Autumn in the Prado Museum: Robert Campin

Autumn has never made me sad, perhaps because I was born in October and I have always had the impression that life does not decline at this time, but rather renews itself. In Madrid, the fallen leaves that carpet the streets and parks turn the ground into a bed of tenderness and delicacy. They do not seem signs of death, but of splendor. The paths become rivers with ocher and yellow veins. Walking through them, you feel that gravity has lost part of its force and that the sky, with its whites, grays and blues, is closer to the earth. Summer no longer sets the air on fire with its flames and breathing is no longer approaching a tongue of fire, but rather experiencing the freshness of the rain, which hits the windows with heavenly percussion.

In mid-December, it does not stop raining and I celebrate it like a child who rejoices when hearing the footsteps of a loved one. Today I have approached Madrid —I live in a town on the outskirts— and I have begun to walk the Paseo del Prado. As I passed by the National Library, I thought about the thousands of books that rest on its shelves. Each one is a life asleep, waiting for someone to interrupt their lethargy.

A book is an open window to the soul of another human being., a viewpoint that allows you to contemplate an intimacy and merge with it, a peak that exhibits its escarpments. The words compose circles that allow us to go up or down, reach the heights or descend to the abyss. That’s how he understood it dantewho traveled through never-before-seen geographies, seeking salvation through love.

Velazquez Gate.

Prado Museum

When I ran into Café Gijón, I have fantasized about Francis Threshold. His enormous popularity has faded, but his prose is still there, astonishing with its metaphors, capers and intuitions. Threshold was a pure writer, a puppeteer of words. With her white scarf, her jacket with velvet lapels, and her romantic long hair, she acted as a seducer, mixing Larra’s irony with Valle-Inclán’s provocative spirit. He amassed many enemies and boasted of being a ruthless adversary, but when I heard his voice in anatomy of a dandy Addressing his young son, “Pincho”, who died of leukemia at the age of six, I understood that the public figure he had created with such care did not correspond to the real man.

When talking to his son, Threshold seemed shy, sweet and fragile. Why do we sometimes insist on pretending what we are not? I think for fear of being hurt. Our skin is a very thin crust. Dealing with others can be as painful as hugging a thorn. I stop for a moment before the statue of Vallé-Inclanthe other illustrious one-armed of our letters, and I wonder if he also forged a mask to protect himself from the world, almost always harsh and inconsiderate.

[William Shakespeare, poeta del caos]

Arriving at Plaza de Neptuno, I look at the facade of the Palace Hotel and I remember Julio Camba, who lived for twelve years in room 338. He spent many hours in bed, reading English detective novels. He rarely went out, but when he did he always went to the same places: the Ateneo, the Café del Prado, the Circulo de Bellas Artes, the Lhardy restaurant. In a certain sense, he lived like a cloistered friar who only breaks his retirement to visit the places that have forged his inner world.

As a child, I envied him, but today the idea of ​​living in a hotel no longer appeals to me. I prefer a small town as a residence, with a square with a stone fountain, some wooden benches and a hundred-year-old tree with leafy shade. A town with a beautiful church, with an old organ whose notes give off the aroma of eternity, and a cool twilight where solitude is no longer a heartbreaking emptiness, but rather an embrace that welcomes us with benevolence.


I finally glimpse the Prado Museum. The neoclassical building designed by Juan de Villanueva consolidates the impression of symmetry produced by the route from Plaza de Colón to the gardens located at the Velázquez gate. The Ionic columns evoke the Enlightenment dream, which barely took root in the collective mentality of the Spaniards, and the nostalgia for classical Greece, the cradle of a civilization that did not drown myth in the logos, but managed to reconcile them through the tense harmony of bow and lyre

Plato gave birth to many myths to explain his philosophy, like those shadows in the cave that reveal the illusory nature of the immediate. Aristotle perhaps he also invented myths, but we have lost his dialogues, which according to Cicero was a “river of gold”, and today we associate his thought with a cold rationality reluctant to any literary feint.

Philosophy is not made only with concepts. myths are necessary. Certain ideas can only be expressed through images, stories or metaphors. God, the object of the first philosophy, also called metaphysics or theology, goes beyond any concept. The human being can only approach it through stories (that is, myths), symbols or allegories. The essential escapes reason. Or he only shows himself to her partially.

Leone Leoni: 'Charles V and the Furor', 1551 - 1555.

Leone Leoni: ‘Carlos V y el Furor’, 1551 – 1555.

Museo del Prado

Bajo la lluvia, el edificio de Villanueva me recuerda a un viejo templo griego atrapado en un mar de asfalto. En su interior, se agitan el color y las formas, pero en el exterior solo se aprecia austeridad. Aguzo la mirada y en vez de un templo atisbo un monasterio en mitad de la estepa castellana. Su sencillez me trae a la cabeza los conventos teresianos. En el Museo del Prado reinan el espíritu, el anhelo de belleza, la sed de absoluto. Creo que la reformadora del Carmelo se habría sentido reconfortada entre sus paredes.

Subo las escaleras de la puerta de Goya, sorteo el control de acceso y me topo con la escultura de Carlos V realizada en bronce por el escultor italiano Leone Leoni. Despojada de la armadura, el Emperador aparece desnudo con el Furor encadenado a sus pies. El cuerpo juvenil y atlético, de semidiós pagano, contrasta con el rostro de hombre maduro y sabio. No hay arrogancia en la expresión, sino serenidad. No parece un caudillo oriental que ostenta su poder, sino un príncipe cristiano.

Lo esencial escapa a la razón. O solo se muestra ante ella parcialmente

Me sorprende la audacia de Leoni, cincelando un cuerpo sensual y de fino erotismo, pero es comprensible en un escultor renacentista, comprometido con el canon griego. Se me hace extraño contemplar a Carlos V sin armadura. ¿Qué clase de hombre era? ¿El estadista que soñó con una Europa unida? ¿Un hombre religioso, justo y prudente? ¿Un césar hambriento de poder, un señor de la guerra? ¿Tenemos derecho a juzgarlo desde la perspectiva de nuestra época?


Avanzo por la nave central y me dirijo a las salas donde se exponen a los primitivos flamencos. Siempre me he sentido atraído por sus interiores intimistas, su detallismo, sus colores luminosos, su espiritualidad sin artificios. Los maestros flamencos no escriben tratados teóricos sobre la pintura. Solo hacen cuadros. Con delicadeza y sensualidad, manifestando amor por la materia, donde aprecian un hálito divino.

Sonrío al divisar la Santa Bárbara de Robert Campin, un óleo de 1438 sobre tabla de madera de roble. Siempre me ha emocionado ese cuadro. Pertenecía a un tríptico cuya tabla central se ha perdido. Afortunadamente, se conserva San Juan Bautista y el maestro franciscano Enrique de Werl, también expuesto en el Museo del Prado. Durante un tiempo se llamó Maestro de Flémalle al autor de un conjunto de obras que hoy se atribuyen a Robert Campin. Se considera a Campin el iniciador de la escuela pictórica flamenca junto a Hubert y Jan van Eyck, pero no se sabe casi nada de su vida.

Al frente de un importante taller donde se formaron Roger van der Weyden y Jacques Daret, fue de los primeros pintores que utilizó colores aglutinados con aceite de linaza (lo que más tarde se conocerá como pintura al óleo), lo cual le permitió trabajar con más minuciosidad y detalle. Introdujo los temas religiosos en ambientes domésticos, consiguiendo humanizar tanto a la sagrada familia como a los santos. En sus creaciones casi parecen miembros de esa burguesía que retrató con tanto realismo y agudeza psicológica.

[Edmund Husserl: conocimiento y estado de gracia]

According to golden legend of Jacobo de VorágineBarbara of Nicomedia was the daughter of Dioscorus, a third-century Eastern satrap who hated Christians. Her father, before embarking on a journey, ordered to build a tower for her and lock her in it to keep her away from her suitors. For months, the young woman herself prayed and read the Gospel. It is said that Origen instructed her through letters and prepared her baptism. Taking advantage of her paternal absence, she asked the workers, still busy finishing the tower, to open three windows so that she could pray to the Holy Trinity, a dogma of which she was very devoted.

Upon his return, Dióscoro offered her freedom if she married the man he had chosen for her, but she replied that preferred to marry Christ. Enraged, he ordered her to be whipped, but her whips turned to feathers. All her attempts to torture her ended in a similar way and the despot decided to take her to the top of a mountain to decapitate her with her bare hands. As soon as he committed the crime, lightning struck him, transforming him into a ball of fire. Hence, Saint Barbara is now invoked to protect herself from lightning. Pius V elevated her to the altars in 1568 and, over time, she was included among the fourteen holy helpers of the Santoral.

Robert Campin depicts Saint Barbara reading the Holy Scriptures with her back to a burning fireplace. Sitting on a reversible bench, she has a broad, round face, and her wavy blonde hair falls to her neck and shoulders. The fire casts shadows on her clothing, green, blue, and yellow, contrasting powerfully with the red of the cushion on which she has settled. Above the fireplace, whose flames evoke the end of the cruel Dióscoro, there is a sculpture of the Holy Trinity and a candle.

Robert Campin: Santa Bárbara, 1438. Photo: Museo del Prado

Robert Campin: Santa Bárbara, 1438. Foto: Museo del Prado

El lirio que se inclina desde un jarrón y la redoma de cristal simbolizan la virginidad, y el aguamanil de latón sobre un mueble de madera, la pureza de alma. Santa Bárbara sostiene la Biblia con un paño en señal de respeto y humildad. Las líneas de las baldosas naranjas del suelo y el artesonado de madera del techo componen una perspectiva que desemboca en una ventana abierta con clavos de hierro oxidados. En el exterior, se aprecia la torre donde fue confinada la santa, recortándose contra un cielo cubierto de nubes blancas. Las agujas de una catedral despuntan por el horizonte y un jinete montado en un caballo blanco pasea con indiferencia.

Erwin Panofsky escribió que el cuadro representa dos universos: un interior burgués, pero sin lujo, y una santa de aspecto mayestático. A pesar de su amor al mundo físico, Campin destaca lo sobrenatural, pero sin disociarlo completamente de lo cotidiano y vulgar. Su santa Bárbara parece sugerir que la materia y el espíritu se comunican de forma natural y que el instante, lejos de ser algo pueril, pertenece al mosaico de la eternidad.

No me conmueven tanto las otras obras de Campin expuestas en el Museo del Prado (Desposorios de la Virgen, La Anunciación –cuya autoría aún se discute– y el citado San Juan Bautista y el maestro franciscano Enrique de Werl), pero en todas advierto el compromiso del artista con la vida, la determinación de captar las distintas formas de belleza y eternizarlas con imágenes rebosantes de luz, color y precisión. Campin no transige con la melancolía o el pesimismo. Sus cuadros transmiten una alegría tranquila, la mirada del que observa el mundo y aprecia belleza incluso en sus imperfecciones.

[Dostoievski, el poder del espíritu]

I still have many works to contemplate. I have only begun a visit that will last several hours. I will dedicate this day to the great masters of Flemish painting. I imagine that it is still raining outside and the leaves continue to pile up on the sidewalks, forming a golden blanket. I have the impression that the world is a fountain of wonders.

I know that death, disease, injustice exist, but those tragic notes cannot turn off the beautiful noise of life. The painting, with its two dimensions, reproduces that melody. Colors are music, as Matisse warned. Robert Campin, with his meticulous and light-saturated brush, recreates the idyll of man and the world, two lovers who will always walk together. What a poor thing is rational knowledge compared to the intuition of artists.

Autumn in the Prado Museum: Robert Campin