The Cerralbo Museum is unique in that it is the only palace museum in Madrid that has been able to reconstruct its original atmospheres with a reliable positioning of the authentic pieces based on House inventories. Through a scientific study of this documentation, the Museum management decided to restore the spatial staging imbued in the decadence and luxury typical of the 19th century.
The task of restoring the original atmospheres of the Cerralbo Palace was rewarded with a medal in the Heritage Conservation category of the Europa Nostra Awards 2008.
GalerGallery II on the Main Floor of the Museum as it looks today
We believe the setting is a historical/artistic value worthy of recovery as it reflects the collector's interest and is a testament of taste, social customs and ways of life of a part of 19th century society. For this reason, in 2002, we began a series of specific room to room campaigns in what was the initial nucleus of the museum, in other words: the Main Portico, Main Staircase and Main Floor. This work converted it into one of the few examples of a museum house with the original furniture and decoration as we brought back to its walls the warmth and charm present when inhabited. The project is the result of meticulous historical documentation work and complex recovery, conservation and restoration tasks which required coordinating activities between historians and restorers as well as a small group of labourers representing all the trades.
Before beginning our work, a series of architectural actions were taken and completed in 1993, consisting of structural reforms of the floors, ceilings and roofs, improvements to the electrical system, the installation of air conditioning and a closed circuit television system. The attic area was also reformed for administration and conservation offices and restoration workshops which only left the museographic renovation.
However, the museographic mounting devised by the founder had been considerably disarranged. For security, conservation and didactic reasons, the infinite number of objects distributed among tables, console tables and desktops were removed and placed in display cases arranged by themes. The best paintings which originally decorated the main floor galleries were spread throughout the galleries created on the mezzanine as a series of hallways and living rooms had disappeared with the reforms that took place under the direction of Sanz Pastor in the 1940s which also eliminated the service rooms in the basements and the terraced rooftops of the keeps.
The appearance of the museum rooms before our intervention was shabby and there was a series of disjoined rooms with names that were incomprehensible as the pieces that had justified their names were no longer there. The elements that had been removed and decontextualized formed thematic groups in display cases made from furniture that had actually been part of the collection itself and had been thus manipulated to serve the new purpose. Furthermore, the original textiles had been removed, stripping the nineteenth century setting of drapery and rugs, one of its main characteristics.
Therefore, the challenge was to set about the necessary museographic renovation. We thought about several different possibilities ranging from respecting the actions of our predecessors and simply restoring the pieces needing such work to a total renovation of the mounting so as to create a thematically arranged museum displaying nineteenth century collectionism. Besides dishonouring the testamentary will of the Marquis of Cerralbo, we believed both options would be a lack of respect towards the little valued other heritage: the interior design. From that time on, we established the goal of renovating the museography from a recovery approach in the understanding that the decorative atmosphere is a historical/artistic asset and, therefore, worthy of protection. The renovation consisted of returning the palace to its former splendour in witness to some very specific concerns and ways of life- an example of 19th century collectionism and the social customs of the era- all displayed in the original setting, in one of the first houses in Madrid to have electricity, running water and a telephone.
This is the criteria that have governed our interventions which began with a theoretical study in the year 2000, and became a reality beginning in 2002, with the inauguration of the first phase of the renovated rooms.
Mounting work in the Summer Foyer on the Mezzanine Floor
The first problem that arose was deciding which historical moment should be "fossilized" within the evolution of the palace and family history. The solution was to restore it to what it looked like upon the death of the Marquis in 1922. We had firsthand documentation in the form of the inventory taken in 1924 by the first museum director, Mr. Juan Cabré. A documentation process began at the end of the year 2000 consisting of the interpretation of this inventory which resulted in a complete dossier related to the entire main floor indicating the general scope of intervention and with this, we began the work.
With the information provided by Cabré's inventory, which was historically interpreted and compared to the photographic documentation conserved in the museum archive, and with knowledge of nineteenth century decorative trends, several of the museum rooms were returned to how they looked in 1922, the year of the Marquis' death and the date of reference for the recovery work. We undertook specific interventions, room by room, so the work would be compatible with the normal life of the museum.
The fundamental goal to recover the ensemble in the belief that the atmosphere is yet another historical piece and the individualized appreciation of the pieces should be disregarded. The most significant result of arranging the collections as they had been in 1922 was the contextualization of the spaces. The recovery was carried out with historic rigour in an attempt to be respectful of the original appearance of each room without allowing ourselves to be guided by personal taste and trying to reach the smallest of detail as long as the conservation and security requirements permitted.
Conserving the ensemble constituted our fundamental goal; nevertheless, it must be accepted that this objective often involves establishing priorities and making decisions that must always give precedence to not only the preservation of the material content but also to the atmosphere.
In 2002, the first reforms were undertaken in the Gala Dining Room and Billiard Room; and in 2004, the Hall of Columns, Imperial Room and Dressing Room were inaugurated. The year 2006 brought the inauguration of the First Gallery, Second Gallery and Third Gallery; and in 2007, the work on the Main Portico was completed and work began on the Office and Library (where work had already been done in 2002 to restore the wallpaper and shelves on the upper floor). Restoration of the Museum of Arms, Drawing Hall and Bathing Room began in 2008, with the finishing touches made in 2009. Only the Stove Room and Arab Room were left pending so as to definitively complete the recovery tasks on the Main Floor.
The result is a harmonious ensemble which reflects the ways of living of a sector of 19th century society in such a way it seems as though time has stopped.