Re-imagining Cardenio

Toledo and the Prado

January 26, 2011
Skull and crown in Toledo

Skull and crown in Toledo

The next stop on Davillier and Dore's journey is Toledo, and I am hoping we can fit in a visit on our trip.

I feel as if I already know Toledo, from the famous painting by El Greco, with its violent menace of sky, which he painted at exactly the time that Cervantes published Don Quixote. And it is his painting of The Burial ofCountOrgaz, in the church of San Tome which I greatly want to see. He called it 'my sublime work'. A personal favourite of mine is the portrait of his son Jorge Manuel, which I saw in the Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes in Seville. He's a handsome young man, in his early twenties in the painting, and carries a small palette in one hand, (he followed his father into the profession), and the other hand holds a brush which is poised to paint the final flourish. He wears an enormous ruff and a bright twinkle in his eye.

Shakespeare knew of Toledo for its reputation for making the best swords in Europe. It is probably a blade from Toledo that Othello has concealed in his chamber:

'I have another weapon in this chamber;
It is a sword of Spain, the ice-brook's temper:—
Mercutio mentions the swords of Spain in the Queen Mab speech:
Sometime she driveth o'er a soldier's neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscados, Spanish blades!'

Oddly enough when Davillier refers to Mercutio's speech, he quotes from what is presumably a French translation of the time: 'Toledo's trusty, of which a soldier dreams'.

We hope to include Philip II's great Escorial palace in our few days, and the town of Alcala de Henares, the birthplace of Cervantes.
Davillier calls Alcala de Henares 'the learned city, the ancient rival of Salamanca'. Don Carlos (famously the subject of Schiller's play) the son of Philip II was a student here. He fell down a staircase receiving injuries which he felt for the rest of his life. His father the king rushed to Alcala bringing with him the corpse of a Franciscan monk, the blessed Diego, who was reputed to effect miraculous cures. The dead body was then laid on top of poor ailing Don Carlos, who, says Davillier, 'happily escaped death'! But how did he escape the trauma of being smothered by a dead Franciscan, I wonder?

Davillier and Dore were shown the house where Cervantes was born, and visited the church of Santa Maria la Mayor, where he was baptized. Dore includes a drawing of the students of Alcala de Henares conducting their own rather rowdy serenata.

We will be staying in Madrid as a base, and I'm keen to show Niki the portraits of Sophonisba Anguissola in the Prado Museum. She was the most extraordinary artist, who lived to the ripe old age of 93. She knew Michaelangelo and Van Dyck. Italian by birth, Anguissola painted Philip II's great adviser, the Duke of Alba in Milan in 1558. The following year, Alba was to stand in for King Philip at his marriage to the French Princess Elizabeth of Valois in Notre Dame in Paris. Alba recommended Sofonisba both as a court painter, and as a lady in waiting for the new queen.

There is a fabulously glamorous portrait of one of one of Elizabeth's daughters, Catalina Michaela in the Glasgow Art Gallery. She looks like a dark haired Grace Kelly, in a white head scarf, and a white fur lined cloak. Elizabeth played quite a strategic political role, in marrying her daughter Catalina to the 'Fire Head' Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, in order to strengthen the Spanish presence in that region. And Catalina inherited her mother's political nous in marrying her own daughters off to strong political partners. In February 1608 Turin hosted a double wedding of the two Savoyard princesses, Margaret to Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua, and Isabella to Alfonso d'Este, of Modena.

Catalina Michaela had her sights set on the King of England's son Henry for her next daughter, and the ambassador Gabaleone was sent to London to affect the match, as you might remember from earlier in this blog. There are portraits of Margaret (Marguerite) of Savoy and her sister Isabella by the Flemish painter Frans Pourbus the younger and I am hoping to track these down to show Niki Turner, our designer for Cardenio, as well.

by Greg Doran  |  No comments yet


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