A Day at the Prado

Thanks to wise planning by Michele, we had expedited entry to the Prado.  Once inside, the challenge is which way to turn. So many halls holding outstanding works.

But no cameras allowed. 

 I rely on photos of artworks and the title card descriptions to ponder them when I am home or even commuting to work.  Since you cannot get up close and personal with the paintings without either setting off alarms or the ire of a security guard,  enlarging photo images to focus on details in a work can be illuminating.  Last year on a visit to Rome, no photos were allowed at the Sistine Chapel and though we marveled at Michelangelo’s frescoes, there was only so much we could absorb in an abbreviated visit craning our necks looking upward.  It was not until recently when a traveling photo exhibit of the Sistine Chapel ceiling came to Tacoma that we could viscerally appreciate the extraordinary studies of the human form.  You could walk up to within inches of the images. Superhero figures, foreshortened and twisting in motion, emerged in three dimensions from the surface. 

I would have to rely on memory to store the moments.  Michele reassured me that this is possible, even in this day and age. The strategy might be to cover less territory, and absorb more:

Las Meninas by Velazquez

This is a HUGE painting with one very privileged princess at center stage. Though the precious princess is the center of attention, her parents are only seen as apparitions in a background mirror. You, the observer, are King or Queen for a Day. Velazquez fixates on you peering from behind his canvas and breaks through the fourth wall-literally drawing you in.

Two paintings reproduced in the background (and difficult to see) highlight artists challenging the Gods. A dangerous pursuit if the mythological tales are any indication and a provocative arrangement by Velazquez depicts in his narrative challenging the Gods and royalty.  He had chutzpah.    

Adam and Eve by Durer

Two beautifully rendered realistic life size naked forms stand side by side.  You can almost hear the snake hissing as its scales slip across apple bark. 

Rubens and Velazquez paintings for King Phillip IV’s hunting lodge

Given the number of paintings that include partially or barely clothed full bodied women in Greek mythological settings, the lodge must have been a den of inequity.  They drip with sensuality.  According to experts there is a whole lot of “dialectical reflection” going on, and a conversation between Rubens and Velazquez on the human frailty of both humans and gods, apparently influenced by Titian.  I just see fifty shades of indulgence.

Goya’s Black Paintings

These works show the signs of an artist on the edge of sanity.  Stay too long staring on one of these works and you may end up running out of the room screaming and hoping for a hug from just about any stranger. These are extraordinary but still disturbing images that shake your confidence that all is right with the world.

Goya’s La maja

I should have appreciated these two paintings (one of a naked model and the other of the same model clothed) but a salacious memory sabotaged the moment. A while back, I was gifted a ballpoint pen with the image of an attractive woman on the shaft.  When the pen is tipped up, the clothing would slide away to reveal the woman naked. Sexist, yes. Inappropriate…yes. A peep show in a pocket.  Maybe these two Goya portraits were just a cheap thrill, a chauvinist pornographic parlor trick of the 15th century.  Now you see her, now you don’t.

Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights

This guy must have nibbled on Amanita mushrooms as he painted.  Exquisitely detailed images of figures indulging in the most bizarre pleasurable fantasies, and then suffering very odd consequences that seemed to have leapt from a wonderfully warped imagination. These images erupted from a surreal subconscious.

Following this intense immersion in Spanish Art and its rarified atmosphere of culturally mandated beauty, it is somewhat of a relief to breath fresh air. We staged our reentry while sitting on a wall outside the museum.  We paused for our bodies to acclimatize to the mundane views of our world.    

That evening we tracked down a hip tapas bar, InClan Brutal Bar, near to Plaza Santa Ana, but we were under time constraints to finish before a huge party took over the restaurant.  On the way out, our waiter slipped us a discount coupon to the sister restaurant and encouraged us to review the bar.    We were in Trip Advisor territory once again…where ratings were the bitcoins of the realm.

Another Day in Madrid

While Michele slept, I took a quiet moment to sip weak tea on our hotel room’s patio.   Across the plaza full-size reproductions of Michelangelo’s Night and Day on the cornice of a building reflected the morning light. Last year, we had stood just inches from these sculptures in the Medici Chapel in Florence, transfixed by the sensuous folds and curves of polished marble.  I was scolded by a museum guard for getting too close.  As I said, I was mesmerized.  Not that I would ever touch such work, but the temptation is amazingly strong.

My blissful recollection of adoration was shattered by the sound of crashing glass pulverizing the quiet space.  Recycling trucks were making early morning rounds.

Museo Thyssen

To fortify ourselves for our next day of museum hiking, we wanted the full breakfast offered by our hotel.  In a nearly empty dining area, another couple decided to sit right next to us on a bench seat.  It was a scene from an Edward Albee play, Zoo Story that did not end well for one traveler.  I kept watching for how they handled the knives.

The fully automatic espresso machine was spitting out weak, soupy cappuccino, so we found a good excuse to exit…and they did not try to provoke us on the way out.

The Museo Thyssen entices the viewer to walk through centuries of art:

  • Gabriel Malesskircher’s Painting of St Luke painting the Virgin (1478).  I guess that it is a version of the Virgin.  Never a dull moment in a Saint’s life.
  • Domensco Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni (1489) was a gorgeous profile, long neck, blond hair twisted into a bun save for the waves of hair falling at the temples.
  • Clovet’s The Love Letter, a female with one nipple casually exposed looks out at the viewer with a “I am so worth it!” look.
  • Hans Baldung Gries Adam and Eve (1531) who hug each other which is highly unusual for depictions of the unfortunate couple in art through the ages.
  • Martin Van Heemskerck’s Portrait of a Lady Spinning (1531) who is a dead ringer for Scarlett Johannson.
  • Brueghel’s The Garden of Eden (1610) where you can play Find Waldo to locate the doomed couple out in the idyllic fields of Eden
  • Sweerts’ Boy in a Turban holding a Nosegay (1658) shines light on a beautiful face yet on closer inspection, tears are close to falling.

And then we were immersed in the flood of work by Church, Reubens, Heade, Caitlin, Lewis, Copley, Bierstadt, Russell, Sharp, Homer, Daubigny, Renoir, Gaugin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bernard, Signac, Kadinsky, Pendergast, O’Keefe, Hopper, Munch, Degas, Ensor, Van Gogh, Goya, Sargent, Braque, Chagall, Lindner, and Mark Tobey (three cheers for a NW Washington star). We rushed through this landscape of color, texture and light as if we had throttled up through the 2001: A Space Odessey’s cosmic vortex.   We popped out after viewing Wasselmann’s outstanding Nude #1 (1970) with a big red nipple and orange.

Lunch at a Thai restaurant on the main thouroughfare, gave us a moment to synchronize with the present. The tea pot, heavy as a bar bell, helped me breath deeply on the path of contemplation.  


The Really Big Show is Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina-Sofia.  Don’t even think about pulling out your smart phone anywhere on the floor.  Museum guards have eagle eyes and one is stationed on each side of Guernica to check your every move.


First impression: It’s in Black and White with greys all over.  After seeing so many paintings that depict the blood and gore of martyrdom and mayhem with intense colors, it comes as a shock to see Picasso choose the monochromatic scale to depict the horror of war.   It IS stark and does not offer the succor of beautiful colors to dampen the power.  The weeping women, dead baby, mortally wounded horse, dismembered rider, and powerful Bull, pulling together Picasso’s iconic images transformed into symbols of victims and oppressor in the midst of awful chaos.   

Added to the main event, are paintings and photographs showing the process of development of the work and images of weeping women in bold color. This side show allowed me to understand Picasso’s creative process a bit.  One photo series showed changes in Guernica as it was painted, letting me imagine Picasso’s decision making process.  Though trying to get inside Picasso’s head might be hazardous to your health.

One thing was clear, he did not like Franco so after the Paris World’s Fair of 1937 Guernica toured Europe to raise funds for Spanish refugees escaping the Spanish Civil War. Then Guernica stayed in the US for 42 years until after Picasso’s death and Franco’s, when arrangements were made for its arrival in Spain.

Face of the Grand Masturbator – Salvador Dali 1929

Cubists dominate several galleries but frankly, how many cubist paintings with a deconstructed guitar and fruit can one appreciate? 

Portrait of Madame Josette Gris – Juan Gris 1916

Upstairs we found work by Motherwell, Rothco, Yves Kline and Christo. 

Christo wrapped a Yield sign in burlap, and the Yves Kline piece clearly was done by dragging a nude female dipped in blue, across a canvas.  In the Post Franco pop collection, best title goes to “Live and Die or the Tragic End of Marcel Duchamp” that includes a still-life study of Duchamp’s Urinal art piece.  

Outside the new addition to the museum and across a massive enclosed plaza is a uber chic cafe/bar, Café Restaurant NuBel that looks like they took a large chunk of Frank Gehry’s EMP building’s skin and riveted it to the ceiling.  The huge red metal surface bulges above you in a vast space.  As a child when I was sick with fever, I used to have nightmares about swelling walls.  This swelling ceiling did put me at ease. This is not a cozy spot (too chic for that) though the cushioned seats are inviting. And the desserts offer luscious comfort.

Working off of Trip Advisor recommendations, we were able to get a table for dinner at Rosi de la Loca. In a blinding glimpse of the obvious, we realized this was the sister restaurant to InClan.   For dramatic effect, several tapas emerged from the kitchen enveloped in steam, from dry ice hidden under the sauce pan.  The octopus leg, though approached with trepidation, was delicious.  American classic 70’s music played throughout, and we made fools of ourselves, much to the enjoyment of the kitchen staff, doing a short dance routine to “Shout” on our way out.

To the Crystal Palace

From our hotel room patio I heard what sounded like a man in pain…turned out it was a troubadour pouring his heart into his rendition of a Spanish classical song.  My Bad.

Then the clarinetist was back with “My Way”. 

Capital projects seem to be going full bore in Madrid.  Perhaps they are using Portugal’s economic strategy and building themselves out of a recession.  This matrix of construction makes for challenging passages through the urban streets. We dodged and weaved like Neo among the business suits and tourists all the way to a lovely Paseo de Recoletos median on our way to the Museo Arqueologico.   

Museo Arqueologico

A remodel of the museum has opened up spaces with light, though the exterior is still preserved in a classic style.

We entered a room coated with mozaics,  with floors on walls. It was disorienting. What was up and what was down?  Were we still in the Matrix? Maybe not.

The museum’s iconic stone carving of a female bust could have been the inspiration for Star Wars costume designers. Princess Lea would have loved this hair style.

Among the many mummies and their x-ray shots, was an historical photo of an early archeologist in Egypt decked as a mummy.  Indiana Jones would never have shed his leather jacket and fedora for such frivolity.  Death masks of all shapes and sizes livened up the rooms.  And the museum has an extraordinary collection of Greek vases separated out by theme: sports, entertainment, marriage, military/war.  The only category missing: erotica. 

Off to the Parque del Retiro down Serrano, then through the park along the Paseo Salon del Estanque with an artificial lake packed with row boats and reckless drivers.  African street salesmen spread their artwork and other wares on the walk. One enterprising photographer offered souvenir images if you stood behind the plywood props of headless characters in Spanish royal costumes.  Line the whole family up behind the prop, place you head above the painted figures and you too can be an Empire builder.

Down more paths and we were at the steps to the Crystal Palace.  It is basically a large, empty conservatory. We were lucky that it was filled with crepuscular light.

Out front, on the steps to the pond, a tiny, young girl was swatting black swans with a empty plastic grocery bag. Why such antipathy towards the dark side?  She and her dad were carefully feeding olives, with toothpicks, to frenzied turtles at the pond edge.  Clearly these turtles, as they climbed on top of each other and pushed others deeper into the muck, had cravings for Spanish olives.   Of course, all the aquatic fowl also craved the delicacies but only the black swans were aggressive enough to suffer the repeated swats of righteous indignation by a pre-schooler.