Posts Tagged ‘Franco’

Madrid’s Art Neighborhood: The Good, the Bad, and the Picasso, Part 2

October 2, 2012

We’re home safe and sound, but we’ll keep posting about our trip (we got behind–spotty Internet access can do that). Part deux of our tour of Madrid’s art museum neighborhood ends with us at the popular modern art museum, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Reina Sofía Art Center).

Normally, we are not modern art fans. But that’s generally. There are pieces of modern art that are both iconic and extraordinarily moving. That is the art in which the creator is using the medium to express intense emotions, ideas and feelings that are too distorted, subtle, or fluid for a classic canvas. This is what brought us to the Reina Sofía, home of two famous Spanish Civil War-era artists: Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. The current curator of the museum has quite cleverly matched some of the masterpieces with films from the same eras, which provides a fascinating insight into the culture behind the art. Thus, with our trusty guidebook in hand, we immediately made a beeline for the museum’s pièce de résistance: Picasso’s Guernica.

Centro de Arte Center of Modern Art Reina Sofia

Reina Sofía Art Center

The Spanish Civil War began in 1936, with the Nationalista party and Franco’s coup d’état. Franco was a fascist, and had the backing of both Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. The painting takes us to April 26, 1937 on a bright market day in the Basque capital city of Guernica. The city was filled with farmers and shoppers from the countryside, as well as war refugees, swelling the normal population. Around 3:40 in the afternoon, a German warplane appeared over the horizon, but this was not alarming–until it began bombing the bridges and roads leading into the town. Then more warplanes appeared and the real bombing began. For 3 hours, the town was a roiling mass of panic, animals screaming in fear, people rushing to escape. But there was no escape. Those that survived the bombs long enough to make it to the streets and hills were met with machine gun strafing, like shooting rabbits fleeing a warren. By sunset, the once-proud town was leveled by Hitler’s first experiment in saturation bombing, by Franco’s leave. The time and place were strategic: Franco needed to make an example and the bustling, independently-minded town offered the most horrific opportunity for casualties.

Bombed Building Guernica

Remains of Bombed Guernica Buildings – Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H25224 / CC-BY-SA

Picasso, a Spaniard, was in Paris, France, brainstorming for a mural he was to paint for the World’s Fair when he received the news of the atrocity. All ideas were forgotten, and he began the work of his lifetime. In a matter of weeks, he presented the 286-square-foot mural to the world. The painting itself, a study in cubism, resembles broken shards jumbled and pieced together. Nothing is as it should be. Chaos reigns even in the very color and composition of the images. A bare bulb lights a nauseatingly monochromatic scene of unmitigated terror–a man trapped in a burning building screams as a woman runs, dragging her wounded leg behind her. A dying horse, pierced by a broken spear, has thrown its rider, his severed arm still clutching a sword. Someone looks out the window to see the turmoil below. A mother raises her face and her voice heavenward as she clutches her dead child in her arms, Picasso’s own pietá. Above it all, a fighting bull, the symbol of Spain’s courageous spirit, bellows in impotent fear and the dove of peace fades helplessly into the background.

Picasso Guernica

Guernica by Pablo Picasso, 1937. Oil on canvas. Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

The world was shocked and horrified by the gritty imagery, having till then only seen the sanitized version of events that Franco permitted it to see. Suddenly, nations were aware of the losing battle being fought by the Republicanos and the chilling efficiency of the fascist war machine. Now they knew what this brutal trinity was capable of, but did they realize this was the prelude to the even more egregious genocides of World War II?

Today, the Reina Sofía houses this work of art in a room by itself, where you can stand and reflect on the heartbreaking events that lead to its creation and those that continue on today around the world. War is a truly terrible thing, but, sadly, as long as there is evil in the world willing to exploit the innocent, then we can only hope there is a greater good willing to rise up and protect those in need.

El Escorial and Valle de Los Caidos

September 27, 2012

We were in Madrid a couple of days ago, and decided to take a daytrip out to the town of El Escorial. There were two main sites here we wanted to visit, the palace of San Lorenzo del Escorial and Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen).

King Charles V, Isabel and Ferdinand’s son, built a palace next to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, but when his son Philip II took the crown, he began the 40-year construction of El Escorial. The complex served many purposes: a royal retreat, a basilica and mausoleum for the royal family, a place to “safely” learn humanist ideas, and a slap in the face to the rising Reformation movement headed by Martin Luther. The stoic, foreboding palace also became Philip’s headquarters for conducting the bitter Inquisition, in which suspected heretics were tortured and publicly executed.

San Lorenzo del Escorial Philip II Inquisition

San Lorenzo del Escorial

The palace itself has several interesting features. We toured the Royal Living Quarters, centered around the basilica’s high altar (the focal point of a cathedral). Originally, both Philip and his queen Elizabeth’s beds (on opposite sides of the basilica) faced the altar through open windows. But Elizabeth died before construction was done and their daughter took her room. The Royal Pantheon below houses primary, secondary, and a few tertiary royals, as well as infantes (royal children) who died before confirmation. A fascinating library houses 40,000 priceless books in many languages, including Arabic and Hebrew. A sign over the door promises excommunication to anyone who leaves without properly checking out their tome.

Our other stop was Valley of the Fallen, a Spanish Civil War memorial. The 33-month war claimed 500,000 victims split along ideologies rather than borders. Neither side was innocent, both committed unspeakable atrocities. In 1936, the military rebelled against the democratically elected liberal government. Two parties emerged: The Nacionalistas lead by Generalisimo Franco (ultra-conservatives and nobility) and the internationally-aided Republicano militia (liberals and socialists). The next three years resulted in a starved and broken nation–many older Spaniards are actually very small, their growth stunted due to these hungry years. Mussolini and Hitler both lent their aid to Franco. The last of the resistance fell in 1939 and Franco ruled with a religious iron fist for 37 years, allowing only “safe” ideas to cross his borders.

Valle de Caidos Valley of the Fallen Franco Spanish Civil War

Franco’s Valle de los Caidos

He almost immediately began construction of Valle de los Caidos, a basilica, mausoleum, and war memorial. There is a great deal of controversy over this site, which was built at least partially by POWs, either forced or voluntarily. Around 50,000 fighters of both sides rest here with Franco himself. The nave is 300 yards long, but only 262 of those are blessed by the Vatican, keeping it smaller than St. Peter’s.

Valle de Caidos Valley of the Fallen Nave

View Through the Gates and Down the Nave in the Valley of the Fallen Basilica

It’s hard to repress a thrill of horror as you pass beneath the giant Pieta, Mary cradling her dead Son, and walk down the chilling underground granite aisle to the high altar. You wonder how mothers and wives felt as they made the same passage on their pilgrimage to the urns of their sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands in two rooms marked “RIP 1936-1939, Died for God and Country.” Franco lies in the middle of it all in a flower-strewn grave at the altar. All the while, stern bronze angels in niches stare at you as you slip by.

Valle de Caidos Valley of the Fallen Angel

Armed Angel in the Valley of the Fallen Monument

It is an interesting irony that two brutal religious dictators are both buried in this town, separated by 300 hundred years. Does history repeat itself? Over and over.