Earlier this year, when I read in the local press that Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado was coming to Brisbane, I was taken back to the days of my childhood in the village classroom, gazing at the reproductions in our school’s big, heavy art book.
We turn the pages as the teacher recounts the lives of Murillo, Goya, Zurbarán … She then takes us to the portraits of the kings, queens and religious leaders.
The art class always concludes with the wedding portrait of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabelle of Castile. We are to remember that they financed Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the New World, thus setting the foundations of the first world empire of the modern era, and that they introduced the true God to the natives of those faraway lands.
My first visit to ‘Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado’ makes me nostalgic for the village school, for the art books and educational trips to The Museo Nacional del Prado (the Prado) in Madrid, and I look without seeing.
On my second visit I fully appreciate how brilliantly the selection and sequential arrangement of the 100 or so art works represent life and art over more than three centuries of Spanish history.
I also realise that the strands of nationalistic pride of my childhood and youth have long been replaced by admiration for the great masters, whose creative genius will forever enrich the consciousness of mankind.
But the Prado experience is not over. A few days later, I am informed that my book, A Hatful of Cherries, has been selected for discussion by the QAGOMA Members Book Club. The word selected is music to my ears. I am further honoured when research reveals this is not an ordinary book club. In essence it is a complementary discourse on QAGOMA exhibitions, since the books chosen inform discussion about the social and cultural context behind the works on display. In other words art and literature come together to enhance the reader’s understanding of both.
I must not end this brief narrative without saying that Brisbane, the city I now call home, has a cultural heart I very much admire.
You can view ‘Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado’ until 5pm Sunday 4 November. The publication of the same name includes entries on the works in the exhibition alongside full-colour illustrations and artist biographies and is available from the Gallery Store, Exhibition Shop.
QAGOMA Member, Félix Calvino was born in Galicia, on the northwest coast of Spain and grew up on a farm. To avoid military service under General Franco, he went to England where he worked and studied English, his third language. He migrated to Australia in the late 1960s, settled in Sydney and worked in the travel, restaurant, and wine industries. In 1996 he moved to Melbourne and a year later, a long-held ambition for tertiary education was fulfilled when he was accepted to the University of Melbourne. There he studied English and Spanish as components of his Bachelor of Arts degree. In 2012, Félix graduated with a Master in Philosophy in the field of creative writing from the University of Queensland, and completed his PhD in 2017.