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Madrid: Day Two (The Prado), Part One

All my life I’d wanted to see the Prado. I knew there was Bosch (saw Garden of Earthly Delights; very pink on one side of it but still impressive), El Greco and many Goya. I knew that this would be my first time to see many of these famous classical works outside of an artbook. And though I was moved by the sheer volume of the collection, the very same magnitude numbed me. If just a couple of these rooms had been in a local collection I think I would have been awed and amazed and would have returned to see the paintings again. Here there were perhaps 50 rooms, each with 20 or more paintings, and many of those known paintings. But in the midst of all these classics, the same thing happened to me that had happened years ago at the Art Institute of Chicago.

A painting relatively unknown shook me to my core. In Chicago, it had been a painting easy to miss, high up near the ceiling, and if anything was most reminiscent of those saloon paintings, the nude with her back to you, looking over her shoulder, and for some reason I kept coming back to it. Another time it was a sensuous Rodin-like sculpture of a nude woman at the Edmonton Art Gallery. And here it was this, this Dead Christ Supported by an Angel by Antonello.

dead_chr.jpg

It is possibly the saddest painting I have ever seen. I speak as an unbeliever though I was raised Christian. And it moved me not as an insider but as something archetypal and yet fully personal. There is no stylisation here, it is pure and utter grief.

2 comments on “Madrid: Day Two (The Prado), Part One

  1. He looks so vulnerable in that painting. In so many depictions of the crucifixion, christ seems somehow self-possessed. As though he accepts with sorrow but equanamity the mutilation of his body. Spiritually he seems intact.

    In this, you see pain, vulnerability. It is sad…. or maybe distressing to witness.

  2. You have a good point. What may not come across in this, depending on your system, is the expression on the angel’s face (which is only a hint of the power of the original). There is the grief and desolation. But yes, the christ is human here and damaged and though dead, there is no triumph in death, only failure. My other thought regarding this was that if I had been raised more in either a joyous soul-music celebratory type christianity or even a humanly identifiable passion and tragedy as comes to me from this painting, rather than the abstract and rather dry version that was mine, I would have been less likely to reject this mythology.

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