition of its cases, fortunately we can enjoy its contents in the distance. The official app of the Museo del Prado "The Dolphin’s Treasure", developed since 2018 with the support of Samsung as a technological collaborator of the Museum, is a great tool to get to know these pieces down to the smallest detail. Available for both smartphones and tablets, it is compatible with Android and iOS devices for free, and have access to all content for € 2.99. Although, exclusively until August 10, Samsung device users with models compatible with the app can get it completely for free. Each work is accompanied by its technical file, curiosities and the reproduction of its case, if preserved. In addition, the pieces can be enlarged and viewed 360º by sliding your fingers on the device screen, which is a unique experience.
It is the first application in the world dedicated to a collection of decorative art pieces, a milestone not only for the Prado and its followers, but also for the world of technology applied to artistic collections. Samsung developed this project for more than two years through a team of 60 professionals who have taken more than 11,000 digitally-treated photographs and 27 reconstructions of missing pieces that allow you to enjoy 360º images and zoom in on high resolution of each work.
Also available at Prado Shop is the The Dauphin’s Treasure guide, by the aforementioned Leticia Arbeteta and Leticia Azcue, the greatest specialists in the Treasure. In its 112 pages, this illustrated guide with photographs and details with maximum fidelity to the original works is a complete study about the Treasure, its history, materials, etc. In addition, it includes a glossary of terms and a chapter dedicated to the brands of silversmiths and fermiers made in Paris during the last quarter of the 17th century.