26 Feb Who's Who at the Prado
When I sat down in my first art history class five years ago, I thought it was going to be the most boring class on the face of the earth. Who cares about a bunch of dead guys and their pictures?
I learned that art is not as peaceful as it seems! Art was, and still is, a form of free and public speech, however, defying authority in those days came with some serious consequences. Painters had to be mindful even of when they released their pieces because they could've gotten killed by the masses, or even jailed, if painted and released sooner.
Art is vicious y’all. You’ll find guys like these at just about any museum, but if you visit the Prado, you gotta know these names because you will literally see them EVERYWHERE. So when you take your SB (Spanish Bae) to the museum with you, hit them with a few facts like the cultured AF girl boss you are.
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
Otherwise known as Goya, our boy has over 500 pieces at the museum deeming him the most represented artist at the Prado. So, he’s kind of important. Goya is one of the top painters to come out of Spain. With pieces such as The Third of May, 1808, c. 1814, that later inspired other great artists such as Edouard Manet, Goya was not afraid to use his paintbrush to make a political statement. The Third of May shows a sorrowful Madrileno who is about to be executed by French military men.
Brief backstory: On May 2nd, 1808, the Spanish people revolted due to Napoleon Bonaparte’s betrayal, where he tricked Spain by pretending to be in alliance with them, leading them to believe he was on his way to Portugal. Upon entering Spain, Napoleon turns and attacks the Spanish, seizes their throne, and puts his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, in power. The day after, May 3rd, 1808, the setting for Goya’s painting, the French take it into their own hands to execute the rebels, as well as some innocent bystanders, for rebelling the day before. After these events, the blood of the executed Madrilenos was so much that it literally ran through the streets of the city. Fact: This happened at Calle de Alcalá, the longest street in Madrid, which actually starts in the same neighborhood as the PINC Madrid program, Puerta del Sol.
Being an artist is hard! Just ask anyone living in NYC. But, if you had to be an artist with the best bosses ever, you’d be Velazquez. Just think about it, living in a palace, having the distinguished honor of painting for the most powerful couple in the world at the time, never having to worry about money, FREE FOOD. Mind you, in history there have been many court painters, but in this specific date and time, Velazquez had it pretty sweet. In the mid 1600’s Velazquez was a court painter for the royal family, a time when Spain was one of the most powerful countries in the world. One of his most well known pieces being Las Meninas, c. 1656, standing at a humungo size of approximately 10' x 9'.
Get this, the painter on the left hand side is Velazquez himself, who is painting the painting that he painted himself in.
Okay, hang on, Velazquez painted a painting with himself painting that very painting?!
Sort of like tagging yourself in your own Instagram picture, that you took, with a bunch of really important people so that you could show off to your friends that you were actually there with all of these important people. #MyFriendsAreCoolerThanYours
In the same way that an essay has a main idea, every painting has a main subject, and it’s normally present in the center of the piece. In the case of Las Meninas, it is the Infanta Margarita. Margarita was King Philip IV and Queen Mariana’s five-year-old daughter and the princess of Spain. In the painting, everyone around her is catering to whatever she may need or want.
However, there is some debate as to who is the true main subject of the Las Meninas. Some scholars believe that the main point of the piece is the viewer because everyone’s eyes are facing out from the painting. Why? Well, if you look at the rectangular mirror right above the Princess’ head, you’ll see the reflection of the King and Queen. So, technically, if it’s their reflection, they must be in front of the mirror, kind of like in the position that we’d be in if we were standing right in front of this painting. Everyone is looking at the King and Queen, but since they are (like us) not actually in the foreground of the painting, they’re actually outside of it, where we are! Therefore, everyone is looking at us and we are put in the position of royalty. I can certainly get used to that.
José de Madrazo y Agudo
Okay, I may be a little biased here because this particular art style is my absolute favorite. José de Madrazo y Agudo was responsible for bringing a movement named Neoclassicism to Spain, a movement which originated in France in the late 1700’s. After studying under the incredibly talented Jacques Louis David, the guy who practically invented Neoclassicism in France, Agudo did his own Neoclassical thing in Spain.
Neoclassicism is a style of art in which the colors are popping AF, all of the figures are have almost perfect bodies (everyone is always ready for Spring Break in Cancun), the scenario seems like it's on a stage, there are almost no visible brushstrokes, strong lines and angles created by swords, muscular legs and arms, clothing, etc., that drag your eyes across the painting, and a classical subject matter that render the piece timeless. The central figure is also the most important thing in the painting (sound familiar? Las Meninas?)
In the painting below, The Death of Viriatus, Chief of the Luisitanians, King Viriatus of Lusitania lies dead while three of his “friends” who assassinated him walk off the platform on the right hand side (so fake tbh). Similar to Napoleon’s betrayal in 1808, Viriatus was killed in an effort to gain control of Lusitania by the Roman empire who claimed to be at peace with Lusitania, and recognize Viriatus as its King. The Roman Consul paid off three of the King’s friends to assassinate him. In a patriotic effort to emphasize his disagreement with Napoleon and the French occupation, Agudo painted this incredible piece.
Okay, lets all take a breath in and take a breath out. I know, it's a lot of information, but it is like they say, a picture really is worth 1,000 words! And, remember, if you just so happen to run into a painting that just makes no sense whatsoever, just think of this quote by another Spanish artist, maybe you've heard of him,
"The world doesn't make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?" -Picasso