Today was all art, all day. We first visited the Prado. I had one destination in mind: Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych. I have been fascinated with this work since I was a child. My mom had “Jansen’s History of Art” at home, and I used to leaf through it frequently. Bosch’s triptych was endlessly fascinating, and if you are familiar with the work, you know why. As a child, I found it confusing, fascinating, beautiful, ugly, perverse, opaque, scary, astonishing, and just plain weird. I have always wanted to see this painting (or paintings, technically, as there are three panels) in person–and now I have done so.
The colors are as bright and fresh as though it had been painted yesterday. The level of detail is breathtaking–it almost feels as though you could use a microscope on it and see not brush strokes, but further levels of texture and precise rendering.
As for the subject matter, I have read that to Bosch’s contemporaries, this work would have been perfectly clear, its symbols well-understood and its messages obvious. I’m not so sure. He depicts pink crystal structures floating in water, strange organic shapes that could be fruits made of bones, but with legs and faces, monsters that make the demons of Medieval paintings look like pussycats, and people doing things to each other so creative in their erotic or sadistic inventiveness that it would make the Marquis de Sade blanche.
These reproductions don’t begin to capture the brightness of the colors or the clarity of the painting. There is a monster with a human face in the “Hell” panel that some have speculated is a self-portrait. The recorded guide said it is a portrayal of the devil. If so, it’s very atypical for the period, which tended to depict the devil as monstrously as possible. It is a calm, handsome face that observes the chaos and horror surrounding it with unearthly serenity. I have no idea if it is Bosch or not, but it is definitely striking.
Really, if my feet didn’t hurt so much, I could have stood there all day staring at this painting. But my feet did hurt, and there were rooms and rooms of Velasquez, Rubens, and Goya to see as well. Goya, in particular. He’s one of the few painters who shifted back and forth between almost Flemish attention to detail and the loose, evocative brushwork of Impressionism (long before there were any Impressionists).
After the Prado, we took a break and had some lunch in a nearby restaurant.On the way, we saw this:
Actually, we saw several of them, all filled with people laughing loudly, pedaling madly and holding up traffic. It’s the Bbike, described thusly: “Bbike is a Beer Bike, a multi-tandem bike for up to 18 people with a built-in beer tap in which you’ll be able to enjoy Madrid in an original, different and fun way.” Can you even imagine such a thing in a U.S. city? Me neither.
After lunch, we went on to the Thyssen Museum. We were there a bit late, and so didn’t see everything by any means. There were a lot of painters I had never heard of before, which was kind of embarrassing, but then, I never held myself out as an art expert. I have to say, I was delighted when they closed the museum. My feet were killing me.
We rested for a bit and then went to dinner at a restaurant called Veridiana. I refused to walk the half a mile to the restaurant, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. The food was great and our waiter looked like President Obama. I mentioned this and he said he gets that a lot, but that he is a happier person than Mr. Obama. I believe him.