The Prado Museum in Madrid has received a donation of 13th-15th century Spanish art from the Várez Fiza collection. The 12 pieces will be added to the Prado’s already important Spanish Mediaeval and Renaissance paintings.
The most outstanding work in the donation is the Virgin of Tobed, for the high altar of the church of S. Maria in Tobed (Zaragoza), attributed to the 14th-century painter Jaume Serra.
The agreement with the Prado stipulates that the works of art will be displayed in a special gallery named after the donors, Jose Luis Várez Fisa and his wife María Milagros Benegas, in the part of the museum dedicated to Spanish Romanesque and Renaissance art.
The museum has commissioned the design of the new gallery from Rafael Moneo, the architect of the Prado’s new extension and one of the museum trustees. Moneo was a fellow at the Royal Spanish Academy in Rome in the 1960s and his time there is said to have had a considerable influence on his subsequent work.
Várez Fisa is considered among the world’s foremost collectors and at the end of the 1990s he sold some 180 antiquities (Egyptian, Etruscan and Roman) to the Madrid Archeological Museum for about $12 million.
According to an article published in The Art Newspaper in July 2010 by Italian journalist Fabio Isman, experts in Italy recognised 22 of the pieces when they went on display in 2003 from photographs that Italian police discovered in raids of the premises of two notorious art traffickers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, both convicted of illegally exporting antiquities from Italy.
There was no evidence whatsoever that Várez Fisa, an engineer and financier, had any direct dealings with either Medici or Becchina. The Várez Fisa purchases in question were made through Sotheby’s in New York and from another US dealer.