Category Archives: Spain

Sevilla 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“Fourth Stop Sevilla, All Aboard!”

I know, I know you’ve already seen the handsome visage of Sr. Romero, but really, how can I resist this cute pose of my Little Darling? We were checking into The Casa Imperial Hotel in Sevilla and I caught him ready to roll and see that wonderful city literally pulsing with tempting delights. But first a few pictures of our hotel which was a humdinger and once again deserving of the, “Ay Caramba!” exclamation.

The main staircase of Casa Imperial is tiled with a cheerful array of colorful patterns on the steps and running up the walls with figurative panels inset at the middle landing. These designs are typical of the Mudejar style mixing the Moorish and Christian influences that blended after the reconquest of Spain. The early history of Casa Imperial is not documented but structural evidence places the construction date about the mid-17th century, somewhere around 1650.

The four patios that meander back from the surprisingly narrow entrance façade are divided by “screens” of marble pillars and enticing hallways leading to the next open space where delicate fountains fill the quiet with the calming trickle of water. Each courtyard patio has two levels surrounded by suites of rooms that open onto the central spaces. The gardens are filled with neatly trimmed fruit trees and potted flowers. Along the covered walkways surrounding the gardens comfortable seating furniture is grouped and interspersed with antique wooden chests that hold the household linens used in the guestrooms.

On the second floor of the middle patio cloister, a mysterious hallway leads to a narrow set of steps guarded by ancient wrought iron banisters with fancy grillwork. From this passage you can ascend to the roofs of Casa Imperial from whence you can see the surrounding church steeples and roofs of the town.

Sevilla is a city of sumptuous surprises in the form of palace museums. Here we are at the front gate of, “Palacio de las Dueñas” The palace name derives from the monastery of Santa María de las Dueñas, which in 1248 sheltered the nuns and servants of Alfonso X. Today it is the Sevillano residence of the 19th Duque de Alba and before him its most memorable Dueña was his mother the celebrated Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, 18th Duchess of Alba who was the most titled aristocrat of Spain, Europe and the world in her era (1926-2014) and one of the country’s richest individuals.

In the Duchess’s later life she became infamous for her two marriages to younger men, first to a defrocked Jesuit priest who had been her confessor and then after his death to a businessman 24 years her junior. As a result of excessive plastic surgery she presented an alarmingly messed up visage that one would not want to meet inadvertently all upon an afternoon. Despite this loss of face the old broad was beloved by the populace who would call out, “Ole!” in response to her trembling Flamenco dance maneuvers of later years.

In a corner of the main courtyard of Las Dueñas this handsome marble statue of Bacchus is brilliantly lit by the afternoon sun that also casts a clear shadow of a hanging lantern and crenulated arch.

The main courtyard of Las Dueñas is planted with beautiful roses beneath palm and ficus trees with a tiled fountain sounding a trickle of water from a marble bowl.

This is one of a pair of  antique Mudéjar courtyard doors that protects the carved stucco and tiled arch leading to the “Hall of the Gipsy.”

 

This is the “gypsy” dancer the room is named for. Here we see, “Pinrelitos” a bronze statue by Mariano Benlliure, 1909, of a young “Bailaora” or flamenco dancer from Cádiz. Pinrelitos looks a lot more cheery than most flamenco dancers I have seen who tend toward the impassioned heart rending agony of emotional turmoil that a gypsy “outsider” can express with authenticity- free of the restraints of propriety.

I have read that Mariano Benlliure was a friend to Duchess Cayetana’s father. I do not know when this statue came to be in the collections of Palacio de las Dueñas or who purchased it.  I suspect that several other sculptures of the palace that caught my eye are also by Benlliure because of their mischievous and dynamic revelry. In all of these sculptures there is an iconoclastic “twinkle in the eye” of the bon vivant that reflected or perhaps inspired the character of Duchess Cayetana who was an avid fan of flamenco dancing and bull fights. This is the quality that endeared her to the public as when on the occasion of her third wedding when she was 85 she slipped through the front gates of Las Dueñas where the ceremony took place and entertained the crowd with a brief impromptu flourish of Flamenco dance. Putting aside her venerable age and exalted title of Spanish Grandee, the most daring part of this performance was her completely ravaged face distorted by excessive plastic surgery. But judging by the warm applause of the assembled audience on the street, apparently what everyone saw was the indomitable spirit of a woman way beyond the restrictions of Spanish formality, so phooey on you Philip II and all your dour decorum.

And here is a daring little darling held high on a marble pillar gracing the cloister of the main patio. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that it is also by Mariano Benlliure who included various rascally babies in his oeuvre. More to my point, here I feel the palpable presence of Duchess Cayetana permeating Las Dueñas as expressed in this brazen baby tripping the light fantastic and having a dammed good time in the process!

This is a corner of the library of Las Dueñas with comfortable seating furniture and book cases stuffed with a collection of volumes both antique and contemporary. The palace is very much a lived in home with collections of bibelots decorating all available surfaces, some precious and some simply charming.

This is an intimate view of the private chapel of Las Dueñas. The walls are half covered with Mudejar tiles of lush colors incorporating the coppery iridescent glaze that adds depth to the overall impression.

On a table protected beneath the cloister surrounding the main patio these two sculptures reference both bull fights and Flamenco dancing, two of Duchess Cayetana’s great enthusiasms. The jacket of the Maja on the left is recognizable as a matador’s chaquetilla or short jacket and along with her cap tilted at a rakish angle she presents the saucy attitude of a gypsy dancer with her tambourine and rose pinned to her breast.

Leaving Las Dueñas, we wandered the streets of Sevilla and came across an area of fashionable shops displaying glamourous wedding gowns. Here we see a supremely chic evening ensemble with a variation of the matador’s chaquetilla as an evening jacket, proof of the abiding fascination for Traje de Luces (suit of lights) referring to the sparkling “bling” created by the reflective sequins and gold braid of the traditional matador’s costume.

A little further on, at 8 Cuna Street we came across Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija, a gem of Mudejar Renaissance revival style embellishing an original 16th century palace. Doña Regla Manjón y Margelina, Condessa de Lebrija bought the palace in 1901 three years after the death of her husband and spent 13 years renovating and installing her collections of archeological and architectural artifacts including a large display of ancient Roman floor mosaics which were primarily from the ruins of Italica an ancient Roman town near Sevilla. Condesa Lebrija collected many other ancient artifacts from Rome, Greece, Persia and China that are displayed in handsome cases around the rooms and hallways of the first floor of the Palace.

Doña Regla Manjón was granted the title of Countess of Lebrija in 1912 in recognition of her abundant cultural and charitable work. She was a scholarly person who loved and collected books all her life. She and her husband Federico Sánchez Bedoya, who had been the mayor of Sevilla, amassed a considerable library of over 6,000 volumes including the historical archives of their respective families which The Condesa accommodated in an impressive library at Palacio Lebrija. In 1931, when the Condesa was suffering from failing eyesight she donated the major part of her library to the University of Seville. She and her husband also collected fine and decorative art and those collections are displayed in the sumptuous second floor private apartments also open to the public by guided tour.

I think that it is a telling detail speaking volumes about Condesa de Lebrija that she decorated the front entrance of her palace with an ensemble of tiles that incorporate vignettes of women as artists practicing the fine arts and letters. Above we see an attractive and apparently competent young woman practicing the fine art of “La Escultura” or sculpture. In the four spandrels of the two arches in the vestibule one can see, sculpture, painting, music, poetry. These women are definitely not muses of the arts inspiring male artists but rather they are the artists themselves practicing the noble arts. It is my supposition that Condesa de Lebrija who was an educated and creative person in her own right intended to send a message of her pride in the valuable contribution of women to the cultured world.

This is the mosaic floor of the central patio of Palacio de Lebrija. It was created in the 3rd century BC and is from the ruins of Italica an ancient Roman town near Sevilla. The god Pan is at the center with pictures of the various amorous exploits of Zeus surrounding. It was found in an olive grove close to the Italica forum and reassembled at the Palacio in 1914.

This is a corner of the main patio of Palacio de Lebrija. The elaborate Mudejar carved stucco work decorating the arches is characteristic of Andalusian Spain and provides endless material for close examination to trace the elaborate designs. The equally complex geometric patterns and sumptuous colors of the tiled wainscoting provide lively color to the overall design scheme. An unusual ingredient in the collection are the terracotta wellheads scattered about the periphery of the patio, each one has a unique wrought iron stand.  

Here we see a corner of the main patio showing one of the fanciful doors that contrasts dramatically against a festival of textures, patterns and colors. The detailing on the custom made display cabinets complement and enhance the collections within. I especially appreciated the fragment of a diagonally fluted pillar sitting on top of the cabinet. This is an example of the thoughtful arrangement of the art and artifacts in the Palacio de Lebrija. Even though each component part enjoys its own complexity of design the individual pieces are arranged to exhibit their own importance and intrinsic beauty.

The landing of the grand staircase is lavishly decorated with tiles rescued from a 16th century ruined convent. The proportions of the staircase are immense and also includes a carved renaissance frieze with portrait busts and above that a soaring antique ceiling in Mudejar style. These important architectural elements were from other palaces and incorporated into the Lebrija by La Condesa.

 

Here is a marble bust of La Condesa de Lebrija with a lineup of antique dignitaries gracing an adjacent cabinet keeping her company. Would it be irreverent for me to say that she reminds me of Gertrude Stein? In my defense they were both imposing women collectors at more or less the same time although of vastly different tastes and interests in art.  

La Condesa de Lebrija as a younger woman in the costume of Cleopatra at a fancy dress ball. Now, my regular readers know that I am a sucker for fanciful pageantry and this portrait is a wonderful example of what to wear at a grand bash. Right on Condesa!

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Toledo Spain 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“Second Stop Toledo, All Aboard!”

We arrived by train in Toledo to find this charming Neo-Mudejar station alive with color from the tall stained glass windows, surrounding tile walls and floor. This spectacular wall of Mashrabija screens (turned wooden spindle screens) backed with colored glass, was the original ticket counter of the station. I am a particular fan of the eclectic and revivalist styles used so effectively in the second half of the nineteenth century and into the first decades of the twentieth. This marvelous concoction was designed by Narciso Claveria de Palacios (don’t you love that name) and completed in 1919. It references the Mudejar style (a combination of Islamic and medieval Christian designs) that is present in all the ancient communities of Castille or Islamic Iberia of which Toledo was an important city in both epochs.

This is a view of Toledo Cathedral from the 4th floor terrace of our hotel, La Posada de Manolo  Do yourself a favor, drop the burger you’re munching, pack a bag and dash to Posada Manolo ASAP!  The hotel is nestled into the center of Toledo right beside the Cathedral and although compact and small it is also warm, cozy, and every inch is a masterpiece of textual grace with lots of custom wrought iron details that incorporate a variety of   dragons. The fourth floor breakfast room has this same view inside and out on the terrace and its proximity to the ancient masonry pinnacles and towers of the cathedral allows for close inspection of that church. In the opposite direction we could see a jumble of tiled roofs, all encrusted with lichens of surprisingly vivid colors. Beyond these I could see the rural and wild country side just beyond the Tagus River surrounding Toledo.

The bell tower of Toledo Cathedral is 301 feet tall and crowned by a triple tiara referencing the Papal crown. This tower is the great landmark of the city made ultimately famous by El Greco in his painting, “Vista de Toledo” (1596.)  The narrow streets of this perched city built on a steep rock formation rising precipitously from the surrounding Tagus River, makes the tower seem impossibly tall in its audacious reach for heaven.

Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo is considered to be the greatest achievement of the Gothic style in all of Spain. Begun in 1226 it was in process of construction until 1493 when the vaults of the central nave that we see here were completed. I am enamored of round architectural shapes in general and when they appear as windows I am particularly enthralled. The vast colored windows known as “Rose Windows” have a strong universal appeal because of their grace of form and explosion of color that refracts light into its constituent parts and thereby reveals the glory of the divine. 

So here they are, Mother and child, Mary and Jesus. They express such a tender love toward each other, especially Jesus’s gesture of his hand caressing the chin of Mary. His tender embrace has elements of mature reciprocation as if the child has presentment of the sorrow his mission must tragically encumber his mother with. To me, mother and child recognize each other over infinite incarnations and by this insight have deep sympathy for the inevitable imperfections each must embody in the quest for resolution in their tumultuous reach for spiritual evolution.

Some you may recognize this photograph as my Christmas card this year. I am deeply gratified to have been able to capture the meaningful alignments that are present in this image. The way Mary and Jesus stand out against the background of the surrounding cathedral has a surreal quality that “pops out” at you and this is fitting for a church that is dedicated to Mary. It is the Mother who brings us the possibility of innocence and the potential of life anew. She is the eternal source of nurture and care, swathed in the strength of generous abundance. She is sure of herself without arrogance knowing that death is the inevitable outcome of her travail. She knows herself to be a window into eternity.

Within a compositional concern, I see the organ pipes horizontally projecting from left to right one direction folding into the other and echoing this construction, in the tradition of contrapposto rhythm, Mary leans her hip to the right, supporting the seemingly easy weight of Jesus. Above them soars the fantastic ambition of the pointed arches of the nave that resolve their tension in the perfect halo of the rose window, embracing the divine pair in an aura of prismatic glory!

I am enormously fond of cloisters and when visiting San Juan de los Reyes, a royal monastery in Toledo originally intended to be the mausoleum for Ferdinand and Isabella. I heard whispered laments of vespers echoing from the shadows of time.

We came across this monastery quite by chance as we wandered the narrow medieval lanes of the city. It was an oasis of quiet in an otherwise tourist invaded world and I sank deep into the peace of the place. Because of its original intention to shelter Spain’s most important monarchs it enjoys a wealth of gothic embellishments that are profoundly beautiful.

Two tiers of cloisters surround the “Paradise Garden” at the heart of San Juan de los Reyes.

The extreme grace of the gothic tracery decorated by a wealth of verdant garlands that are alive with humans and animals both fantastic and real, animate the cloister with a royal celebration of this world and the next.

The picturesque streets of Toledo twist and turn, following the tortured history of Celts, Romans, Visigoths-the original Christians, Moors and then the reconquest by Alfonso VI of Castille on May 25th, 1085. This is, in some ways, only the beginning of the convoluted history of this important Spanish city.

On our way out of town, on a sparkling clear morning, we pause for photos with Toledo Cathedral and the Alcazar in the background.

Here’s looking atcha!

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Madrid 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“First Stop Madrid, All Aboard!”

In November T2H2 (The Two Happy Husbands) Leo and Iory flew off to Europe for a three-week celebration of Leo’s 84th birthday. It was also a grand finale to our year-long 40th anniversary of nuptial bliss together. Leo chose Spain for our sojourn and here we are in the main train station of Madrid where we purchased our tickets to Toledo, Cordoba, Sevilla and Malaga, Ay Caramba!

 

Because we have visited Madrid several times in the last several years we decided to stay only a brief two days and while in the capital our main destination was El Palacio Real or Royal Palace. As you can see it is an impressive structure especially in the crisp morning light of November. I especially like the long diagonal shadows stretching across the façade and forecourt adding motion to its otherwise static monumentality. We wanted to revisit this grandest of all Madrid’s sights because of the exquisite grandeur of the palace and easy self-guided tour. The interior is well lit by a collection of huge chandeliers of staggering extravagance. The entire palace is in perfect order with vast thick pile carpets woven in the Royal Tapestry factory exhibiting elaborated designs of luxurious beauty.

Across the Plaza de La Armeria from the Palacio Real is La Almudena Cathedral begun only in 1879. Construction was interrupted by the Civil War in 1936 and did not resume until 1950. It was completed in 1993 and then consecrated by Pope John Paul II in that same year. The monumental neo-baroque exterior is intended to harmonize with the Palace and also gives reference to El Escorial, the monastery palace of Philip II, 28 miles outside of Madrid.

The interior of Almudena Cathedral is in the Gothic style and the ceiling decoration was painted by José Luis Galicia in a manner reminiscent of Mudejar decoration. I found these brilliant designs thrilling, infusing the Cathedral with a positive and celebratory atmosphere.

The beautiful organ of the of Almudena Cathedral

I usually shy away from Cristian morbidity but this small detailed Pietà sculpture is seductively exquisite.

On the other hand, these charming Putti supporting five seating stools at the high altar of the Cathedral are unutterably charming. The wee ones have found their job and are doing it well, upholding the posteriors of the prelates

The other highlight of our Madrid stay was a performance by Ballet Nacional de España at the Royal Opera House presenting their dance extravaganza, “Sorolla, Vision de España del pintor Joaquin Sorolla.” Sorolla was a Spanish painter (1863-1920) with an international reputation. In 1912 Archer Huntington commissioned Sorolla to paint a series of murals for Huntington’s Hispanic Society Museum in Manhattan, USA. The finished work is from 12 to 14 feet in height and 227 feet in length and depicts the indigenous peoples of the provinces of the Iberian Peninsula in a riot of color and impressive variety of detail recording the regional people in their local costumes, celebrating life in the richness of their time and place.

The Ballet was an enchantment of traditional Spanish dancing inspired by Sorolla’s paintings with a riveting component of Flamenco dance, guitar, and singing that reached into the heart of everyone present and touched the very center of our emotions with intense passion! Needless to say, the audience of Madrileños went wild for this celebration of their national spirit.

Allow me to present María de León. This gorgeous young woman was a member of the audience at the Sorolla ballet and yes she was wearing this lovely outfit. María’s robe, from Uzbekistan, is woven from ikat dyed silk (a favorite of mine) and as you can see it drapes around her statuesque beauty with alluring elegance and international éclat. As I mentioned above, at the conclusion of the ballet the Madrileños were on their collective feet applauding with an exuberant standing ovation and when the curtain finally fell, this graceful beauty was suddenly in the row before me making her way to the aisle. In a moment inspired by the excitement of the evening I boldly saluted her and told her she was the most beautiful and chic woman present. María graciously responded with an amused laugh, we exchanged a few words and our respective cards.

It turns out, María de León publishes an enticing blog that ostensibly covers travel, food, and fashion but is actually more richly complex, enhanced with many charming photos of her meanderings about the globe accompanied by concise commentary that is informative and upbeat. She is one cyber-savvy lady who is impressively energized with a wealth of posts on her blog, twitter, Instagram, etc. The latter platform is a new world to me and inspired by her example I am now delving into that pulse of modernity-albeit a wee bit bewildered. By all means, go and visit with Maria at www.marialeonstyle.com but remember to return back to continue the tour with T2H2 traipsing about Iberia.

While I was delving into the María’s blog posts, I came across her visit to Palacio de Lebrija in Sevilla which I recognized from my own visit there. Palacio de Lebrija is for me the most glorious private palace museum in Seville and that’s saying a whole bunch because the city is rich with these treasures (see below my post on Seville.) I was astounded to learn that María is related to the Condesa de Lebrija and spent a big chunk of her childhood in the palace. This unlikely coincidence of our chance meeting in Madrid at the ballet and my equally serendipitous discovery of the palace added an interesting wrinkle to my visit to Spain.  María’s blog post on the Palacio Lebrija is especially valuable for me because it incorporates a photographic tour of the second-floor apartments of the palace where the general public can tour with a guide but may not take photos. As you can imagine this made me writhe with agony because these lavish apartments are steeped in opulent atmosphere that begs to be photographed, so thanks, María de León for sharing this with us. You have thrilled me twice over.

Palacio Lebrija

If you go down this rabbit hole don’t get lost in the enticing shadows of La Condesa’s treasure trove, please return here for more from T2H2

For those of you who know me, you will not be surprised by my confession of shameless adoration for late nineteenth century grandiloquent pomposity as expressed in the architecture of “public palaces.” And here is a humdinger! God only knows why agriculture should inspire such hysterical glee as seen in these three colossal bronze sculptures but hey, why not? It sure is a lot more festive subject than war, rape, and ravaging. To give you an idea of the scale of this building, the three celebrants standing on top of the monumental ministry are in my estimation about fifteen feet tall from hoofs to waving hands and maybe more like twenty. Forgive me for repeating myself but “Ay Caramba,” Big time!

To prove my point of extravagant hoopla well spent, this is only part of an elaborate fence surrounding the Ministerio de Agricultura, the fence is fifteen feet tall, made of cast bronze punctuated by stone pilings soaring some twenty feet above the sidewalk.

☼☼☼☼☼

Now, as you can see by the above, my narrative is not reverential, nor is it a travel guide for the unseasoned traveler or wayward wonderer. My photographs express my personal view of the visual world, most often editing out the mundane or crass aspects of our era and enhancing the color, lyricism, and beauty of what is before our eyes but often times missed or intentionally  dismissed by “modernists.”

 Although I do revel in the delight of being one half of T2H2 rocketing around the neighborhoods far and wide, I am not suggesting that anyone should leave the comfort of their armchair and trudge across the globe. Come to think of it, this is where the tortoise’s measured step resonates most profoundly with me. I have always depended upon intrepid explorers to nudge me in an outward direction. My Leopoldo is one of the people in my life who have drawn me out, opened doors and let me wonder. Because these sights resonate with me so deeply, I linger in the shadows of time and want to savor the depth of experience locked within the precious and brave expressions of art.  Please be my guest and hold in your mind’s eye the radiance of creation. I believe the purpose of art is to enlighten our hearts to the truth of beauty.   

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