Letters from Madrid – Museums

From left to right: Marco and Francesca (visiting from Italy), Tristan, Laurie and me outside the Palace.

As I move from flamenco shows and the music scene to cover other areas of Madrid, I’m starting with my initial reactions to, and brief descriptions of, the Natural History Museum, Archaeology Museum and the Prado. We visited the Prado almost weekly and other art museums often. Most museums had free days, and we would go to those museums over and over on free days, so in future letters I will have more detailed descriptions of museums and exhibits.


April 18, 1996

We visited the natural history museum a few weeks back. It is pretty lame compared to what we have in Albuquerque. The first part of it is more of a history of natural science from the time when Carlos III dedicated the museum. The exhibits on this side of the building have animal specimens that are stuffed, mounted, dried, and bottled. There are books, notes, and letters about scientific principles, ideas, theories, and observations, along with examples of the tools and instruments used at the time. This stuff was fairly interesting. The rest of the exhibits on the north side of the building dealt with conservation and was not particularly new or interesting. We were about to suffocate in the enviro-better-feel-guilty-about-being-a-human theme when we made our escape over to the south side of the building where they had dinosaur bones, geologic and paleontologic exhibits. These we better, but still generally lame. The most interesting fossil was one of a dinosaur bird found in Spain. They had the fossil and a model of the bird. It was about the size of a robin with a beak full of teeth. All the other fossils were replicas of fossils and skeletons of dinosaurs that came from the U.S. and Argentina, of course. The exhibit on prehistoric man was good, which I would expect, since a lot of the remains of Neanderthals, Habilis, Erectus, and other early humans have been found in Spain. I think there are a few direct decedents of early man still walking the streets around here.

There is an excellent Archaeology Museum and a very good museum about the history of Madrid very near where we live. Spain has a great deal of historical treasures and just about every major civilization has been through and occupied Spain at one time or another. These museums are full of priceless artifacts and art works from prehistoric times through more recent times. There are also great art museums such as the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen, plus a multitude of small art museums.

We go to the Prado almost every week end. It’s a good thing we looked at Goya’s paintings at the Prado the first few times we went. There is now a commemorative exhibit of his paintings celebrating 250 years since his birth that costs 1000 ptas/person to see, and the lines to get in are long. His black paintings done later in Goya’s life are interesting. These paintings are dark, loosely painted and powerful. They’re very expressionist and deal with mythology, religion, and war. There is one very modern painting of a dog buried up to his neck with the background painted like a sand dune. We also found the Bosch paintings. I figured Tristan would like Bosch since his paintings are so weird, with fantasy characters, landscapes and strange objects. Bosch was very disturbed from looking at his paintings. He has fantastic creatures, characters and scenes, that are full of action and layers of demented symbolism depicting the creation, earthly existence and hell. His explicit, lewd subject matter depicts a world view of the religious sect he belonged to. Nudity and sexual freedom are true to the creation, while marriage and clothing corrupt man and lead him to war and hell. Interesting world view for the 1600’s. Peter Brueghal the Elder depicted war as death winning. He also shows a very dim and demented view of life and grim depiction of war about 40 years after Bosch. Death’s army of skeletons are killing everyone, herding them into a coffin like structure that outputs more skeletons to join the war against humanity. Cities are on fire, men are hung on torture wheels, nailed through the head to trees and are being executed by skeletons. Death gets little resistance as his army sweeps over the land killing everything that lives. I’m glad not to have lived during the 1600’s, from these painters’ depictions of life.

Next architecture and planning…

Exposición: Goya en Madrid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQi4O3fL1dk (English subtitles)

Hieronymus Bosch – Trittico del Giardino delle Delizie (spiegato ai truzzi) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbXDmcVnAl8 (narration in Italian)

The Triumph of Death – Pieter Bruegel The Elder https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjhLgI3WsX8