If it weren’t for the seductive combination of moist grass and temporary sunlight, I’d be at the start of the line with a direct view of Diego Velasquez’s sculpted derrière. But I took the badly timed power nap, and now the line has gone from barely there to Black Friday. But if there was ever a list of places where waiting could be as good for your quads as it is for your eyes, the Museo del Prado’s garden walkway will probably figure in that list.
For most of Madrid this is a Friday, for me it’s a museum free day. Once the gates open at five, I am quickly led through a neo-classical building and into the lobby, where already, a respectable crowd of full-ticket buying museum aficionados throng.
I quickly grab a brochure. There is a painted angel on the front – porcelain skin, golden curls, a silken robe, and wings. Perhaps, an ironic representation of the hell that awaited me inside – Nobody sees a museum, not in the least the Prado, in two hours. The five-fold brochure opens up to a plan of the entire museum replete with color-coded boxes, numbered rooms and a visual aid – thumbnails of masterpieces and their corresponding rooms.
Goya, Velasquez, El Greco, Rubens, Poussin – assigned to some simple classroom arithmetic – Room 36, Room 10, Room 29, Room 8b, Room 3. There are 50 works on the list.
I cruise through the first room like a passenger on a train that traverses a scenic countryside. I survey canvases as if they were the nameless facades of tiny hilltop villages, acknowledging their beauty but losing sight as the train chugs past. But with every passing picture, my pace weakens. The accessories around these masterpieces change – the walls go from green to white to red. The frames turn from gilded gold to decaying wood, but the art within is constantly complex, and for someone who’s spent a childhood of tracing bugs bunny from backlit computer screens, it’s wholly remarkable.
There are portraits of statesman, cardinals, and court jesters painted with strokes of fierce reality. The eyes seem to follow you everywhere; the somber expression, the linear lips in place of a full smile, and a 16th century aristocracy that at times seem so real that I can almost imagine them indulging in a cross-canvas conversation mocking my bourgeoisie viewing of their art.
I stumble upon the “Three Graces” by Rubens. A triplet of statuesque women who stand confident in their nakedness – sweeping strokes outlining the beauty of their believable bodies – childbearing hips, generous thighs, a slight swelling of the stomach. I wish someone would put this on the cover of Vogue.
I rummage through the maze of masterful art – flexed muscles, taut hamstrings, pointed arms, flowing silks, rounded faces, graceful arabesques, crucifixions, kings, queens, angels, battles and a hyper-realistic corn on cob. But I’m blissfully unaware that somewhere between rooms 11 and 14, like a clearing in the woods that reveals a cerulean lake, I’d find her. Two hours ago if I’d been told that a portrait of a pubescent Spanish royal and her entourage of handmaidens could knock me of my feet, I would have been skeptical. But here I am, with dilated pupils, almost certain, that this must be the work of a time-traveling photographer. The “Las Meninas” is the grandest of Velasquez’s work – in size and appeal – a painting inside a painting, but it is perhaps, the grandest in spirit. They say there is a rite of passage when you go from an art grazer to art lover – you don’t need an esoteric education or proficiency in brush-wielding – all you need is a spoonful of wasabi in your mouth – something to blow your mind. I stand there for several minutes before the call for closing begins – I know it isn’t time to go. I also know that it means it’s time to come back.
About the Author: Sruthi Vijayan is a photographer and a writer. She lives in the scorching South Indian city of Chennai and hence freezes at a not so cold 20°C.She travels to please her insatiable need for great food and awesome people.
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