Majesty of Spain showcases shared history with Mississippi

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 4, 2001

A gilded lion watches over the collection of treasures now on display at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion in Jackson. Under each giant paw rests a golden ball, representing Spain’s dominance over the Old and New Worlds.

More than 200 years after the statue’s creation, the identical globes now reflect the shared history between Spain and Mississippi, a common bond that is the foundation of The Majesty of Spain Exhibition which opened earlier this week and runs through September. The exhibition of more than 600 items, among them tapestries, sculptures, paintings and clocks, recalls a period of history when Spanish artistic and cultural achievements coincided with the settlement of Northern America and the forming of a new nation.

It encompasses the reigns of four Spanish kings: Fernando VI, Carlos III, Carlos IV and Fernando VII who ruled Spain between 1746 and 1833.

Personal items of the royals, including ornate firearms, ceremonial robes and thrones, are part of the exhibit.

Before entering the 13-room exhibit, visitors are given an audio guide narrated by actor Morgan Freeman.

By entering the number of a particular item or display, the listener can learn more about the use or history of a piece.

The audio device also has pause and rewind features so visitors can tour the exhibit at their own pace.

After viewing a brief film introducing the history behind the exhibit, visitors enter a room dedicated to the relationship between Spain and the United States.

A glass case protects original letters to Spanish royalty from George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

One letter from Franklin to Spanish prince, dated December 1775, contains an apology for not sending any examples of American literature &uot;worthy of his perusal.&uot;

&uot;Perhaps, however, the late proceedings of our American Congress, just published, may be of some curiosity,&uot; the letter states.

The sculpture gallery, one of five room recreations in the exhibit, depicts a room from the Labrador Casita at Aranjuez.

Built as a &uot;getaway&uot; home for the Spanish king, the hall contains exact replicas of Roman busts, and the ceilings and floor are hand-painted to mimic decorative marble.

Similarly, the Hall of Stuccoes duplicates another room from the kingly &uot;catista,&uot; or small house, at El Pardo.

Imitation marble called scagliola was used for wall carvings because it is more malleable than marble but retains the look and feel of the real thing.

But most of the exhibits are genuine, restored by Spanish artisans and shipped to Jackson at an estimated cost of $51 million for the one-city, once-only exhibit.

More than $100,000 worth of pure gold was used to freshen the paint coat on a 55-foot gilded gondola, one of the highlights of the exhibit.

Jack Kyle, executive director of the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, said the gondola is the largest artifact ever shipped out of Spain.

It is also the oldest item in the exhibit, placed at sometime between 1665 and 1700.

Volunteer tour guide Jean Selby of Jackson said he never tires of gazing at the gondola, or any of the other treasures in the exhibit.

The Majesty of Spain is Selby’s second exhibition to volunteer for; he also worked the Splendors of Versailles Exhibition and said there is never enough time to take it all in.

&uot;You can’t really spend enough time in here to fully grasp it all,&uot; he said.

But of all the exhibits he has seen and been a part of, Selby said The Majesty of Spain is his favorite.

&uot;You get to see all this right here; I’ll never get to go to Spain,&uot; he said.