A portrait of Spain

The Houston Museum of Fine Arts has outdone itself this spring by curating an exhibition of masterpieces from the Museo del Prado of Madrid, Spain.  Though the Prado houses an incredible collection of art - full of the usual Italians, French, Dutch, and the best of the Spanish Masters - the Houston exhibition, aptly named "A Portrait of Spain" focuses on the greatest Spanish Masters, their influences, and their legacy. 

The paintings, which range from the Baroque to the Romantic period, weave a story of epic history, religious fervor, courtly life, and common customs, and instructs us into the myths of the State and how a country and a people see themselves through Art. 

These are some of my favorite pieces:
marsDiego Velazquez "El descanso de Marte".  Though the subject is drawn from classical mythology, Velazquez has  rejected classical painting parameters, and has chosen to portrait the god of war with the face of a typical Spaniard; instead of a fierce and powerful warrior, Velazquez' Mars seems dejected, perhaps a reference to war-weary Spanish spirits during the Franco-Spanish war.
Bartolome Esteban Murillo "La Inmaculada Concepcion de Aranjuez".  This image and the catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception became in Spain, a symbol of religious and national identity from the 17th century and on.  There is a bit of nostalgia for me here; if you grew up in Nicaragua, like I did, then this painting should be familiar to you, as the image is copied and displayed in churches and in private devotion.
Mariano Fortuny
Mariano Fortuny "Viejo desnudo al sol" hangs in the portion of the exhibit called "The Spanish School looks in the mirror".  The painting draws inspiration from a masterpiece 200 years its senior, Jusepe de Ribera's Saint Andrew.

And this one was one of John's favorites: Francisco de Zurbaran "Agnus Dei".
Our friends' favorite: Juan van der Hamen y Leon "Bodegon".
juan van der hamen y leon
And one that we all liked: Francisco de Goya "Los Desastres de la Guerra", a series of etching depicting the awful reality of the Peninsular War.
The exhibition stays at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston until March 31st, 2013.

Machu Picchu

Inca houses line a street in Ollantaytambo, Peru.
DSCN3265We descended towards the "The Sacred Valley of the Incas", leaving behind the high planes of the city of Cuzco.  Our journey through the valley took us to many towns and archeological sites along the way, most notably the city of Ollantaytambo, where the intact Inca urban fabric transported us 600 years back in time.  Our final goal, however, was the remote jungles of the "Antisuyo", where the forgotten citadel of Machu Picchu awaited us.
Our time in Peru was running out, so we decided to leave the Inca Trail (a 4 day trek through the jungle) for another visit and take the train along the Urubamba river towards the city of Aguascalientes.  We encountered past travel companions in the train: the German couple from Lake Titicaca, the Chilean rowers from Arequipa, the Argentinian women from Cuzco; like an American Rome, it seemed that all roads led to Machu Picchu.

Night was now falling fast in the Antisuyo, and in the twilight we could discern terraces and ancient dams scattered on the banks of the Urubamba, and these sightings only added to the palpable excitement inside the train.

We awoke before the sun and made our way up the fog covered peak. The morning was full of mist and clouds, and as we climbed the terraces towards the "watchman's hut", rain began to fall.  We had been warned that the weather in the mountain is fickle and, huddled inside the hut, our chances of catching that postcard view, let alone the sunrise, looked pretty  bleak.

The view from the "Watchman's Hut".  Machu Picchu, Peru.
The tour guides tried to reassure us, "the rain is a good thing, it clears away the fog" they said, and when the rain ceased the fog parted and we saw it for the first time: the forgotten Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. There is so much history to be learned in Machu Picchu, and so many amazing things to explore; how was it possible that a civilization without practical knowledge of the wheel or iron tools could carve this magnificent place out of the living rock?  But for the first time in our journey through Peru we let go of the books and the tour guides, we wanted to feel like Hiram Bingham on that July morning of 1911, facing the unknown, discovering the forgotten.
Machu Picchu, Peru.
The Machu Picchu citadel and the Huayna Picchu mountain seen from the summit of Machu Picchu mountain.

The Huayna Picchu mountain.
The view from the Temple of the Sun.
DSCN3351 - Copy
Dusk at Machu Picchu.

We climbed and hiked from 6:00am to 6:00pm and I would like to say that we turned every stone of the Old Mountain, but Machu Picchu still holds many more secrets...until next time.

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