Visitors to Nashville’s Frist Center have a rare opportunity right now: the chance to see works by master artists that are normally displayed where only Europe’s elite can see them. The paintings, tapestries and books belong to one of Spain’s most storied noble families, the House of Alba.
Most Americans have probably never heard of the House of Alba, but they’ve been a powerful and wealthy force amongst European nobility for roughly five centuries. The third Duke of Alba was a powerful leader at a time when Spain was both exploring the New World and attempting to dominate their own continent. The 18th Duchess of Alba died two years ago with more titles to her name than the Queen of England. In between, generations of the family have amassed wealth, palaces and beautiful things.
For the most part, their art, antiquities and books have been kept inside their grand homes, which are not open to the public. But the current duke, don Carlos Fitz-James Stuart, sees sharing his family’s treasures as an important part of modernizing. In 2012, he spearheaded an exhibit in Madrid showing highlights of their collection. After a stop in Dallas, that exhibit is now making its third public appearance here in Nashville.
Much of the art on display is normally found in the family's Madrid home, the Liria Palace. That structure was gutted by fire during the Spanish Civil War, when thousands of priceless objects and artifacts were destroyed. However, the most valuable art survived because it had been removed — once fighting began — and stored for safekeeping in the vault of the Banco de Espana, the Royal Tapestry Factory and the British Embassy.