After reading The Forgery of Venus, by Michel Gruber, I was eager to take another look at the paintings in The Prado museum, in Madrid, Spain. This time with new eyes. The book is fiction, but it told me more than I ever thought I wanted to know about how artists paint and the materials and styles of 4 centuries ago. With intriguing characters and time travel, Gruber makes the whole subject fascinating.
So here we are, fortified with a lunch of Serrano ham on crusty rolls, slices of Manchego cheese, and glasses of crisp white Spanish wine, ambling around one of the greatest museums of the world. We’re looking for Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor), painted in 1656 by Diego Rodriquez de Silva y Velazquez. And there it is on the wall, a masterpiece. It’s complicated. There’s the young Infanta Margarita, there are her maids and bodyguard, the dwarves, the dog. But there too is Velazquez himself, painting at an easel, and a mirror reflecting the king and queen. It’s unusual, to say the least. The artist was showing what he could do with portrait and perspective, and a whole lot more.
The Prado has many more works by past masters, and we gawk until we can’t admire another amazing canvas or intricately carved piece of silver. It’s museum overload. So we meander over to Mercado de San Miguel to join the crowds sipping wine and espresso and nibbling tapas at stand-up counters. Those little plates of cheeses, ham, bits of vegetables and olives are works of art themselves. I wonder if Diego Velazquez ate them and admired their artistry, back in 1650. I’m betting he did, between brushstrokes and dinners with royalty.