Thursday, September 18, 2008

The power of a painting

As you may have already gathered I have been in Spain recently. I had a brief stop-over in Madrid and, among many other things, visited the Prado National Museum Recognised as one of the world's major art galleries it houses many masterpieces. Two paintings impressed me significantly. One was Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas, 1656, and Francisco de Goya's The Third of May 1808, 1814. Both these paintings are well known and draw an audience of reverent admirers at all times.
These two paintings are huge, and impressive. They have marvellous story lines and, particularly in the case of The Third of May, 1808, the knowledge of what is about to happen in the next second or so, is perhaps its greatest attribute. In Las Meninas the royal family and its servants are informally portrayed and the artist's gaze draws us in to join them. It is considered to be a painting about painting.
I have often viewed these paintings in books, along with many other favourites, but have never taken much notice of the actual size of each although these details are always noted in the captions. Recently I borrowed a book from the Library and came across photos of each. Wow, I have seen these 'in the flesh' as it were, and keenly re-studied them again. This time I noted the sizes. The Las Meninas is 'only' 318 x 276cm, and the The Third of May 1808 is 'only' 266 x 345cm. I say 'only' because I recall these two paintings as being significantly larger than recorded. The paintings hanging nearby were smaller – perhaps this helped to enlarge the two paintings. Perhaps in was just my misconception combined with the importance of these two paintings, that had me seeing larger than reality. Whatever it was that did it, these were memorable powerful moments.
Goya's The Third of May 1808 was displayed in a feature exhibition of his work. It displayed preliminary sketches for his major works, many of which showed the shocking consequences of war and conflict.

The Third of May 1808, Goya, 1814

Las Meninas, 1656, Velázquez

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