Sunday 9 June 2013
In the morning we visited Madrid’s famous flea market, El Rastro. This was a fairly intense experience. We arrived before the crowds had built up. Susie was in heaven, browsing through stalls full of bags and artisan jewellery. She found one jeweller whose work she admired—a good-looking, middle-aged woman with impeccable taste, rather like herself. By the time we reached the bric-a-brac section, the crowds had swelled and I was starting to get that “hell-is-other-people” feeling. Susie found a rather striking orange frock hanging in a stall full of costumes. After 20 euros changed hands, both she and the stall-owner looked like the cat who had caught the mouse. Time will tell who was the cat and who the mouse.
The Prado is said to be one of the world’s greatest art museums, and it was located only a short walk from our apartment. Susie booked some tickets online the day before, and we set out in the morning after our usual breakfast (huevos à la Ho Chi Minh). The art in the first section of the museum was by now familiar to us: Romanesque followed by Gothic. The display of Romanesque art was similar to what we had seen in Barcelona at the National Museum. The artworks had been lifted from the walls of old churches and were displayed so as to give an impression of the architectural forms on which they were originally painted. Whilst this was interesting, it was not nearly as comprehensive as what we had already seen at the Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) in Barcelona.
The gothic art was sublime as usual, but what got us really excited was the Flemish art from 1400 onwards. This was mainly religious in nature, although there were a few pieces that foregrounded everyday life. Two memorable paintings included a scene from a kitchen, and a portrait of a bourgeois couple counting their money. The star attractions were displayed together in the same room. One was Bosch’s monumental triptych featuring the Garden of Earthly Delights, and the other was the triptych by Pieter Breugel, Triumph of Death.
The sheer size of the Bosch took us by surprise as did its bright colours, its hallucinatory quality and its bizarre sexual imagination, all of which stood in marked contrast to many of the other paintings from the same period. The Breugel was full of classic charnel house imagery, and you could see how it has inspired images of horror down through the centuries, right down to the sequel of Sam Raime’s classic cult film, Evil Dead.
We had lunch in the museum café, and afterwards followed the trail of Velasquez’s paintings on the first floor. I then continued on to the Rubens collection, but his paintings never grabbed me quite as much as the earlier Flemish masters. It reveals little about the lives of everyday folk. So later in the day, when Susie had had her fill of the collection, I retraced my steps to the early Flemish art in order to spend some more time there.