2011 Spring Matthew Flocco Temple Rome

Il volto, parte 3

After four days of Barcelona, we went to Madrid. While it was still awesome, I much more enjoyed the people than the city itself. However, one of the best parts of my Spring Break was our visit to Museo del Prado. Talk about faces and interpretations galore. I won’t go as much into detail here, I’ll just say if you ever go, take at least three hours. You can skip the audio guide, it tells you the exact same thing as the captions do.

The most moving faces in here were ironically not in any historical portraits. I was most impressed by the ones that had to do with religion. Although there were so many I liked, this post is getting long and it’s already in two parts and I haven’t even talked about Venice yet, so I’ll just focus on two subjects. The first is the myth of Saturn (Cronus) devouring his children. Basically, Cronus fathered six of the olympians (including Zeus), and he thought they were going to overthrow him, so he ate them. Zeus then frees them all from Cronus’ stomach and they rule the world. In the Prado there are two versions of this devouring. The first one is by Peter Paul Rubens.

Saturn by Rubens

It’s really graphic and almost tough to look at, one because of the intensity and evil of Saturn’s face, and two because of the agony of the child that he is devouring. Goya might have been inspired to create his own masterpiece. Goya’s version, though still dark, is not quite as realistic. But here you can see the absolute madness of Saturn’s face. As he is devouring, you can still see his paranoia and fear.

Saturn by Goya

And of course, I’m gonna talk about Jesus. The final two paintings I looked at in the museum are two of the more famous ones. These are both of the crucifixion, but (just like Saturn Devouring his Son), happen right after one another, albeit within minutes of each other. Francisco Goya’s version shows the face of Christ calling up to his Father, presumably saying any of the following statements:

“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

“Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

Christ by Goya

This last phrase is believed by many to be the final words that Christ uttered. In that final moment, he dies on the cross. This brings us to Velazquez’ painting. Here Christ is clearly dead, and now awaits to be taken down from the cross, entombed and resurrected into Heaven. You can see much more graphic details, especially with the blood on his face and feet and hands.

Christ by Velazquez

This brings us to Venice, the heart of Carnevale. We were there in the last weekend before what we know as Fat Tuesday, so it was THE weekend to be there. Here, the faces of the people were obviously covered.

As I got my face painted by a woman on the street for 5 euro (definitely do this, well worth it), I asked her the meaning of the masks.

She told me that back when the festival first started, the masks would allow the classes to mix. Those who were poor could dress in costumes and pretend they were someone else; those who were rich did not have to uphold their status if they had a mask on. This still holds true today as people go out and celebrate in the streets.

The whole place was extremely theatrical,  obviously with masks everywhere. All definitely seemed to be made in Italy, but some were mass-produced by perhaps teams of artsists. These were cheaper (but still awesome), and were usually sold by vendors on the streets. The more expensive ones could be found on side streets in different shops. Some of the artists were working while they had their masks on display. They came in all shapes and sizes, ranging anywhere form 5 euro to 300, probably even more than that. Some were for display, some were for wearing, some where for both. In Barcelona and Madrid we saw art on walls. Here, we saw art on the faces of people in the streets. The masks were unified in their style, but differed in each of their designs. It’s a reminder that we’re all the same.

And FINALLY, this brings us to today. Today, as I write this, there is neither mask nor facepaint. My face is not drawn in flat ways by Joan Miro or in sculpted stone by Antoni Gaudi. It is not painted in detailed brush strokes by Peter Paul Rubens, Francisco Goya, or Diego Velazquez. There is only one thing on my face that is not normally there; a black, puffy cross made of ashes. It’s a reminder that the festivities now transform into a humble time of reflection, and now we await a rebirth.

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