The Museo del Prado and Duende

Duende Take 2   Duende by Lizzie Eldridge (2014); Cover Image ‘The Divide of Reason’ by Damian Ebejer:

Duende is set in Spain 1900-1936. Early on in the novel, the 2 main characters, Nayo and José, visit the Prado. At this point, Nayo is an art student at the Academia and José is studying philosophy at the Complutense. The year is 1920 and this is their reaction to what they saw (Duende Chapter 3):

Nayo and José had deliberately returned a week before the actual start of their courses. They wanted to get their bearings again and have time to drink coffee in the Plaza del Ángel, the Puerta del Sol, the Plaza de Santa Ana. They wanted to re-acclimatise themselves with the faster pace of Madrid and they also wanted to spend many hours at the Museo del Prado. José had long since made connections between art and philosophy and Nayo had introduced him to things that shed light on ideas he was confronting at university. So the Prado was a valuable resource for both of them.

They always stopped in front of Velázquez’ depiction of Mars, wondering how the God of War appeared harmless, even vulnerable, his military helmet offset by his all too human naked body. The contrast evoked a sense of comedy with the notion that those most feared are merely flesh and blood.

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José preferred the stark simplicity of Velázquez’ crucified Christ while Nayo liked the luminous quality of El Greco’s version and the way the gaze of the onlookers lifted the viewer’s eyes upwards to Christ on the cross as he looked sadly down. What he also loved was the strange but unmistakable sense of celebration emanating from what was such a brutal event.   el greco crucifixion

Goya’s work never failed to impress and while The Shootings of May Third took them back to recent horrors across Europe, it was The Dog on the Leash that made Nayo pause. Gradually, his appreciation had rubbed off on José who soon began to see its beauty. It seemed ironic that Goya had been refused entry to the self-same Academia where Nayo was now studying but the art school’s lack of vision hadn’t stopped the artist fulfilling his ambition. If the will is there then nothing can get in the way.

Goya dog

This painting enshrined the kind of abstraction Nayo wanted to achieve and although the painting formed part of Goya’s Pinturas Negras, its radiance didn’t suggest angst but seemed an inescapable glimmer of hope.

Saturn’s Devouring of his Son destabilised optimism and left them shivering. It wasn’t their parents they feared but each other and the pain they may inflict in years to come. Wanton cruelty seemed beyond their capacity but the lessons of the summer were still being absorbed. Perhaps the grotesque always lingers on the periphery of purity. Perfection has its flipside and thus the path they walked was necessarily precarious.

saturn devouring his son goya

They moved to Bosch and his garden of earthly delights. They immersed themselves in the bright colours, the busy detailed scenes, before shuddering beneath the movement in the triptych from Eden to Hades, a hell in which the face of the artist suddenly peeks through.

Nayo took José’s hand as soon as they left the museum. He needed to feel wanted and the squeeze he got in return was enough. Disaster can strike when you’re least expecting it but right now, nothing could disrupt their love, their trust, their infallible belief in each other.

bosch garden of earthly delights


1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on What I write and commented:
    One of my all time favorite novels, set between WW1 and the Spanish Civil War, a time of exploration in the arts, philosophy and the rise of Naziism. “Duende” also tells one of the greatest love stories in literature. I am delighted to see its return.


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