Update on names at the Prado

I promised, hand on my heart, to let you know if I got news on the naming question, so here we are.


El Greco, el caballero de la mano en el pecho

El caballero de la mano en el pecho, El Greco, 1580


Since posting on the naming of artists in the Prado Museum in Madrid, I’ve heard from two sources whose ideas help me understand what’s going on.

The first is my friend Mattathias Westwood, with these thoughts:

“My guess is that names are changed for artists who became internationally famous before international standardized spelling. If there’s a body of scholarship identifying the artist by a Castellano form of their name, it makes sense to keep using it.”

This seemed sensible to me. He also mentioned the fact that spelling didn’t really standardize until the nineteenth century.* Most of the artists I reference were from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and none were later than the eighteenth, so that’s relevant to the discussion.


Monogram signature of Albrecht Durer

Albrecht Dürer’s monogram signature works neatly whichever alternative you choose.


As it happens, the other person with input hails from the Prado. I had written to the address under “Collections,” and received a prompt reply. The letter was signed, “[Attentively], Servicio de Documentación.” Having no other name for my correspondent, and not knowing whether this person is a señor or a señora, I’m going to make my own name change, and dub the person Fulan@. Fulano or Fulana is a way to say John or Jane Doe, and the @, being both an O and an A, is often used in Castellano when the word in question is gendered, and both genders need to be included.

Information from Fulan@ of the Prado lined up with Mattathias, confirming that, in terms of Alberto Durero and El Bosco, “the Spanish public knows them well. Their works having been included in the catalogue since before the founding of the Museum.” (In other words, there’s a long history of interacting with the artists using names al Español.)

Fulan@ also verified Mattathias’ supposition about the spelling prevalent in scholarship: “Both Durero and El Bosco are already deeply rooted in the bibliography, in the means of communication…it is difficult for them to be known here by their original names.”

Also, it appears that there is no rigid rule that governs whether names will be changed. Here’s an interesting contemporary example of the issue. “The painter Luca Giordano, who worked in the Spanish Court, was there known as ‘Lucas Jordán’ (such that someone might think he was a Spanish artist), but also Lucas Giordano, Luca Jordan, etc. A few years ago, before publishing the monographic catalogues, it was decided to put all his works under his original Italian name, Luca Giordano.”†


Luca Giordano, Holy family with John the Baptist

The Prado website calls this “The Holy Family with San Juanito,” but I think of it as “Toddler John nibbling on the toes of his cousin Jesus” (by Luca Giordano, c. 1655)


Finally, Fulan@ added that when using the Prado website, you can search using the spellings Dürer and Bosch, and you’ll be directed to the same results that searching Durero or Bosco would yield. (As I noted in my original post, sometimes the copy displays a hybrid, as with the result, “Alberto Dürer.”)

The impression I have is that the current practice at the Prado is moving towards using the artist’s original name. I imagine it would be a long process, addressing centuries of scholarly tradition.

Thanks both to Mattathias Westwood and the Attentive Representative from Servicio de Documentación, with apologies for the expedient of using Fulan@. Disculpa, por favor.

I know more now than when I began on the topic, and that’s a good thing. What shall we tackle next?


*For example, the name of Sir Walter Raleigh, contemporary of Queen Elizabeth, was spelled eleven different ways by writers of his time. Shakespeare’s spelling didn’t settle down to the one used today in English until the twentieth century.

†My translation takes a few liberties, but you’ve got the basic idea.


[Images: Wikipedia, El Prado]


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