Both in quality and size of the collection, the BNE's drawings assets are some of the most important in Spain. Among the drawings from the Spanish school, original works by artists such as El Greco, Velázquez, Alonso Cano, Murillo, Goya, Alenza and Fortuny coexist with those by the latest avant gard artists.
It also holds an outstanding range of Italian and Portuguese drawings and a selection from the French, German, Flemish and Dutch schools.
The BNE’s significant and extensive collection of drawings, one of the largest in the world, took shape over time and is constantly growing thanks to acquisitions, exchanges and donations which further enrich these holdings and show how drawing has changed over time.
Thanks to the work of the first head librarian of the Print Room, Isidoro Rosell (1868-1878), the graphic material scattered throughout the collections from the Royal Library was separated, leading to its own collection which was formed in the newly created Print Room, including the purchase made by the State from the collector Valentín Carderera in 1867. The exchange of duplicate prints with other collectors, such as the painter and collector Manuel Castellano, contributed to enriching the new collection.
In 1899, over 1,000 drawings were added from the collection of José de Madrazo, which had been distributed among his heirs following his death.
Over the years, further drawings were acquired, and during the reign of Rossell’s successor, Angel Maria de Barcia, significant donations were received, as noted by Barcia himself in the Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos, including donations from Rafael Moleón and Rogelio Egusquiza.
In 1904, drawings by Eugenio Izquierdo on non-botanical subjects, which were in his library deposited in the Museum of Natural Sciences, were added to the Library.
The collection continued growing slowly, and subsequent head librarians have spared no effort in ensuring its growth.
Following the Spanish Civil War, drawings held by the Junta de Incautación y Protección del Patrimonio Artístico (Body for the Confiscation and Protection of Works of Art) which had not been reclaimed by their owners were added, and in 1951, Henriette Nigrin, the widow of Mariano Fortuny Madrazo, donated some of his drawings and many by his father, Mariano Fortuny Marsal.
During the second half of the 20th century, the library continued to acquire a wide variety of works, from illustrations of Cervantes to drawings by contemporary artists, including drawings by children who were in school summer camps in 1936 and 1937. It also received the graphic holdings of the dissolved Africa Section, bought original drawings for comics from the 1940s and 1950s, and received a flurry of donations, including important holdings from Antonio Fernández Alba and Secundino Zuazo, consisting of thousands of plans and architectural drawings, as well as large donations from cartoonists such as Chumy Chúmez, Peridis, and Forges.
The Biblioteca Nacional original drawings collections, which is held by the Drawings and Engravings Service, is one of the most important in Spain, both for its quality and for its volume, with over 80,000 works from the 15th century to the present.
Drawings by Spanish masters such as El Greco, Velázquez, Alonso Cano, Murillo, Claudio Coello, Paret, Salvador Carmona, Ventura Rodríguez, Villanueva, Goya, Alenza, and Fortuny, can be seen alongside others by the latest avant-garde artists, including José Caballero, Julio González, Vázquez Díaz, Benjamín Palencia, Manolo Millares, and Eusebio Sempere.
The numerous examples of 16th- to 19th-century drawings include notable works by artists like Vincenzo Casale, Arcimboldo, Aniello Falcone, Guido Reni, Bernini, Luca Giordano, Giambattista Tiepolo, Piranesi, and Maratti. The Portuguese drawings in the Biblioteca Nacional Drawings and Engravings Service include a 16th-century masterpiece, De Aetatibus Mundi Imagines, by Francisco de Holanda. Finally, as well as these more extensive holdings, there is also a selection of French drawings (Claude Lorrain, Charles de la Traverse, etc.), and a few German, Flemish and Dutch drawings.
The subject matter of the collection varies widely. Although religious themes predominate, there are valuable architectural and ornamentation drawings from the 16th century to the present, as well as mythological and historical subjects, genre scenes, academic subjects, portraits, views and landscapes, book illustrations, comics, furniture, jewellery, silverware, bullfights, etc.
The range of techniques also enables us to trace all the media used in drawings, from quill pens, pencil, wash and sanguineto computer drawing.
One of the milestones in the conservation of such an important collection of drawings was the Catalogue of original drawings in the Biblioteca Nacional, created by Barcia and published in 1906. This catalogue is still in use at the international level, and includes descriptions of over 10,000 drawings, organised by schools and artists. Barcia’s summary, in many cases with attributions and dating, using the media and resources then available, is admirably precise.
With Enrique Lafuente Ferrari as director (1930-1942), articles about the holdings of the Prints and Fine Arts Section started to be published, exhibitions were held and catalogues were issued, and this work uas contunued until the present, with some of them accessible online. Work also began to restructure the holdings and to orrganise them for cataloguing, which led to a formal inventory of the drawings listed in the Barcia catalogue.
In the mid-20th century, another thousand drawings which were not listed in the Barcia catalogue were added, known as Additions to Barcia (AB), and photographic files were made of all the drawings then in the collection, which are still available to the public in the Goya Room.
In the cloud
The cataloguing of the holdings follows current international regulations, compliant with ISBD cataloguing standards consolidated according to the Marc 21 format. Since the 1980s, the library has been working to create an automated catalogue of the holdings. This is an online catalogue which continues to grow as the holdings are processed, and is continuously updated, thanks to the contributions of users and experts.
It also has over 12,000 digitised drawings, 88% of which are part of the former holding and in the public domain. These are accessible in the Hispanic Digital Library through a traditional search or divided into collections.
Another of the BNE's latest projects is the Online Spanish Archive, which collects Spanish documentary heritage online. Using this tool you can access a collection specialised in Fine Art, including pages on artists and their works, so you can access them as they were at the time of they entered the collection.
Another of the tools used to publish the drawings is the Second Canvas app, which is being used to make the masterpieces in the BNE better known, including high-resolution drawings with comments on the details, author and context.
All of these factors mean this collection is an invaluable source, not only for the study of drawing, but also for the history of art, illustration, works on paper, and many other aspects.