The Majesty of Spain’: You are going to be dazzled’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 1, 2001

Mississippi first lady Melanie Musgrove listens to the self-guided audio tour at “The Majesty of Spain” exhibition Wednesday as she views horses and livery accompanying the royal carriage on display. (The Vicksburg Post/GINNY MILLER)

[03/01/01] JACKSON Borders will be crossed and minds broadened by the “The Majesty of Spain,” Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said.

“This is an opportunity for increased understanding and respect for other cultures … to cross borders to another culture, to another world,” Musgrove said Wednesday at a media preview of the exhibition. Beginning Thursday, the public can see the collection of more than 600 paintings and other Spanish treasures on display at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion.

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“We will open the door to the people of Mississippi, the people of the nation and the people of the world,” he said. “I believe that we have put you in the heart of Spain right here in downtown Jackson, Mississippi.”

Spanish dignitaries, among them the ambassador to the United States, also attended the news conference.

“You are going to be dazzled by the beauties put together (here),” Javier Ruperez said, calling the exhibition “a reflection of a part of our history.”

“At one time, Spain was present in more than half the present-day United States,” Ruperez said. “This period has not been widely documented. Now, all of a sudden we are rediscovering the land, the people.”

Spaniard Hernando de Soto first explored the lower Mississippi River Valley in the 1500s, and the area was under Spanish rule from 1780 until 1798. What is now Warren County was the northernmost point of the Spanish colony, and Fort Nogales, a Spanish fortification overlooking the Mississippi River, was built in 1791. An alliance with the Choctaws, called the Treaty of Nogales, was signed two years later.

“The Majesty of Spain” is the largest collection of Spanish works of art ever mounted in North America. “Never before such a magnificent exhibition has been put together,” said the ambassador, who credits Jack Kyle, executive director of the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, for organizing the exhibition.

Alvaro Fernandez-Villaverde, the Duke of San Carlos, also lauded Kyle.

“We believed in what you told us,” Fernandez-Villaverde said. “The Spanish government put all its strength behind you, and we have been highly rewarded.”

Fernandez-Villaverde is president of the Patrimonio Nacional, or the National Heritage, which oversees Spain’s royal collections. Along with the Museo del Prado in Madrid, the government agency has lent hundreds of works of art for the exhibition.

In return, Kyle said, the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange provided a loan fee of $500,000 each to the Prado and the Patrimonio Nacional. The project’s overall price tag is $9.8 million, $6 million of which has already been raised from the Legislature and private sector. About 400,000 visitors are needed to break even, he said.

Kyle and the commission brought 554,000 visitors to Mississippi for the “Palaces of St. Petersburg,” an exhibition of Russian objects, in 1996. Two years later, French treasures in the “Splendors of Versailles” attracted nearly 300,000 visitors.

Both projects saw a large number of schoolchildren, which Mississippi first lady Melanie Musgrove hopes will be the case with “The Majesty of Spain.”

“That’s very exciting for me as an educator,” said Musgrove, a reading teacher who praised the free student guides distributed to every K-12 classroom in the state. “It gives the teacher ample opportunity to introduce this into the curriculum.”

The exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all Mississippians, Musgrove said. “There are no words to describe this.”