1563: The royal monastery of el Escorial


‘”No matter how splendid the effigies of the Greek gods might appear to us, whatever the dignity and perfection we find in the images of God the Father, Christ and the Holy Virgin, all this is useless: our knees no longer bend.” This is a passage of Hegel (Aesthetics, chap. 1) often quoted and which does not concern religion but art. The considerations of the knowledgeable complain in fact that art, though maintaining intact the characteristics of splendour and per-fection, has lost its ties with our existence; with our daily worries and so-called central energies of human beings. A strange complaint for someone who, by extracting from the complexity of human endeavours the ghost of art, pro-vokes that perfect superfluousness which unexpectedly afflicts him and impoverishes us all. Luckily, there are facts which well resist the vaporous accuracies of the knowledgeable and the consequent gossipy murmurs of tourists, often provoking the irritating sensa-tion that every glorious abandonment to the beauty of forms is no longer possible without the further, often irkso-me involvement of the above central energies of our person. A clear example among others is the Royal Monastery of Escorial founded in Madrid by Philip II in 1563, the year the Council of Trent ended. This extraordinary building was the royal home, scat of government and place of perpetual monastic worship and prayer. It preserves within its walls magnificent paintings, sculptures, works of science and literature and it is a precious and loving custodian of the Sacred Relics, brought here from all over Europe after the Protestant reform. It houses a seminary, a college and a hospital, and provides food for the poor. There is also a cenotaph and the royal burial-place; in no way is it a refuge for animals, weapons or subjugated persons. Of this formidable building, generally little and often badly known, the exhibition investigates every significant historical and architectural aspect; the general themes of civil, cultural and religious history of the times and the par-ticular themes of the society and persons who built, terminated and lived in the royal monastery; the architectural themes, from the most theoretical like the ideal reconstruc-tion of Solomon’s Temple, to more specific and concrete references of Spanish monasteries and fortresses, like the basilicas and hospitals of the Italian Renaissance, and finally the singular details of various origins, mainly Flemish; the technological, constructive and financial themes of this tre-mendous work; and finally the theme of the complex relations of life in the monastery and its rapport with the outsi-de world. The above-mentioned theme, complete enough to describe the architectural and numerous related aspects which have gone into the building as a whole, is in itself incapable of relating the intrinsically vital, and as we said, often trou-bling element which, in the exhibition, is entrusted entirely, except for a few brief suggestions, to the living image of unpublished photos, drawings and three-dimensional models. Perhaps only the sensitive experience of images can provide a direct perception of the living organism of the Escorial. An example is the singular feeling one has on reading G. Kubier’s definition (‘Enclave de eternidad entre las tempe-stas de la historia’) where the involuntary assonance of the French word with the Castilian enclaver (to nail) brings to mind the image of the Holy Cross which is the most appro-priate figure for truly understanding the Escorial which incorporates it in its body, turned to the cast of Golgotha, in the extraordinary movement of the four figures of the Evangelists on the vertical axis of the Cross of Christ, in perfect hierarchy of human functions of study, prayer and active service. In the mercifully inflexible Christian identity of the Catholic ecumene, against every artificial Esperanto which places the Escorial among the synonyms of “arrogan-ce”, the tall and holy monastery of the kings of Spain remains through the centuries, supremely beautiful in the eyes of the world. The exhibition will consist of a group of introductory panels with historical notes completed by illustrations on the period under study, and of other panels, having similar technical characteristics, with unpublished photos, drawings and brief explanations. In the corners of the room, three architectural scale models will be placed. In the exhi-bition area, computers will be available with “hypertest” type software. Making reference to the exhibited panels, this programme permits highlighting particular aspects, historical facts about events which took place while the Escorial was being built and information on the life and works of the artists who cooperated directly and indirectly in developing and defining the project which, under the unitary direction of Philip II, achieved its unique stylistic composition. The programme will be made available for use in ‘Windows”, making it installable in any compatible PC’


20 Agosto 1995 - 26 Agosto 1995


Exhibitions Meeting Exhibitions