In Cádiz there was a palace in which, from wall to wall, an old murilleque interpellated a relaxed Diana of Titian. In which Santa Rufina de Velázquez came face to face with works by Ribera, Rubens, Zurbarán or Mengs. The quality of what is exhibited in the house of the Indies shipper Sebastián Martínez (Treguajantes, La Rioja, 1747-Murcia, 1800) He admired Francisco de Goya himself, the guest of the wealthy merchant and the author of several paintings that ended up in his living rooms. Among the 735 works that the illustrated man came to possess and that, after his death, were dispersed throughout the world, it could even include the Salvator Mundi, the most expensive painting in history (auctioned for 450 million dollars in 2017 -380 million euros-), attributed to Leonardo da Vinci or his workshop, according to the indications of the professor of Modern History at the University of Cádiz, Guadalupe Carrasco , who has investigated the businessman’s collection.
One of these traces comes from the words of the historian and art expert Antonio Ponz in his Travel from Spain, published between 1772 and 1794. Both he and Nicolás de la Cruz y Bahamonde, count of Maule, also a collector, speak – in their case, in Travel from Spain, France and Italy– of hundreds of paintings, reliefs, sculptures, prints and books in Martínez’s house, among which is “a Salvador”By Leonardo da Vinci. “It represents the half-length Savior of the world, whose head is of a marvelous character. It is represented with a balloon in the left hand and giving the blessing with the right ”, Ponz abounds.
In Martínez’s testamentary partition, carried out in Cádiz in 1802 in favor of his daughters, Josefa and Catalina, there is talk of a “Savior of half a life-size figure valued at 1,500 reales”, according to the document kept in the Provincial Archive. Although the author is not mentioned in that description, Carrasco believes that the word of the historian Ponz, as an art specialist who has made other comparisons possible, and the criteria of Martínez as a collector give sufficient “credibility” to the suspicion. “Usually in the art world it is said that the Salvator Mundi it disappeared at the end of the 17th century and appeared a century later. But maybe he was in Cádiz ”, says the historian.
Other researchers, like José Juan Ruiz, on the other hand, are cautious. An economist and president of the Elcano Royal Institute, he has spent decades researching the Martínez collection together with Lesley Crewdson, obsessed with demonstrating the route of the 735 works that appeared in the will. “The idea is to be able to trace where and how they are, but the description of the partition does not make attributions”, explains Ruiz. And with him leonardo The doubt is twofold because, if the work that the Saudi crown prince Mohamed Bin Salmán supposedly owns today was the same one that hung on a wall in Martínez’s house, it is not even clear that it really belongs to Leonardo. A recent documentary by the French journalist Antonie Vitkine argued, based on official sources, that authorship had been discarded after several investigations at the Louvre.
Martínez was not the only merchant with America settled in Cádiz who invested his fortune —in his case, obtained from the sale of textiles and Jerez wines— in art, although it was a notable case. In the city, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, art served as an investment and to create the appearance of a wealthy and powerful man, “capable of capturing business”, as Carrasco points out. The trader, liberal, who would end up being royal treasurerHe did not hesitate to litigate with the Inquisition when it investigated him for possessing pictures of dubious morality. Like many of his contemporaries, fortune did not outlive him long.
After his death, the diaspora of his collection began. His portrait, painted by Goya in 1792, a year before the artist stayed at his home, is part of from the collection of the Metropolitan of New York. The museum acquired it in 1905, after passing through the hands of his daughters and the Salcedo collection in Madrid, details the institution in its file. The porter of the Indies had at least three goyas more: Women chatting, Sleeping woman Y The dream, today in el Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, (Hartford, USA), the Mac-Crohon private collection (Madrid) and the National Gallery of Ireland, (Dublin).
There are other works with more hazardous journeys. Ponz said he contemplated a painting of an “old woman eating soups” by Murillo. The same one that, in 1928, was cited as the “old woman from Triana” in the collection of Fernando Casado de Torres, husband of one of the daughters of the merchant Martínez. On Young Murillo, Professor of Art History at the University of Alcalá Benito Navarrete links these indications with the murillesca Old gypsy woman with child, in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum de Colonia. Dr. Anja K. Sevcik, head of her Baroque Painting department, confirms that Martínez bought the painting in 1776. It was in her family until 1844, when it passed into other hands until it reached the museum in 1936.
Maule and Ponz coincided in praising a Diana after “a bath” by Titian, whose destination is unknown today. Nor is it known what became of a landscape with a parrot by Paul de Vos or of the three still lifes and the equestrian portrait of an Austria, by Diego Velázquez. What is clear is that a Santa Rufina of the Sevillian artist was Martínez. He bought the religious painting – one of 128 on this theme of his inheritance – from the Casa de Alba, bequeathed it to his daughter Catalina and from there it went into the collection of his son-in-law. The work continued on its way through auctions in New York, Buenos Aires and Brazil until, in 2007, the Focus Abengoa Foundation acquired it for 12.4 million euros to exhibit it in Seville.
“Sebastián’s collection survived him and traveled back in time,” says the researcher Ruiz, who has managed to trace complete batches of paintings inherited or bought over almost a century and a half. Even a portrait of Martínez himself, painted by Joaquín de Inza at the end of the 18th century, which was missing, reappeared in 2004 at Sotheby’s and sold for $ 6,000 (almost 5,000 euros): an example of how the enormous collection of the rich merchant remains dance around the world. “The decline of this family is the decline of a country. In return, thanks to the scattered collections of people like him, Spain is recognized as one of the great artistic powers. They know us because Zurbaranes Y riverbanks They left. We lost our heritage, but we gained an international reputation ”, reflects Ruiz.