Spain’s Picaresque Icons

“How many people must there be in the world who run away from others in fright because they can’t see themselves!”- Lazarillo de Tormes

As an Arab, I’m no stranger to ‘Picaresque’ novels, since the genre formed part of the Arab literature as early as the 10th c., under the name of ‘Maqamat’ (introduced by al-Hamadhani and popularized by al-Hariri). Nevertheless, reading Lazarillo de Tormes turned out to be a wonderful experience for several reasons. This novella, whose author remains anonymous, is generally regarded as the first modern picaresque novel. Of course the word ‘modern’ here sounds completely out of context (it was published in the mid-sixteenth c.), but it was modern in the sense of being the first such novel in Europe ever since the Greco-Roman antiquity.

The anti-clerical sentiment that is stressed throughout the story comes as an eye-opener; it exposes the ills of the religious institution and the hypocrisy that dominated the society. People paraded their religion and preached what they did not follow, all to the rhythm of the Inquisition drums. Speaking of that, this novel was banned by the Inquisition.

Having finished Lazarillo de Tormes, I read another masterpiece from the same genre, namely The Swindler by Francisco de Quevedo, a leading figure in Spain’s ‘Siglo de Oro’. The novel is another satire based on the life and adventures of a young man called Pablos. Of humble origins and modest education, he stood no chance of ‘advancing’ in a class society without resorting to every kind of trick, and he ended up being the exact opposite of the man he had dreamed to be.

I leave you with some quotes from The Swindler:

“I think that conscience in businessmen is a bit like virginity in whores: they sell it when they haven’t got it any more.”

“I don’t need women to give me advice or make me laugh but just to go to bed with –if they are ugly and intelligent I might just as well be in bed with Aristotle or Sineca.”

“I’m not surprised that with all these guides, we all lost our way.”

PS. The two novels come in one book, a nice edition of Penguin Classics.

Kids eating grapes - Murillo

Renaissance’s Goldsmiths: From Ghiberti to Da Vinci

What do Renaissance masters like Da Vinci, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello and Gozzoli have in common? What ‘unpleasant start’ did they all have? The answer comes from Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King:

“Goldsmiths were the princes among the artisans of the Middle Ages, with a large scope to explore their numerous and varied talents. They could decorate a manuscript with gold leaf, set precious stones, cast metals, work with enamel, engrave silver, and fashion anything from a gold button to a shrine, reliquary, or tomb. It is no coincidence that the sculptors Andrea Orcagna, Luca della Robbia and Donatello, as well as the painters Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Benozzo Gozzoli had all originally trained in the workshops of goldsmiths.

Despite its prestige, goldsmithing was not the most welcome of professions. The large furnaces that were needed to melt gold, copper and bronze had to burn for days on end, even in the heat of summer, polluting the air with smoke and bringing the danger of explosions and fire. Noxious substances such as sulfur and lead were used to engrave silver, and the clay molds in which metals were cast require supplies of both cow dung and charred ox horn. Worse still, the workshops of most goldsmiths were found in Florence’s most notorious slum, Santa Croce, a marshy and flood-prone area on the north bank of the Arno. This was the workers’ district, home to dyers, wool combers, and prostitutes, all of whom lived and worked in a clutter of ramshackle wooden houses.”

Bornze Panel by Ghiberti

Cultural Walk in Barcelona (16 Nov. 2013)

From today’s cultural walk for my class in Barcelona:

Throughout its history, the city of Barcelona has always produced and attracted artists, writers and intellectuals. Whether Catalan or not, the city provided the perfect setting for all of them to be creative and leave a legacy that we can still trace today in the streets and the cafes of Barcelona.

Today we talked about such artists as Picasso, Miró, Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol… architects like Gaudí, Puig i Cadafalch, Domènech i Montaner and Josep Vilaseca…writers like Jacint Verdaguer, Rubén Darío and Aribau…and other important figures like Granados, Ocaña, Subirachs, Pere Romeu, Josep Clarà, etc.

Itinerary

Passeig de Gràcia – Plaça Catalunya – Portal de l’Àngel – Carrer Montsió – Avinguda de Portaferrissa – Rambla de Sant Josep – Plaça Reial – Carrer Avinyó – Carrer Ferran– Plaça Sant Jaume – El Call – Plaça Sant Felip Neri – Plaça de la Catedral and the Roman City Walls.

Highlights:

Casa Batllò – Casa Ametller – Casa Lleó Morera – La Diosa – Monument to Francesc Macià – Els Quatre Gats – Roman City Walls and Aqueduct – Palau Moja – Escribà Pastry Shop – House of the Umbrellas – Miro’s Circular Mosaic – Cafè de l’Òpera – Lampposts of Gaudí – Generalitat – L’Ajuntament de Barcelona – The Interpretation Centre of the Jewish Quarter – Picasso’s Mediterranean Friezes – The Roman Temple of Augustus – The Barcelona Cathedral.

Key terms

L’Eixample – Modernism – Trencadís – Renaixença –Els Jocs Florals – Tertulia

L’Eixample is the name given to the XIX-century extension of Barcelona towards the mountains as a result of the population boom. It was the plan of Ildefons Cerdà in 1859, and it resulted in the inclusion of Sants, Sarrià, Gràcia and other villages/suburbs.

Modernismo is the Spanish name given to a continental style of art, architecture and literature that flourished between 1880 and 1914 and had a strong expression in Barcelona thanks to Gaudí and his colleagues. It coincided with the Catalan industrial revolution.

Trencadís refers to the broken ceramic shards that are used in Modernist buildings to cover facades and walls in colourful mosaics, lke the façade of Casa Batllò in Passeig de Gràcia.

Renaixença refers to the Catalan Renissance of the second half of the 19th century. It was golden age of the Catalan culture, championed by the likes of Jacint Verdaguer, Aribaul and Maragall. The Catalan language was celebrated and epic poems were written.

Els Jocs Florals are the Floral Games revived during the Catalan Renaissance. They were competitions between writers and poets, inspired by an old Greek tradition.

Tertulia is like a cultural salon. Tertulia gatherings were gatherings of people with a common passion for art and culture to exchange their creative works (whether art, poetry, music, etc.) and to discuss the latest trends and events. Els Quatre Gats in Barcelona was very famous for tertulia.

Poster

Francis Bacon beats auction record: $142 million

“A painting by Francis Bacon of his friend and fellow artist Lucian Freud has become the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction after it fetched $142m (£89m, 106m euros) in New York.
The triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969), is considered one of Bacon’s greatest masterpieces.
It was sold after six minutes of fierce bidding, Christie’s auction house said.

The price eclipsed the $119.9m (£74m) paid for Edvard Munch’s The Scream last year.
At the same auction, Jeff Koons broke the world record for a price paid for a single artwork by a living artist. His sculpture Balloon Dog (Orange) – one of a series of five stainless steel sculptures in varying colours – fetched $58,4m (£36.7m).

The previous record for a living artist was set by a Gerhard Richter painting depicting an Italian city square, which sold in May for $37.1 million (£23.3m).
It was the first time Three Studies of Lucian Freud had been offered at auction and bidding opened at $80m (£50m, 60m euros). Its presale estimate was $85m (£53m, 64m euros).
The auction house did not disclose the identity of the buyer.

Bacon, known for his triptychs, painted Three Studies of Lucian Freud in 1969 at London’s Royal College of Art, after his studio was destroyed in a fire.
Francis Outred, head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s Europe, said the work was “a true masterpiece and one of the greatest paintings to come up for auction in a current generation”.
“It marks Bacon and Freud’s relationship, paying tribute to the creative and emotional kinship between the two artists,” he added.

The pair met in 1945 and became close companions, painting each other on a number of occasions, before their relationship cooled during the 1970s.” – BBC News

100M ARTWORKS:
• Edvard Munch, The Scream – $119.9m (2012)
• Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust – $106.5m (2010)
• Alberto Giacometti, Walking Man I – $104.3m (2010)
• Picasso, Boy With a Pipe – $104.1m (2004)

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