Viva Espana: Day 7 – Morning at the Museum

After they’ve confiscated your bottle of water at the entrance to the Prado (to be returned later), you can leap to one of two conclusions: one, this is to charge you outrageous sums of money for refreshments (and they do); or two, it’s to protect precious paintings from vandalism, because very few of the artworks are behind glass – not even Leonardo da Vinci’s earlier prototype of the Mona Lisa.

That’s right. The Prado has a Mona Lisa.

Obviously, it’s not THE Mona Lisa. That’s in the Louvre, behind glass and it’s tiny so you can barely see it and not only because of the crowds.

According to the information display (and something could be lost in translation), the copy here in the Prado was a work he was refining to prepare for the finished product. (According to Wiki, it was painted in Da Vinci’s studio by one of his students). It’s a bigger canvas, it is painted in lighter colours but it’s still her. And it’s not behind glass and there was barely a soul coming to look at it. I pretty much had the view of the painting all to myself.

The tour crowds were all pounding their way through the other galleries and yes, there is a phenomenal amount to see here… but they don’t even notice this: it’s a Mona Lisa. Not the finished and final version but in terms of a complete painting, with the woman’s face completed, it was good enough for me. I was able to take in all of the details in a way that you can’t at the Louvre. I should probably not even write about it: I could spoil a peaceful and virtually private viewing for other people to enjoy.

The Prado is widely considered to house one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish royal collection, and the single best collection of Spanish art. There are extensive works by Reubens here because Philip IV was a fan.

Founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture in 1819, it also contains important collections of other types of works. The Prado Museum is one of the most visited sites in the world and is considered one of the greatest art museums in the world.

The collection covers 2.5 floors – the second floor space is nowhere near as extensive as the ground and first floor. And it is busy in the morning. Most of the crowds – particularly the tour groups and school groups – make a beeline for the exhibitions (on all three floors) of Goya’s work. It’s the paintings from his later years (the ‘Black Paintings’ named for paint pigments he used) that everyone was really there for. Sure, the colourful stuff from his early life is nice but it’s the twisted imagery about witches’ sabbats that was the big draw.

You’d think there was nothing else in the gallery… which suited me just fine.

The Prado were almost running an exhibition (tied in with in International Women’s Day) on Female perspectives – women as patrons of the arts. I say ‘almost’ because it was mostly delivered by annotating the existing collection with new information.

When, in this type of gallery, there are always going to more paintings of women than by women, this was an interesting slant to view art history.

With political dynasties created by marriage, the women marrying between the royal houses across Europe, especially where they kept in touch with their sisters, created networks and influenced artistic style across the Continent.

Patrons, with their wealth, shaped what was fashionable and artists (if they didn’t want to be penniless and starving) delivered what they wanted. Phillip II of Spain and Philip IV provided many of the works on display in the museum and it is they who are considered the patrons. However, the exhibition highlights that they were each married four (Anna of Austria, Elizabeth of Valois, Mary Tudor and Maria Mansuela) and two (Mariana of Austria and Elisabeth of France) times respectively with their wives  bringing their artistic tastes with them.

What couldn’t be ignored was the white Eurocentric view of the world. A stunning painting of Saint Catherine (1510) by Fernando Yanez de la Almedina shows the Egyptian princess with her long blonde hair. Is it possible he just painted what he knew and was familiar with? Did he have no idea what Egyptians looked like?

He was able to copy Arabic designs into the dress she wears in the painting and the Moors are a huge part of Spanish history so I’m not buying that theory.

Or is it because she was painted as a blonde in earlier paintings and he simply followed the historical precedent? It might be a style precedent but there had been a cultural obsession with Egypt since the Romans and before them, the Greeks. There is no way that I can believe that people, and particularly  educated painters, didn’t know that Egyptians were not blonde.

It is a fascinating place to spend more than several hours.

The chaps who served me lunch at the San Fernando Market were great. Explaining the menu was no hardship, and they checked to make sure I was enjoying the beer, the chips, and again to make sure I was happy with the meal.

The market was phenomenally quiet. Most of the food stalls had been given over to bars and restaurants. I’m sure it’s probably busier in the evening, but this residential market was not as healthy-looking (in terms of footfall) as the St Catherine Market in Barcelona. I popped into a couple of markets as I wandered the city today, and it was the same story in all.

I’m never going to manage the five meals a day, but wrapping up with cheese and wine is a sure fire winner. And I was offered a job by the proprieter. As barmaid.

Categories: Madrid, Spain, Travel, Viva EspanaTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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