26 June 2013

99 meninas

 through the miracle of blogging, I've met such talents! collectors of couture and lucky clovers, photographers- the museum worthy & amateur, writers-published authors and weavers of a child's bedtime story-aesthetes all-----sharing their talents with the world and with their loved ones and supporting my efforts on this page-for that I am forever grateful. 

The lovely photographer Lily Lewin in Savannah travels to Spain & to the Prado.
 Luckily we get to tag along.
Lily's photography pops up on her blog ojobox quite often here.
As fascinated with Velázquez, as I am, I asked Lily to lend her artist's eye to Las Meninas.

The Prado is now open on Mondays.  It's been less than a year since the doors have swung wide on the morning after domingo and few people besides scattered groups of  weary school children have caught on to the schedule change.  And so it was at the end of May my husband and I wandered the almost deserted corridors through this gallery of ghosts translated into symbols of history and dreams to Room XII.   

There on the far wall hangs Las Meninas by Velázquez (1656), a revelation of the last days of the Habsburgs and the Golden Age of Spain.  Circling the young Infanta Margarita Teresa is a display of courtiers and royal references and the painter himself in a brilliantly staged tableau of both technical and historical perspective. The latter half of the 17th century saw the beginning of the decline of the Great Spanish Empire as it slipped from the peak of its power taking the Hapsburg dynasty with it.  The title refers to the ladies in waiting who attend to the Princess at center stage wearing a stiff skirt and a bemused expression while the quotidian bustle ensues.

This young girl would one day become the Holy Roman Empress at age 15 and then die at age 21.  But to me it is such a familiar Spanish scene with its hovering cast of characters and implied intrigue and whispered gossip and dozing dog.  My husband is from Spain and when we return on twice yearly pilgrimages to his family home in Madrid  where his formidably elegant 90 year old mother holds court with attendant daughters and an entourage of maids and friends and doctors and priests and Condes and Condesas and a pack of dogs underfoot, I am struck by the similarity.  The Spanish households  I have known from the humble to the decadent are great matriarchies that thrive on a sort of domestic chaos (just watch any Almadovar movie and you'll see what I mean).  In the middle of any tormenta is a woman in charge.  ¡Viva la reina!

Meninas after Velasquez,  Melvin Sokolsky, 1960.

There is a notable list of 20th century Spanish painters, among them Picasso and Dali, who have inherited the familiar icon of the Infanta and her ladies in waiting and then retold the story in a modern language with lashings of color and  halos of paint.  The Spanish palette of spilled blood and conquered lands and stolen crowns is perhaps more muted these days but equally intense and in the works of the contemporary  painter 
Alfonso Alzamora the tradition of the enigmatic figure continues through his decades long exploration of Las Meninas

 Picasso and Dali interpret Las Meninas, & below, an Alfonso Alzamora's Menina

The fierce and elegant geometry of the farthingaled menina silhouette has been Alzamora's muse for some time. Painting from his studio in a small village in the Alt Empordà in Girona where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean sea, Alzamora (the great grandson of the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz) is also a sculptor and a writer. He also happens to be an old friend of my husband.  We are lucky enough to have a few of his works, including a small Menina and one of my favorites, a cut out figure of the seated dog in the foreground of the painting.  A few years ago we visited his home which he shares with his artist wife ( who looks remarkably like Virginia Woolf) and children.  

 These photographs of Alfonso Alzamora's studio and of his Meninas are from Aficionarte, (linked below).

Large canvases in progress were strewn about the converted stone barn and the squeezed guts of paint tubes bled onto the top of a desk where he mixed his colors- vibrant reds and blues and blacks and yellows.  He is an artist of astonishing energy whose works are in many public and private collections across Europe and North America and his latest exhibition entitled 99 Meninas is a virtual one-here.

The many Meninas painted by Alzamora can be seen on his website and more at Aficionarte-& seeing them en masse, makes a memorable impression. I am drawn to the monumental nature of many of his Meninas. Whether the smallest menina or the giantess-both make an impact on the beholder-perpetuating the allure & the beauty of Velázquez's original. 

 Lily's Menina first image.
 detail of Las Meninas

99 Meninas
Alfonso Alzamora



  1. The only "Art History" class I ever took.....(I went to USC); was at UCLA; and I flunked it! I got no credit....I never even told USC that I enrolled in it!

    Can you imagine my arrogance?

    I thought the professor was a complete idiot......he had no "taste"; he had no "vision" and worst of all.......no "taste"!

    I still think I am right! I did not take the "exam"; I graduated with honors from USC.

    I have never really told anyone my experience. Not one; but two!
    I signed up for a class at a New York City school!(the tip-top)

    I was pregnant with my "baby" She is 43! (it feels like yesterday......time flies....especially when you are having fun!!!)

    The first day of class; I hear: "never have more than one mirror in a room"
    I knew that was completely wrong.....I fled!

    the most beautiful room I have ever been in; I was lucky to live in for twelve years.....

    I am congratulating myself so young people will trust their instincts ! Trust them! I just knew...at a very young age....this was wrong!

    I will show the prettiest room I have ever been in!

    Three huge mirrors!


  2. I loved reading this post and learning about a new artist to me. Thnaks!

  3. Love this post. Love the bemused expression. I wish I could get better at adopting that with the quotidian bustle. Don't you just love how dogs throughout history have managed to sleep through everything? Thinking of Spain, if you are looking for a GREAT summer read, the books by Aline, Countess of Romanones are so good. She is a hoot and so elegant. As a young American woman she was recruited to work for the OSS during WWII. She met and married Spanish nobility, and you can imagine what her husband thought about her continuing to work. In one book, even the Duchess of Windsor gets involved. I think the first book is, "The Spy wore Silk."

  4. What a FAB post by one of my favorite photographers! Simply divine dahhling. You are so very talented.

  5. when I visited my daughter in Madrid ; I asked to see this! she took me!
    I stood before it......I could not move. Honestly (I know you will believe me.....I was transfixed. I could NOT MOVE)!

    I stood there for 30 minutes! It is my favorite painting I have seen in my life! That is the only time that has happened to me in 66 years! THE ONLY TIME!

    I had never been to Spain!

    That painting took my breath away! (I literally could not breathe....It took a minute or two.....) Then, fortunately; I could breathe.....(the reason I can tell you this story!!) When I could breathe......I could not move. (I could not make this up!!)
    Penelope wrote:
    I decided in my mind......(If I die right here right now....I will die in ecstasy! then , I thought; oh no! your daughter and grandchildren need you to live!)
    So I did!
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart.......for bringing me back; What a life-changing moment.....seeing that painting
    in person!


  6. Loved this post! I want one of the Alzamora Meninas !!!!- A fascinating detail of the Velázquez painting is the King and Queen included in the painting by showing their reflection in the tiny mirror on the back wall- love that

  7. Lovelym wishing you a wonderful summer!! !

  8. PGT You are the best!

    all these wonderful comments!




Related Posts with Thumbnails