Perfect & Delightful Symmetry: A Story of the Prado, CaixaForum, and 7 Hours of My Life

I wish I could say I drank in the Prado with all the knowledge, sophistication and reverence it deserved. But I didn’t.

Doesn’t Velasquez really look like a kooky painter here?

Instead, I got a map of the museum. Staring at it blankly for a few moments, I swallowed hard. How was I supposed to experience this behemoth of an art facility when I didn’t even know what I wanted to see? There are temporary exhibits of Rafael’s late work and Murillo and Justino de Neve’s collabs (sweetly named,The Art of Friendship) that I needed to see, and all the Rubens and Goya and Moro–oh, there’s a masterpiece guide on the back. Yes, a list of masterpieces with their locations. There were fifty of them. Challenge accepted.

Quickly, I withdrew a pen and found a quiet corner to map my course. Fifty masterpieces in 46 rooms: easy peasy, I thought. Four hours later, exhausted, kinda cranky, I emerged from the Prado and took a deep breath of fresh air. Holy shit, I saw a lot of art today.

Goya greeted me when I surfaced. “Toldja,” he said.

Museums are funny. They start out seeming like a really good idea; they’re very romantic–like much of Spain–in that it’s quite nice to imagine pondering the evolution of paintings and noticing little details and feeling very appreciative, your own creativity bolstered by masters through the ages. It’s just magical to think about. I do feel this way, for the first hour or two. Then, like a cranky toddler, I get hungry. I get tired. I wanna do something else.

Needless to say, I’m glad I pushed through. Velazquez was great, and Las Meninas was fascinating. I loved Rubens’ gorgeous Graces and the Judgement of Paris, of course. All the Goyas were amazing, especially his pinturas negras (he painted them to hang in his HOME) and I was super excited to see The Naked Maja up close. When I was very young, growing up with my younger brother and cousin, my aunts and grandmother would watch us while my parents were at work. We would sometimes escape the clutches of clothing before bathtime or while changing, and run around naked. “Ok, Naked Maja,” my aunts would say during the brief, blissful moments of freedom, and try to put our clothes back on. This painting holds a special place in my heart.

I really like the clothed maja version as well (thought it wasn’t at the Prado) but you know, naked is usually better.

The still lives (lifes?) always get me, and I loved Cotan’s, with fruit and fowl and stuff.

And I loved the game in this one by Beuckelaer. I think I just really like looking at fruit and vegetables and meat, hence my affinity for mercados and produce markets.

And the Mor portraits made me wonder what my 16th-century self would wear in her painting, and if she’d have to forgo anachronistic eyeliner.

OH–and Bosch’s work is so. trippy. Have you ever actually looked at the Garden of Earthly Delights? The center panel is like a psychedelic interplanetary orgy acid-trip that turns into the nightmare of your life. I was delighted looking at that thing.

Anyway, totally exhausting and tiresome and worth it.

[Edit: this morning I found this: 45 Minutes is all you need for the Prado from the NYT. Heaving sigh and eyeroll. Bad Virgo.]

Here’s the Paseo del Prada. Lots of green and shady benches to have an apple/granola bar/Coke Zero snack.

Then I went to the CaixaForum, a free arts and culture space with really cool exhibits that come in. I was under the impression that the William Blake exhibit was there–because of the big-ass sign–but it’s not there til July 4th.

The current exhibit they were running was on Giovanni Battista Piranes, someone I had never heard of before. I thought it was going to be lame, but free lame. It totally wasn’t. Lame, that is.

Oooh, this is art, too.

Piranesi was an 18th-century artist, architect, etcher, antiquarian, designer andvedutista,which means “badass” in Italian.

Just kidding, it means he etched vedutas, like this one.

The gallery featured many of his etchings, including the vedutas (views) of various buildings around mostly Rome, architectural design and ornaments, and fantastic, elaborate furniture, and antiques he restored. How did he become a master of all these in one lifetime? I guess that’s why he’s famous.

One of my favorite parts of the exhibit was a little elevated table where I was able to view a few of his grotteschi with a magnifying glass. The grotteschi were a series of etchings Piranesi completed after collaborating with and being utterly inspired by Tiepolo. The etchings run rampant with curling, overgrown vines and flora, dilapidated ruins, and wonderful bones and skeletons. They’re so dark, so exquisite, and–I realized with the magnifying glass–so mind-bogglingly detailed.

There was also a neat little side exhibit where photographer Gabrielle Basilico took modern photographs of the places in Piranesi’s veduttas, They were displayed side by side.

Astounded by how many artists he influenced.

I also loved his series Carceri d’Invenzione(Imaginary Prisons). Dark, mysterious structures that look like the setting of some Gothic novel. So lovely.

Like I said, he also did design work for furniture, fireplaces and even little vases and tables. There were some pieces that were created from his sketches, which was absolutely fascinating to see, though less fascinating than if I had been running on a full tank of gas. As I hovered near Hour Seven of art-perusing, I decided I needed to leave.

Commence food and nap with a dream about Jesus because of the Prado.

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