Category Archives: exhibitions

Early Photography in Spain

This post is reblogged with kind permission of the author, and was originally posted on the BL European Studies blog: 

The Spanish National Library in Madrid (Biblioteca Nacional de España; BNE) has mounted a small, but representative exhibition drawn from its photographic collections, entitled ‘Fotografía en España (1850-1870)’. In that period, demand for photography grew rapidly as a means of documenting events and of capturing images of landscape, famous buildings, city landmarks, and art works. Photography also became a new medium for portraits of leading contemporary figures and of the family. It was also important for recording infrastructure projects.

Several of the photographers who worked in Spain were foreign. One of them was a Welshman, Charles Clifford (1819-1863), who set up business in Madrid in late 1850. He produced a considerable body of material over a short period of time, including the album Voyages en Espagne (1856), consisting of some 400 images of famous civil and ecclesiastical buildings and monuments.

Spanish Photos (GW) BNE CharlesClifford1
Charles Clifford. Palacio de la Reina, Barcelona (1860).  BNE.

Clifford’s success brought him the patronage of the Queen Isabel II. He recorded some of the construction projects being undertaken in her reign, notably that of the canal which brought a secure supply of fresh water to Madrid and which bears her name.  In fact ‘Canal de Isabel II’ is still the name of the water utility of the Madrid region. He also accompanied the Queen on her royal journeys around Spain.

Another leading photographer, the Frenchman Jean Laurent (1816-1886), began his career in Madrid before Clifford. He too specialised in city views, buildings and monuments, and also in photographing works of art. The BNE exhibition includes his photograph of the Congreso de los Diputados  and also of Velázquez’s Las Meninas.

Spanish Photos (GW) BNE Laurent1
Jean Laurent. Congreso de los Diputados, Madrid (1855-60). BNE.

Both Laurent and Clifford produced images of the Alhambra, considered probably the most picturesque (in the literal sense) site in Spain and an undoubted draw for the growing number of travellers in the second half of the 19th century. Another favourite destination was Santiago de Compostela, and the exhibition includes a photograph of the Pórtico de la Gloria by another British photographer, Charles Thurston Thompson (1816-1868).

The exhibition includes a number of other subjects. There are portraits, e.g. of Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (author of The Three-Cornered Hat), the actress Adelaida Fernández Zapatero and the painter José María Castellanos; a female nude; and various ethnographic scenes.

The British Library does not systematically collect photographs. However, a number of special collections are held. Among these is a relatively little-known collection of photographs of Spain by British photographers. There are 230 photographs by Clifford, gathered in three albums, two of topographical and architectural views and the other of images of armour from the Real Armería  in the Royal Palace in Madrid. It is probable however that some of the photographs contained in this last album were the work of his wife, Jane, although they are generally attributed to Charles Clifford. Jane Clifford was an accomplished photographer in her own right and maintained the studio after Charles’s death. One of the albums of views (shelfmark 1785.c.1) was part of the bequest to the British Museum in 1900 of Henry Spencer Ashbee, the noted collector of works both of Miguel de Cervantes and of erotica.

Spanish Photos (GW) Madrid
Charles Clifford. Calle de Alcalá, Madrid , with the Cibeles fountain (ca. 1857). BL, 1785.c.1, no. 57.

Spanish Photos (GW) Salamanca
Charles Clifford. West door of Salamanca Cathedral (ca. 1858). BL 1704.d.9, no. 65.

The Library also holds 39 photographs by Charles Thurston Thompson, some of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the rest of the monastery church of Santa Maria da Vitória, Batalha, in Portugal. These are held in two albums. Thompson held a post as photographer of art works at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). In 1866 he travelled to France, Spain and Portugal on a photographic expedition on behalf of the Department of Science and Art.

Spanish Photos (GW) Portico 2

Charles Thurston Thompson. Pórtico de la Gloria, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, with the statue of the Saint (1866).  BL 1811.a.18, no. 4.

Geoff West, Lead Curator Hispanic Studies, British Library


Lee Fontanella, La historia de la fotografía en España (Madrid, 1981). LB.31.b.6876

Lee Fontanella, Clifford en España. Un fotógrafo en la Corte de Isabel II (Madrid, 1999). LF.31.b.5746

See also the British Library’s historic photographs feature: and the  online catalogue of photographs:

– See more at:


Travel, culture, language and libraries: Queen Sofia of Spain visits Oxford and London

On Tuesday 29th April, Oxford welcomed Queen Sofia of Spain as part of the 700th anniversary celebrations taking place at Exeter College, of which the Queen is an honorary fellow and patron of a Junior Research Fellowship bearing her name. The King Alfonso XIII Chair of Spanish Studies has also been held at Exeter College since 1927, cementing the link between Oxford University and the study of Spanish language, literature and culture.

Queen Sofia meets Oxford students studying Spanish.

Queen Sofia meets Oxford students studying Spanish. Copyright Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The Queen attended a colloquium at the Taylor Institution, where academics and students spoke about their personal interest in Spanish language and literature as well as their current research. Queen Sofia joined students at Exeter College for lunch, and was later introduced to current and former members of the Sub-Faculty of Spanish and guests at a reception.

Queen Sofia attends a seminar at the Taylor Institution, Oxford.

Queen Sofia attends a seminar at the Taylor Institution, Oxford. Copyright Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The full set of photographs of the Queen’s visit to Oxford is available on the Exeter College Flickr stream. All copyright remains with Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The following day the Queen visited the Cervantes Institute in London to inaugurate the new library which will bear her name.  Take at look at the video of her visit, courtesy of the Instituto Cervantes London (link below)

Queen Sofia inaugurates the Library at the Instituto Cervantes, London (VIDEO)

The Reina Sofia Library was inaugurated on the 30th of April 2014 at the Instituto Cervantes in London by Queen Sofia of Spain with the presence of the Director of the Instituto Cervantes D. Victor García de la Concha, the Spanish Ambassador in the UK, Dr. Federico Trillo Figueroa, The Director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, D. Julio Crespo Mac Lennan and the, Ministry of Culture, José María Lasalle.

In his speech, the Ambassador stated that “it is especially appropriate that the library of the Instituto Cervantes in London should take her name as the Reina Sofía library. It is above all a tribute to Her Majesty the Queen in recognition of the support that both Her Majesty and the rest of the Royal Family have given the Instituto Cervantes and Spanish culture in general”.

The Director of the Instituto Cervantes, Victor García de La Concha stated that “it is tradition that libraries of the Cervantes Institutes are named after a famous writer or a prominent figure in the culture of the Spanish-speaking world. The New York one is dedicated to Jorge Luis Borges, the one in Paris to Octavio Paz, the one in Berlin to Mario Vargas Llosa, and the one in Manchester has the privilege of being named after Jorge Edwards. In the case of London, as one of the leading Instituto Cervantes centres, we considered that the library should be called the Reina Sofia Library in recognition of the continuing, tireless and vital support that Your Majesty lends to our culture. In recognition too of your support for the Instituto Cervantes itself, where you have participated in many events that have been held in the Institute’s branches and Aulas Cervantes across 43 countries and have presided over the inauguration of the Juan Carlos Onetti Library in Athens. Your Majesty, it is a great honour that you are pleased to grant that this library should bear your name”.

Queen Sofia address the gathering at the Instituto Cervantes, London.

Queen Sofia address the gathering at the Instituto Cervantes, London.

After the Inaugural Unveiling of the Plaque, Her Majesty addressed the guests and declared that she felt very honoured and delighted that this wonderful library would be named after her.

Following the speeches in the library, Her Majesty inaugurated the exhibition of travel books on Spain written between the XVIII and the XX Century, one of the special collections that the library has. These books can be also found in a virtual exhibition in the Centro Virtual Cervantes. This project was launched in Madrid on 12th October 2013 in collaboration with Google.

Although royal visits still generate excitement and interest, it’s interesting to compare our modern reception of these to those in the early 20th century. The Spanish royal visit of August 1926 occasioned the publication of a special Spanish Supplement in The Times (viewable by readers with access to the Times Digital Archive), with articles about Spanish trade, history, famous sights, food and even a column about the national character by Aubrey Bell. This focus on Spain must in part be attributed to the presence of Victoria Eugenie, Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter and Queen Consort of Spain as the wife of King of Spain Alfonso XIII.

The Times 'Spanish Number' 10 August 1926, celebrating the visit of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie.

The Times ‘Spanish Number’ 10 August 1926, celebrating the visit of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie.

If the content of the newspaper piques your curiosity, you might also be interested in a forthcoming conference at the British Library on 30 May, Beyond the Black Legend: Spain through British Eyes, 1898-1936. The conference explores the extraordinary transformation in British knowledge about Spain and Spanish culture that took place between 1898 and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Changes in travel, publishing and education meant that ordinary British people had unprecedented opportunities to tour the country and learn its language. Hopefully our continued interest in the Hispanic world will ensure that people continue to study and engage with Spanish language and culture for many years to come.


by Joanne Edwards, Subject Librarian for Hispanic Studies, Taylor Institution Library, Oxford, and Mayte Azorín, Head Librarian, Instituto Cervantes London

Women and Independence in Latin America: Databases, Debate and Dissemination

Between 2001 and 2006, researchers at the universities of Nottingham and Manchester constructed an online database of women involved in the processes of independence in Latin America.  The database was created as part of a five-year AHRC funded project entitled ‘Gendering Latin American Independence’. The digital resource contains over 2500 biographical entries and provides details of women’s and men’s political and social participation between 1790 and 1850. The overarching aim of the project was to rethink Latin American Independence in terms of gender.

Latin American guerilla military leader, Juana Azurduy (1780-1862), on horseback.

Latin American guerilla military leader, Juana Azurduy (1780-1862), on horseback.

Dr Claire Brewster, who is now a senior lecturer in Latin American history at the University of Newcastle, spent five years inputting references to women whose names were registered during this period. Focusing especially on Spanish South America, she input data from 266 publications and consulted 28 archives. The database is searchable not only by name, place and date, but also by groups of women. For example, users can search for women who belonged to specific tertulias, women who were executed by those who opposed Independence, women who were patriot spies or women who supported the royalists.  There are around 500 groups or links of this kind. From a researcher’s point of view, this is the most valuable aspect of the database as it shows the complex relationships between individuals and between their families. Loyalties were usually to families and loved ones, rather than to political ideology, but there is no doubt that the social upheaval created opportunities for women to operate more independently than in the ‘ancien regime’.

In May 2012, Professor Catherine Davies and her team at the universities of Nottingham and Edinburgh embarked upon on a new phase of the project entitled ‘Women and Independence in Latin America’. This new stage, which lasted for a year, was funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council, as well as contributions from the Centre of Advanced Studies and the Horizon Hub at the University of Nottingham. The team transformed the ‘Gendering Latin American Independence’ website and its database into an interactive, community-driven resource, which will allow academic and non-academic audiences alike to exchange ideas and information about the Independence struggles and their contemporary relevance. This database can be consulted at

One of the key goals of this stage of the project, which finished in July 2013, was to involve Latin American women in the UK and in Latin American countries in the recovery of their shared history, cultural heritage and identity, increasing their awareness and understanding of the contemporary relevance of women’s protagonism during Independence. For this reason, the team worked on several community knowledge exchange programmes and cultural initiatives. In August and September 2012, Catherine travelled to Buenos Aires with Dr Iona MacIntyre from the University of Edinburgh (the project’s Co-Investigator) and Dr Maria Thomas from the University of Nottingham (the project’s research assistant) to collaborate with the Museo de la Mujer, a women’s history museum, on the ‘Libertadoras’ programme. This month-long series of cultural events featured plays, discussion groups, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours on the theme of the contemporary relevance of women’s contribution to Independence in Latin America.

Southwark exhibition

Southwark exhibition of Empowerment through Art.

Through the London-based Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), a charity which supports Latin American female migrants in the UK, the team worked extensively with a group of teenage girls from Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. They participated in a series of drama workshops on the theme of the nineteenth-century ‘Libertadoras’ and in a photography project which explored the girls’ identification with Latin America community in London and asked them to address concepts of freedom, liberation and independence.

The ‘Empowerment through Art’ photographic exhibition, which was presented at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham in March and April 2013 and at the premises of Southwark Council in London in May 2013, featured the girls’ own photographs alongside portraits of the participants taken of each participant by Mexican-British photographer Pablo Allison. The girls from LAWRS also presented a play which emerged from their drama workshops, entitled ‘Razones por las que luchar’ (Reasons for Fighting) at UCL’s Institute of the Americas on May 15 2013.

thomas 3

Drama workshops with teenagers from Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador.

These events were exciting and timely because they provided a snapshot of how young, female Latin Americans see their adoptive country at a time the UK Latin American community is growing steadily. In 2008 there were around 186, 500 Latin Americans living in the UK and the numbers are rising. Although the community is now a large, dynamic and important presence in London, its experiences are often overlooked.  As representatives of this community, these girls presented themselves as empowered young women in the play and the photography exhibition. As Carolina Gottardo, the director of LAWRS, comments: ‘they are not victims; these are young women who can stand with their heads held high, looking toward the future. They are young women with ideals and potential, even though their situation as Latin American migrants in an unfamiliar country with little knowledge of the language and the customs is not easy;  even when they have to face up to stereotypes about young women immigrants from an ethnic minority.’

Dr Maria Thomas was the research assistant on the project Women and Independence in Latin America, and is now a lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Exeter.

El despertar de la escritura femenina en lengua castellana

Exhibition at the Museo de la Biblioteca Nacional de España, 30 January- 21 April.

In her seminal 1989 study, Las románticas : women writers and subjectivity in Spain, 1835-1850, Susan Kirkpatrick traces the trajectory of the likes of Carolina Coronado, Gertrudis Gómez Avellaneda or Fernán Caballero – the pseudonym of Cecilia Böhl de Faber – as they struggled to reconcile their literary ambitions with dominant notions of femininity. Bar a couple of prominent antecedents, like the formidable Santa Teresa de Jesús or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, these nineteenth-century women were confronted with what appeared to be an almost complete lack of female presence in Spanish literary history. Faced with this vacuum, they had to look beyond their borders to the likes of Madame de Stäel, and across the centuries to legendary Antiquity poetess Sappho. Little did they know of the number of women who enthusiastically participated in the flourishing cultural scene of sixteenth and seventeenth century Spain, a period that witnessed the development of the printing press, just as Carolina Coronado and her contemporaries would pick up their pens almost two centuries later, after repeated improvements to Gutenberg’s original invention ushered in the golden era of periodicals and the emergence of mass media.

It is therefore perhaps rather fitting that the Biblitoteca Nacional in Madrid should host its exhibition on these forgotten women in the Sala de las Musas, the space dedicated to temporary curations and, like Sappho, another reference to Classical culture. Tucked away in the museum adjacent to the library, a legend at the entrance duly informs interested visitors as well as more unwilling troupes of school children that La Sala de la Musas is an allusion to the ‘Institution of Muses’ or ‘Musaeum’, a temple for the worship of these minor deities – the most famous example the now vanished Musaeum of Alexandria and its legendary library. Hence the origin of the word ‘museum’, the guide revealed to a group of ESO students as I entered this tiny sanctuary (‘is this going to be in the exam?’ I heard one whisper to the other). The free exhibition El despertar de la escritura femenina en lengua castellana, which runs from the 30th January to 21st April and that includes International Woman’s Day on the 8th March, offers a brief yet fascinating look into those women who enthusiastically participated in cultural life during a transition period that witnessed the rise of the printing press and the possibilities for dissemination it promised. This period constitutes another key threshold, containing as it does the rise of romance languages, despite Latin retaining a scholarly precedence.

The Biblioteca Nacional by night.

The Biblioteca Nacional by night.

That this awakening of female authorship unfolded in the increasingly standardized Castilian language, as the title of the exhibition highlights, bears witness to this transient period between Latin and its rising vernacular. It also reveals a hitherto unknown involvement of women – at least to those outside specialist fields – in the cultural production of their country. I doubt that the school children, having now formed an impromptu ensemble of scratching biros as they anxiously scribbled down notes, would be able to name many woman writers from the otherwise dutifully drilled Siglo de Oro. Lope de Vega would undoubtedly come to mind, and it is partly thanks to this prolific author that many now forgotten females have been recovered from historical oblivion. His Laurel de Apolo (1630), an invaluable source that lists the main poets of his day, also mentions countless women like Cristobalina Fernández de Alarcón (1576-1646), Juliana Morell (1594 –1653), Bernarda de Ferreira (1596-1644), María de Zayas (1590–1661) and of course Santa Teresa de Jesús (1515-1582), who Lope de Vega describes as ‘de ver que una mujer pudiese tanto/ que haya dado en la iglesia militante/ descalza una carrera de gigante.‘ Without forgetting Sor Marcela de San Félix (1605-1687), the illegitimate daughter of Lope de Vega himself and the “comedienne” Micaela de Luján. Sor Marcela, as her title reveals, took vows, but was also a poet, dramatist and even dabbled in acting, a career trajectory that to a modern audience is startlingly reminiscent of the plot of Sister Act.

It is worth remembering though that to enter a religious order was more akin to a career path than an exceptional conviction during a time when religion was so closely interwoven into the fabric of society, and the choices of women were more limited than today. For women who did not want to enter marriage, lacked independent means or wanted an education, becoming a nun was a socially accepted route to schooling. A section of the exhibition is thus dedicated to women like Santa Teresa de Jesús, Sor Ana de Jesús (1545-?, 1621), Sor Ana de San Bartolomé (1549-1626), Sor María de la Antigua (1566-1617) or Sor Hipólita de Jesús Rocaberti (1549-1624), and on the other side of the Atlantic the indefatigable Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695). Not only did these women write works that displayed their intellectual prowess, but they also played an important role as conductors and disseminators of (what have since become) classics of Spanish mysticism by such emblematic figures as San Juan de la Cruz and Fray Luis de León.

However, the convent walls were not always a safeguard from potential censorship and persecution. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was forced by a suspicious Inquisition to part from her many scientific instruments, her literary collection, and to become estranged even from her ideas, compelled to declare herself ‘la peor de todas’. Equally Santa Teresa de Jesús had all her books confiscated, who undeterred is said to have exclaimed ‘¡Ahora Señor, tú serás mi libro!‘. Others like Sor Ana de Bartolomé or Sor Ana de Jesús had to flee and lived out their days in Belgium.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera

The figure of the female mystic, who has later occasionally fallen into the trap of becoming romanticized or reduced to a mere national archetype, is not the only type of woman writer here presented. A section is dedicated to a number of women whose high social extraction coupled with a degree of freedom afforded by personal finances, position or other varying individual circumstances, enabled them to indulge in their literary ambitions. A central figure in this secular Parnassus is the incredibly successful yet enigmatic María de Zayas (1590–1661), whose works went through numerous editions and were translated into several languages before her literary star gradually faded into obscurity in the nineteenth-century, her novellas considered now vulgar. Despite her prominence during her lifetime, very little is known about the author herself, and her figure remains shrouded in mystery.

Similarly, the polyglot Luisa Sigea (1522-1560), who amongst other languages mastered Latin, Old Greek, Hebrew and Portuguese in addition to Spanish. Her best known work, Sintra, was penned in Latin, a testimony to her ability to effortlessly navigate between Classical culture and the vernacular. Sigea, however, was the victim of the printing technology that had placed her on the literary map. A Frenchman by the name of Nicolas Chorier took advantage of her fame by signing her name to an erotic novel he authored titled La Academia de las Damas. Oliva Sabucco (1562-?), on the other hand, had to defend the authorship of the seminal Nueva filosofía de la naturaleza del hombre, no conocida ni alcanzada de los grandes filósofos antiguos, published in 1587 and which exhibited an impressive knowledge of not only the prevailing philosophical debates of the time, but also the main medical and scientific developments. Hugely praised, her own father attempted to publish an edition in Portugal under his name.

Inspired by the talent, fearlessness and intellect of these pioneers, many of them hitherto unknown to me, I left the Sala de Musas and walked to the adjacent main library. As I traversed its corridors on the way to the main reading room, admiring the handsome neoclassical building, my eyes would routinely scan the portraits that decorate the galleries. Depicted on them are the recipients of the prestigious Cervantes prize, awarded since 1976 to authors deemed to have made a significant contribution to the Spanish language. I have so far spotted two women, although I have heard there is a third one, out of 38 writers in total. It is my hope that one day this sanctuary to knowledge houses more muses, that they are not rescued from the archives, dusted off and brought out only for special occasions in Sala de Musas. But that is a much bigger project, in which the national library in Madrid is but a mere piece.

Rocío Rødtjer is a full-time library lurker and a second year PhD student at King’s College London. Her thesis attempts to redefine conventional notions of modernity to accommodate the plethora of female bylines that started to populate the literary landscape of fin de siècle Spain, particularly in the press – an emblematic vehicle of this budding modernity.