So much beauty out there

May 6, 2009

Madrid (1)

Filed under: All,Dear Diary,Travel — Josh @ 6:07 pm

Ok, so unremarkable trip from Valencia to Madrid, on to the underground and the first noteworthy thing about the city? On the metre, they have maps of the other lines, not just the one you are on. How crazy is that. It’s like they were having some kind of competition to see how they could most mess with tourists minds and make them think they were on the wrong train. But I rise above their petty scheme.

Get to the hostel, need to get some food. Nearest supermarket is Lidl, which was absolutely packed. Decided to support local small business instead and walked to nearby grocer. Only problem was, the guy who left Lidl ahead of me walked straight in with about 6 carrier bags of fruit from there and handed them over to the shopkeeper. So I’m not 100% convinced of the quality there.

Most places in Madrid shut on Monday, so day of recuperation. Went out in the evening with some people from the hostel for a couple of beers and a meal. It was a diverse group, a young Chilean doctor travelling in Europe for the first time, a middle aged businessman from Tenerife and an investment banker in her twenties. Sure hostels tend to be mainly full of gap year students but its cool that you can get such a range of people hanging out together too.

Velázquez - Felipe III, a caballo (or John Sergeant tries Strictly Come Riding)

Velázquez - Felipe III, a caballo (or John Sergeant tries Strictly Come Riding)

Tuesday morning and the Prado. Building itself is fine, stately not too grand or showy. Nice location too, pretty church above it, botanical gardens behind. The collection is obviously the main attraction and it is superb. I reckon it could be my favourite gallery. The National Gallery, the Louvre, the Pompidou Centre all have just as many, if not more great paintings, but I think the Prado is more focused, and benefits from that. A huge collection of Goya, obviously loads of good stuff, though it is hard to believe that the same painter can be responsible for both  Las floreras o la primavera and Saturn.

Was also impressed with José de Ribera who I hadn’t really encountered before – Ixion, San José y el niño Jesús. There were also sizeable collections from  El Greco, (The Adoration of the Shepherds) and Rubens, (St Thomas) too. Plenty of good individual works as well:

Durer, Portrait Of An Unknown Man

Claudio Coello, Santo Domingo de Guzman

Caravaggio, David with the head of Goliath

Murillo, La Virgen del Rosario

Obviously a lot of religious imagery going on and it was a relief occasionally to get the odd painting that deviated from that. For instance despite its title, Joachim Beuckelaer’s Christ In The House of Martha and Mary focuses far more on the food and the servants. It actually works on another level too – as a guide to restaurants in Spain. “We have all this lovely meat for you, ah, soy vegetariano, er… well, we have a cabbage?”

More common is Federico Barocci, Christ On The Cross which is positioned so as to dominate your view when you come into the room. However, the evident attention given to the painting was not replicated in the research. Instead of painstakingly recreating Golgotha, Barocci just painted the view from his window for a backdrop.

Another crucifixion, Francisco de Zurbaran, Christ Crucified With A Donor and this one got me quite worked up. Zurbaran has done this moving picture (admittedly owing something to Velazquez), but then he has to stick in a donor. Firstly the colossal egotism of paying to get yourself a ringside seat at the crucifixion, to advertise your own generosity. But even then, to not even be looking at it, but facing away from Christ so that Francicsco gets your good side? It’s enough to turn anyone Lutheran.

The real highlight though is Velázquez. What a genius this man was. Picking favourites is a bit unnecessary but here goes –  Marte, Las Meninas, El Infante Don Carlos

9 Comments »

  1. This trip gets ever more surreal by the day:

    You are now out fraternising with a (presumably ex-) investment banker, (since she’s slumming it in hostels, not pissing away her huge expense account of govt bail-out dosh in a five star palace) – such a blatant pillar of capitalism! I know they say travel broadens the mind, but at this rate you’ll come home wearing red braces and talking in management-speak. Actually, I’d pay good money to see that… :)

    And that painting of the bloke posing in front of Jesus – I reckon that’s just an olden-day equivalent of getting your photo taken with a celebrity. At least he isn’t grinning inanely with his thumbs up :)

    Comment by Taff — May 6, 2009 @ 6:52 pm | Reply

  2. Hehe. Actually we spent half the evening arguing about the benefits of comprehensive education. It’ll take more than an investment banker or two to get me wearing braces.

    And I had the same thought about the crucifixion bloke. If I had access to Photoshop I’d have substituted myself grinning to show how stupid it was.

    Comment by Josh — May 6, 2009 @ 7:19 pm | Reply

  3. “A huge collection of Goya, obviously loads of good stuff, though it is hard to believe that the same painter can be responsible for both Las floreras o la primavera and Saturn.”

    That’s what happens when thirty years pass and a painter witnesses war, bloodshed, loses his hearing, is rejected in love, and is painting the walls of his own house rather than painting designs for court tapestries to order.

    Comment by Ian — May 6, 2009 @ 8:11 pm | Reply

    • OK, well count me out of that.

      Comment by Josh — May 6, 2009 @ 8:40 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Josh
    You must go to the modern gallery too- the Reina Sophia? and the palace and cathedral beside one another in a large square are wonderful at sunset. Have you explored the music scene? There are some great live music places….
    I’m impressed you liked the Prado so much. I found it heavy and religious and just too much, whereas the RS has the Guernica and Miro and some wonderful sculpture….

    Comment by annie cockburn — May 6, 2009 @ 10:45 pm | Reply

    • Yeah, went to that today. Look for it in the next update. But in a sneak preview, I liked the Prado more.
      I suspect our ideas of great live music differ significantly!

      Comment by Josh — May 6, 2009 @ 11:24 pm | Reply

  5. On the metre, they have maps of the other lines, not just the one you are on. How crazy is that. It’s like they were having some kind of competition to see how they could most mess with tourists minds and make them think they were on the wrong train

    That would totally freak me out because I always think I’m on the wrong train anyway.

    Love the painting of the big naked dude in a helmet. “What would look good with this lovely flowing blue drapery?” “Ah, I have just the thing”.

    Comment by Mair — May 7, 2009 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

    • Yeah, me too, with the metro thing. The only thing that saved me was that the line they were showing I couldn’t possibly have been on.

      I think the big naked dude is Mars, God of War. He looks like he’s just been told about Verdun or something and finally realised the futility of war.

      Comment by Josh — May 8, 2009 @ 2:33 pm | Reply

  6. ‘The real highlight though is Velázquez. What a genius this man was.’

    dont worry i understand josh!

    Comment by Sian — May 8, 2009 @ 7:37 pm | Reply


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