Coolly, elegantly presented there are unexpected hidden gems in this exhibition.

Curated by Mark McDonald of the British Museum this beautiful exhibition is of over 130 prints and drawings from the British Museum and is a rare chance to see them outside London. The Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney is the only Australian venue in an international tour which has included the Prado in Madrid.

Spanish prints and drawings are generally little known outside Spain, and it is usually assumed that these were rather marginal arts practised by few artists. The academic study and appreciation of Spanish old master prints and drawings has also lagged behind that of other European schools. However this exhibition offers a compelling re-evaluation, highlighting the exceptional quality and diversity of the graphic arts across the various distinctive regions of Spain .There is a terrific timeline provided taking us from 1561 to Goya’s death in 1828.

The exhibition is arranged roughly by region and chronologically, giving the observer a rich and detailed panorama of over 250 years of graphic art production in various techniques, taking us from the mid 16th century to the early 19th century. The exhibition also demonstrates how the art of drawing especially  was nourished and stimulated by the cultural links Spain enjoyed with other European countries, (notably in particular France)  while keeping an unmistakably patriotic Spanish character.

There are also lithographs etc and watercolours included and we learn about the changes and developments of the various techniques over this period.

The exhibition starts with works by Renaissance artists working in and around Madrid at the time when the city was designated as the new capital in 1561. This section includes important drawings by Alonso Berruguete,( His exquisite ‘ Assumption of the Virgin’ is floating and delicate) and the Italian Pellegrino Tibaldi who was working on the decoration of Philip II’s monastery at El Escorial.

A large component of the exhibition is devoted to the what is referred to as the Golden Age of Spanish drawing. 17th-century Madrid is represented by artists such as Vincente Carducho, Francisco Camilo, Alonso Cano and Francisco Rizi. Drawings in this period were executed in a variety of techniques and served many purposes, being a testament to the increasing importance of the role of drawing in artistic creation.

Next, moving through the exhibition rooms to 17th-century Seville (where commissions came mainly from the church and private patrons rather than the court) the observer will discover beautiful works by such celebrated figures as Francisco de Zurbarán and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Murillo established the Seville drawing academy in 1660 and was hugely influential. The great Diego Velázquez trained in Seville, and he went on to have a brilliant career in Madrid. We are privileged to see some of his very rare and beautiful drawings of horses

José de Ribera – one of the outstanding draughtsmen and printmakers of his time – left his native Valencia to spend most of his career in (Spanish) Naples. So there are lots of heavy, swirling Baroque pieces , martyrdoms of Saints , designs for the interiors of churches , altar pieces scattered throughout the exhibition but also landscapes and court costume sketches.

Some preparatory drawings are on show,– such as Carducho’s Adoration of the Magi for Algete parish church – which are typically small, well-planned and divided into squares for easy transfer.

The exhibition concludes with the dominating figure of 18th-century Spanish art, Francisco de Goya, an artist richly represented in the British Museum collections. A major highlight, the exhibition offers a rare opportunity to view a broad spectrum of Goya’s extraordinary prints and drawings in relation to those of his forerunners and contemporaries working in Madrid during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

There is almost an entire room devoted to several series of Goya’s prints which are represented ,including the disturbing ‘Disasters of War ‘,’ The Disparates ‘and ‘Los Caprichios ‘. They are quite nightmarish, bizarre and horrific works. Included as well is Goya’s largest print ‘The Blind Guitarist’. Also of note and in complete contrast is his marvellous 1812 vivid red chalk drawing of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington .And we mustn’t forget the bullfights! There is also the enchanting anonymous ‘after’ Goya ‘portrait of a she ant bear ‘ (anteater ). Printmaking and drawing greatly increased during this period, forever changing the artistic landscape of Spain.

An accompanying lavish catalogue has been published by the British Museum Press. Written by Mark McDonald, the curator of Renaissance to Goya: prints and drawings from Spain, it is a beautiful and comprehensive publication that examines the rich history of more than 400 years of drawing and printmaking in Spain.

There are also talks as listed on the Gallery website. RENAISSANCE TO GOYA runs at the Art Gallery of NSW  until November 24 2013. The exhibition is located in the upper level Rudy Komon Gallery.  For more information,-  http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/.