Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

The Prado, Madrid, 19.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 21, 2010

 What on earth can I write here to tell you about the Prado? It is a sumptuous art gallery full of the most splendid collection of major artists. It took us the best part of five hours to see all three levels and still there are works that we didn’t have time to look at properly.

There is such an abundance of artworks by Velasquez,  it’s hard to take it all in.  My favourites were the portraits of the royal family – the famous Infanta (immortalised everywhere in the souvenir shops) and poor old Phillip IV with his sulky lip.  (He was said to be inbred.)  I also liked his sympathetic portraits of court dwarves and buffoons, investing them with dignity and respect that they may not have always had in real life.  Tim’s favourite was the Hurdy-Gurdy Player and I do wish I had time to do a search and find a link for these because I’m sure they’ll be online somewhere. 

As you’d expect, since Spain was a major military and imperialist power in its day, there are heaps of huge battle pictures.  My favourite was the surrender at Breda, where the victor showed his chivalrous nature by preventing his defeated enemy from kneeling in subjection.  There were quite a few of these surrender scenes, and almost all of them showed people in the background whose responses to victory ranged from arrogant pride to sympathy and respect for the vanquished. 

Portraits of this period are all about power.  Who’s got it,  and who hasn’t, and how the power arises.  Men mostly have it, though not always, as we could see in the portrait of Maria Louisa and her weak and useless husband.  But by and large the men have symbols of wealth and military prowess while the women hold flowers and wear clothes that reflect their husband’s wealth.  Sometimes the clothes the children wear are the same as those of their parents, reflecting dynastic ambitions.  There is always a back story to these portraits and I love finding about them.

People watching in the cafe is fun too, almost an art installation itself!  By lunchtime the gallery is full of tourists from all over the world and artlovers from all over Spain as well.  There are arty types (mostly young and a bit scruffy); reluctant spouses with aching feet; elegant ladies regretting their high heels; elderly folk tottering along  (determined to see it all before they die?) and tourists in sensible flats of all kinds.  They can be loquacious about the art works or sit in stunned delight; they can be solo travellers or well-behaved tour groups.  I was torn between watching them all or reading the guide book…

 Goya, El Greco, Hieronymous Bosch , Brueghel, Durer – oh there are so many and I’m too tired tonight to list them all.  My advice is, include this museum on your list of places to visit while your feet are young and strong enough to last the day.

We finished up our last night in Madrid at a nearby Galician restaurant. Tim had juicy white asparagus and I had grilled prawns for starters, with Galician hake and grilled sole in tartare sauce for main courses. The whisky cake I had for dessert was rather like a cheese cake with a cup of Johnny Walker poured over it – treacherous if there’s a breathalyzer nearby but of course we were on foot so we were able to risk some Spanish cognac as well!

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