Museo del Prado

The Prado is a lesson on why museums are important, and there is absolutely no way virtually browsing these things will ever work. Paintings like The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid or the Las Meninas is so massive that the only way to appreciate them is to stand in front of them. Brighter things are already written about the paintings in the Prado, and I have little to add. The following is how I felt being alone in my thoughts with each of these masterpieces.

The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid, or “The Executions”
Copyright ©Museo Nacional del Prado

I was particularly taken by The 3rd of May by Goya.  I’ve always loved it.  The light seemingly coming from the center of the painting is particularly striking because it frames most of the painting in darkness.   The anguish of those on the sidelines seems so genuine, and the lack of precision in painting the soon-to-be victims gives the painting an almost memory quality.   It’s almost as if this is how the survivors remembered it and told the story.   It’s tragic, and the massive swath of black sky makes it feel so imposing.   It is a painting I found myself not wanting to get lost in but to move away after I’d started to take it in.   There is a feeling that once you move away, the scene will continue, and everyone will be dead.   It wrings the emotions from you like water from a towel. 

The Martyrdom of Saint Philip
Copyright ©Museo Nacional del Prado

I was really surprised at how long I lingered at The Martyrdom of Saint Philip by Ribera.  Religious agony is never my preferred genre, but the angles created by his arms on the crossbar of the cross caught my eye.   It’s a gruesome photo of a man moments away from being crucified, and yet my eyes really focus on the empty triangle formed by his bounds hands body.  The influences of visiting the Andalusian palace with intricately designed geometric patterns might have me thinking about this, but I stayed on the painting.  And while I was there, other layers began to reveal themselves. For example, the woman holding a baby on the left meets our gaze or the person lost to the background under his left armpit.  

Vulcan’s Forge
Copyright ©Museo Nacional del Prado

In 2014, Sam and I were in Mexico City, and the National Museum of Art was hosting an exhibit focused on the male nude in art. It’s hard for me to describe how shocking this was to me. In almost every museum across the globe, there is art focusing on the female body. Often the focus is on beauty, and I will be the first to admit that is not because the artist wants to honor women, no it’s likely because many artists (or the rich guys paying the commission) were straight dudes who liked thinking about breasts.

However, one consequence is that there are that celebrate the beauty of the male body.  When a man is nude or nearly nude (heaven forbid the world knows about a penis), often they are in absolute agony (see The Martyrdom of Saint Philip). Therefore, when we happened upon Hombre Al Desnudo: Dimensiones De La Masculinidad A Partir De 1800 in 2014, my eyes were open to rarity. The male body is celebrated as something beautiful.  

The United States (and many other places) has a severe problem with toxic masculinity. We need to do many things to end this, but seeing men as beautiful, vulnerable, and sensitive beings seems to be an obvious step in ending this problem.

Vulcan’s Forge by Velazquez is one painting in which the male body is actually displayed without pain. I also like this painting because it is supernatural without being about Christianity.    The god Apollo is telling Vulcan his wife is cheating, and his bros are like, “WTF.”   Are they shocked at the cheating or the appearance of a god?  Who knows?  The ancient mythological world was a wild place.

What I find impressive about this is that the composite of all subjects really created a fully male body.   Vulcan’s face and torso, friend #1’s back and calves, friend #2 arms and face in profile, friend #3 knee, thigh, and forearm.   It’s beautiful, provocative, and protected by the fact that it’s a mythological story.   If your art is retelling an ancient tale, it’s just fine that men are nude. It’s like the 16th-century version of “I buy for the articles.”

I also like that Apollo is not as ripped as the humans.   Management guys are always a bit softer around the midsection than those working with their hands.  

Las Meninas
Copyright ©Museo Nacional del Prado

I thought long and hard about including Las Meninas in this post.   It’s a masterpiece, and countless people have written about it.    I didn’t expect to spend much time with it, not because I’m too cool for school, but because I’ve seen the image a thousand times.  However, when I stood in front of it, there was no one beside me, a true rarity for the most popular piece in the entire Prado.   The painting loomed over me, and I found myself looking past our central subject and getting lost in the background.  This is a very immersive painting that defies its 2-dimensional limitations.   It feels like you are peering into another room.   Knowing the couple in the mirror reflection are standing where you are, almost makes you wonder if they are next to you in the gallery.  Silly, I know, sitting with this painting is an experience. It is certainly not shocking that this is so impressive, but I found myself truly lost in it.

The Drowning Dog
Copyright ©Museo Nacional del Prado

Before writing this post, I passed my guide along to a friend, but I recall the guide saying that Goya’s The Drowning Dog is very mysterious. That seems right to me, but I found the ambiguity and lack of definition quite unnerving. In addition, the title gives a relatively bright painting (colorwise) among the Blank Paintings a real sense of horror.   This painting induced a tremendous amount of anxiety while looking at it.    You genuinely do not know what is going on, and although the uneasiness I felt moved me away from it, this painting may have caused the strongest physical response in the entire museum.   

The Mancorbo Pass in Picos de Europa
Copyright ©Museo Nacional del Prado

I loved The Mancorbo Pass in Picos de Europa by Haes.  It’s beautiful and quite simply made me smile while I looked at it.  There are no secrets, it’s a landscape. One of the joys of hiking and seeing the world is the reminder of the size of mother nature.   In the grand scheme of things, we are a drop in the ocean of nature and history, and there is nothing like a mountain to remind you of that.   A scene like this one reminds me to be present, follow my breath, and enjoy the majesty in front of us.   It’s an important note for a traveler who likes to plan everything.  Make time to think about tomorrow, don’t let those thoughts make you miss what’s in front of you today.

The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day
Copyright ©Museo Nacional del Prado

I wonder if I would have stayed with The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day by Bruegel, the Elder as long as I did before COVID-19. I miss crowds and the energy of people celebrating.  It was so great to see a village partying on too much wine.   The Prado has another Bruegel and several Bosch, which are obviously impressive. Still, the calamity of a party is somehow just as interesting as the supernatural subjects of the other works.   You can almost hear the laughing, talking, and teasing while it’s going on.   My 3 favorite characters are: 1) the black-haired woman who is bottom center-left.   I just want to know her story;   2) the woman giving her a baby a sip of wine.  3) the guy hanging from the barrel pouring a woman some wine with a pitcher.   It’s a lovely and busy painting.

The Archduke Leopold William in his Picture Gallery in Brussels
Copyright ©Museo Nacional del Prado

I am not sure if I like The Archduke Leopold William in his Picture Gallery in Brussels by Teniers, but it does keep you looking.   A painting with lots of other paintings?  Cool, I guess.   It feels a bit ungapatchka, but it is kind of fun to look at all of the mini paintings.   

Sometimes art is funny

Saints Anthony Abbot and Paul the Hermit
Copyright ©Museo Nacional del Prado

Not every painting induced contemplation, reflection, and teary-eyed revelation. Some simply made me smile and laugh at my internal monologue. Take “Saints Anthony Abbot and Paul the Hermit” by Velazquez. As soon as I saw it, I said, “why’s that bird carrying a bagel?” The painting is an obvious masterpiece, but could I see the people in the cave or the far hillside? Nope, all I could think about was a bird carrying a bagel. Did God tell that bird to get a bagel for these guys? Who knows?

García de’ Medici
Copyright ©Museo Nacional del Prado

Bronzini by Medici. In real-life (IRL), serious babies always make me laugh, but all I could think was, “this baby is too serious. I bet he’s going to grow up to be a real asshole.”

Eugenia Martínez Vallejo, Naked
Copyright ©Museo Nacional del Prado

Finally, Eugenia Martínez Vallejo by Carreno de Miranda. This is funny. I know my laughs perpetuate a bad body-shaming culture, but I laughed out loud at this unexpected portrait.    I did take a minute to look up the subject.  Eugenia Martínez Vallejo likely suffered from Prader–Willi syndrome.

One thought on “Museo del Prado

  1. Pingback: Spain Days 9 & 10 – Bonus Days! | Rarely Pure & Never Simple

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