Guercino's Christ and the Woman of Samaria
Madrid. The train to Madrid is crowded. Ronnie says she’s got a new man in her life. Mungo. Mungo? Before I can stop myself I tell her that we had a dog called Mungo. How lovely she says. He had to be put down. How awful, she says. He savaged a dog warden. Ronnie says her Mungo wouldn’t do that sort of thing. His ancestor was at Agincourt. That’s all right then. What’s 5000 Frenchmen slaughtered compared to one dog warden? The man opposite has spots. He says he’s come from Manchester to see the Pope. I think cruelly, maybe in the hope of a cure. Shaving must be hell.
He’s thinking of migrating to Spain (the man opposite, not Il Papa). Why? He says he’s a Roman Catholic. He says there’s so much discrimination against Catholics in England because of the abuse thing.
The Pope’s in Madrid for World Youth Day. Seems a shame that the Vatican never has any romantic or charismatic figures other than the pope. An impossibly young and handsome cardinal at World Youth Day? Maybe not. Maybe I’m missing the point.
The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is most certainly not missing the opportunity. It’s putting on an exhibition from its permanent collection of 15th to 18th century religious images in honor of World Youth. I’m not sure of the connection, but I’m glad they’re doing it.
Have a look at Duccio di Buoninsegna’s panel Christ and the Woman of Samaria and side by side, the same subject by Guercino. Then move over behind you to Giovanni Paolo Panini’s The expulsion of the money-changers from the temple and The Pool. Maybe the rarest in the exhibition doesn’t come from the Latin school of painters in Italy and Spain, but from the northern European school. It’s Albrecht Dürer panel Jesus among the doctors.
Amazing really, Christian religion covering just 33 years has inspired more paintings than any other single subject. Maybe because the Church was the biggest patron. Whatever, it’s a powerful image to ponder. Ronnie’s first husband (or maybe it was her second) converted to Catholicism after their acrimonious parting and is writing a doctoral thesis on the execution of St Sebastian, which to me is taking grief a bit too far.
Spotty opposite pulls out a photograph of Raphael’s Small Cowper Madonna. He says he could never show people in Britain that he carries it. Religious persecution? Really? He thinks so. But people look at gallery religious paintings. He shrugs. They’re inspired by paintings not by what the painting represents. Here in Madrid he can feel free to worship through images.
I’ve been in Seville to collect one of the quartet of Madonna icons I’ve painted in that most wonderful of Spanish cities. Spotty says that if he had the money he’d buy it. I tell him all four are being exhibited next year, so No Sale. But if there’s persecution, where would he hang it? You're right, he says. He’ll stick to his postcard Raphael hidden in his wallet.
All very sad so I ask him what’s the day job. Silence. Then: training to be an undertaker. More silence. I’d imagined his longing stares at Ronnie’s as-ever too tight T-shirt was lovely lust. Now I think he was just guessing her weight. Just looking, as the customer says. But if you can make it, go just-looking at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and you don’t have to be World Youth. But, it closes 4 September so hurry, hurry, hurry.
ArtScene Quote of the WeekIf a man devotes himself to art, much evil is avoided that happens otherwise if one is idle. Albrecht Durer