Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Final Day in Madrid: Retiro, Prado, and the Underground

Thursday, May 19

My last day in Madrid was spent strolling Retiro Park, admiring the masters in the Prado Museum of Art, and getting a taste of Madrid's international underground with Wendy and her friends.  Clouds were on the way, so I spent the last moments of sunshine in Retiro Park, the green space once reserved for Spanish Royalty.  Charles III later opened the park to the public.  I recognized the iconic lake and surrounding monuments from the Picasso paintings I had seen in Barcelona.  The size and beauty of the park fit right into Madrid's scheme of grand avenues and stately buildings. 

I would go on to spend five hours at the Prado with audioguide in hand.  Many of the works I recognized from our Spanish art history unit from Mr. Wilson's 12th grade course (as was the case with El Greco in Toledo).  More El Greco was on hand in the Prado, but the real stars of the show were Diego Velázquez and Fransico de Goya.  It seemed the Prado had obtained the complete collection of each, giving guests a glimpse of the evolution of each through distinct periods of painting.  Both were court painters for the Spanish royal family. 

Velázquez came first; his most famous painting is argued to be among the best ever: Las Meninas.  At the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, an exhibition captured Picasso's obsession with Las Meninas.  He spent a lot of time physically copying the painting in the Prado, dissecting every piece.  The reason the painting is so unique is that the viewer seemingly becomes part of the painting.  Velázquez paints himself on the left with an inward facing easel.  At first, it seems he is painting you.  But, the rest of the painting reveals the true context.  A mirror in the back contains the true subjects, the king and queen.  During the session, they receive a visit from their princess and her maids (meninas).  In another room was the far less famous Surrender of Breda.  It drew my attention because a Spanish man of about 60 years was painting a direct copy of the work.  Like Picasso and other great artists, it is right of passage to copy the originals of masters.  Therefore you set up your easel in the museum and take off.  Despite the brilliance of the copy, it made me appreciate the original even more.  Next to the original, the copy appeared a rank amateur. 

 Diego Velázquez- Las Meninas
(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Las_Meninas,_by_Diego_Vel%C3%A1zquez,_from_Prado_in_Google_Earth.jpg)
Diego Velázquez - Surrender of Breda 
(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Velazquez-The_Surrenderof_Breda.jpg)

Fransisco de Goya came a bit later, but served the royal family as well.  In a tribute to Velázquez, Goya too painted himself with an easel next to the royal family in his iconic portrait.  Although the quality of the faces seemed less striking than Velázquez, Goya stands out for his personality.  His most famous work reflects his interest in politics.  His two paintings, the Second of May and the Third of May are tributes to the heroes of Madrid and commentaries on violence.  They chronicle the Spanish reaction of Napoleon's move to install his brother to the Spanish throne.  In the Puerta del Sol (where the current protests were occurring outside that day), innocent Madrileños are gunned down by faceless Frenchman.  Goya captures the confusion, disbelief, and injustice in a scene that resembles a modern crucifixion. 

 Fransico de Goya - King Charles IV of Spain and His Family 
(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_054.jpg)
Fransico de Goya - Third of May, 1808
(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:El_Tres_de_Mayo,_by_Francisco_de_Goya,_from_Prado_in_Google_Earth.jpg)

With my interest in Goya heightened, I entered another room housing his collection of mysterious "black paintings." Historians cannot fully explain the reasoning behind the series but assume the extreme disillusionment of the artist.  All had been found on the walls of Goya's home and then transferred to canvas.  Goya had mixed printing press ink with his paint to create the obscure hue.  One of my favorites was the Battle to the Death, which depicts two Spaniards fighting knee deep in mud.  It seems to identify the loose unity and internal conflict in Spain that comes to fruition during the Spanish Civil War.  In another, the head of dog appears during its helpless descent into quicksand.  Historians have identified this painting and this series in general as the beginning of modern art. 

 Fransico de Goya - Battle to the Death 
(from http://theblogofthecourtier.blogspot.com/2011/03/goya-and-spanish-love-of-hate.html)
 Fransico de Goya - The Dog 
(from http://www.artchive.com/artchive/G/goya/dog.jpg.html)

Of course, there were many other highlights.  Some works complemented the collections I had seen in Florence with works by Raphael, Titian, and Rubens. 

That night, I met up with Wendy and her friends again.  We went to the Lavapiés district of Madrid, one of the most diverse in the city.  International restaurants (emphasis on Indian) line the streets, and alternative types from South America to Africa fill the squares.  Considering how homogeneous Sevilla is, the diversity in Madrid was extraordinary to me.  After our Indian meal, we went to what looked like an abandoned building nearby.  Wendy's friend described it as the self-funded community center for the African population in Madrid.  Graffiti lined the walls as we entered a big room formed by concrete slabs.  Bob Marley was blasting and all of the African Madrileños were feeling the love.  I was seeing the Madrid underground, a world far from the Spain I knew of flamenco dresses and gazpacho.  The experience augmented my perception of Madrid.  I am grateful to have contacts here to show me this underground.

The next morning I got out of bed and walked to the train station to catch the airport shuttle.  Typical of Spain, the man coordinating the shuttle arrivals struck up a conversation with me.  He immediately sensed my comfort speaking Spanish and the knowledge I had amassed about the culture from four months in Sevilla.  It was a nice send-off and further instilled my love for the Spanish people. 

On my first plane to Dublin (before connecting to the US), I met an American couple on their sixth adventure through Spain.  Each time they had stayed in remote places, rented a car, and really nestled deep into the culture.  It gave me confidence that I would be back, equally equipped to integrate myself among the genteel Spanish people.  Knowing the language makes all the difference between being a helpless tourist and a savvy guest.  One story particularly amused me: They had lost themselves in Granada so they asked for directions from an old Spanish couple; the couple responded by offering to get into their car and lead them to exactly where they wanted to be.  This is the Spain I know too.  I cannot help but return. 

To see photos of this day, click "Madrid Day 4 (5-19)" at https://picasaweb.google.com/bradleywilliams39.

No comments:

Post a Comment