Spain (part V)

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Yet it is in this supreme gathering together of forces that Spain, before its sleep and in a last proud effort, lifted up its great isolated figure. "The Lances" and the portraits of the king and queen are the adieu to her age of strength. Now that Spain is vanquished everywhere, the grandiloquent '"historical painters" and the manufacturers of heroic portraits are to multiply. Before Velasquez, only one man, because that man was a painter, de Mayno, had known how to subordinate the anecdote represented to the plastic poem which the contemplation of the forms and the sense of the fleeting harmonies of the space of Spain impose on those who neither affirm nor demonstrate before they have used their eyes. After Velasquez, only one man, because that man was a painter, Carreño de Miranda, still had the power to arrest the fall of the spoiled princes, the morose infantas, and the monsters of luxury, in order to continue that history which is made only by those who see and those who create. He shows us protruding jaws, lifeless eyes, hanging lips, monastic robes—the refuge of men of broken will, and of the shadows of grandeur; malicious dwarfed women stifled in fat, misshapen heads, and faces of crime and of horrible simplicity; after that there was nothing. Goya will not come until a century has passed, and then as a kind of miracle. The other followers of Velasquez, his son-in-law del Mazo, the brothers Rizi, and Claudio Coello are good, honest practitioners, of vulgar nature, and heavy, coarse, or too clever in workmanship. Murillo is not a great painter, because he is of a low mind.

He justifies the decision taken by Velasquez in his leaving Seville and by Zurbarán in his returning to his Estremadura. The bigoted and soft atmosphere of the enriched city of Andalusia wore upon the nerves and transformed the most virile beings into sensual women. Herrera is still too savage to allow himself to be impressed, but Montañés possesses no more than a hollow energy. Alonso Cano, his pupil and the studio companion of Velasquez and Zurbarán, is a bombastic painter, and a soft and enervated sculptor, warped by his morbid desire to erect effigies of ascetics with whom he associates pale flames and tender colors, in order to emphasize his effects. The streets smell of incense and rice powder, of lemon flowers and sensuality. The Jesuit is at his ease there; he controls the heart through all the senses. Murillo, through his desolating painting, overwhelms Ribera. His sick and his virgins are professionals. The beggar is always picking his fleas, and the Mother of God always has her eyes raised to heaven and her hands crossed on her heart. He prostitutes his gifts as a painter. Certainly, he expresses the questionable devotion of the city where, on saints' days, idols are carried about, dressed up, and covered with false jewels. But he submits in a cowardly way. His sensuality is awakened only amid too-heavy perfumes and in semidarkness. He spoils everything around him. Valdés Leal, full of his Cordova, a burning city where the Guadalquivir trails, over sand and rock, a few narrow streams of stagnant water, forgets the somber splendor of his visions in order to listen to him. For he is insinuating, sanctimonious, and sugary. His pictures are full of ambiguous shadows and of spurious light. He has certainly wandered around the city on the evenings of feast days at the hour most favorable for a glimpse, through the haze of the tapers and the censers, of the pink and yellow façades. He has often seen, in the nave of the cathedral all ruddy with lights, couples kissing on the lips, in the shadow of the pillars, at the moment when the Host is raised. The blood of the bulls has sent its smoke toward his nostrils, mingled with the odor of pepper and oil on black hair in which pinks have been entwined. But he has not felt the tragic joy and the distress of the monotonous rhythms of the dance of voluptuousness whose beat is followed interminably by the guitar and the clapping of hands. When a Christ on the Cross all smeared with blood is carried by, he has not heard, in the depth of his soul, how the song of a girl rises up, the sobbing, nasal plaint, infinite, arid, ardent, and sad as the desert.

He did not understand secret Spain. And when one knows the misery of Spain after his time, one cannot explain to oneself how the man who, in a half century of frenzied improvisations, sketched the most living physiognomy of that strange land, could come more than a hundred years afterward. Goya was from Aragon, to be sure, a province off the great routes and less exhausted, the place where the sculpture of the people had endured longest. But there was no crucible into which he could pour his lava. The house of Austria was dead from exhaustion; the Bourbons, emasculated and crushed by unhealthful devoutness, cloistered their secret vices in the alcove and the confessional. A bad German painter, Raphael Mengs, was their nearest representative for Velasquez. Spain was a lean beggar, draped from feet to chin in a patched old garment, worn and rusty. Why this sudden flame under the mask of carnival, this spark on the cold hearth? We always deceive ourselves about Spain. With a contemptuous decree, Napoleon annexes the sleepy thing. It sticks to him like a vampire, saws his tendons, drinks from his veins, and casts him off, drained of his blood, in a few months. That thing was not dead; it does not die. It has spasmodic crises which raise it up at a single bound, impose it upon the world, and send it back to sleep. It is like the Arab conquest. If the Inquisition and the gold of America explained the ruin of everything and the apparent death, they ought also to enable us to explain that savage vitality concealed by the indifference, the immobility, and the exterior fatalism. The Spaniards did not go to create gold in the Antilles or the Indies, to be sure, but to gather it up. Upon their return home they allowed tools to rust, undoubtedly, and the rock to take back to itself the earth which had been stripped of trees, and the mind to harden. And after that they stayed in their lair, cut off from Europe. They no longer saw the sea, the great civilizer; they no longer watched the departure and the arrival of the ships. But then, why this awakening? And why this sudden energy, why the terrible insurrection, Saragossa, and the sinister burst of laughter, and Goya's torrent of pearls and of flowers, if the Inquisition has broken down the entire strength here? When the desire to expand and to conquer commanded the heart of Spain, the Inquisition was an instrument of discipline and of combat. It is a corset of torture when this desire has disappeared; it grinds that contracted heart. It is in vain that Spain goes beyond her borders, she lives and goes to sleep at home; her military and lyric expansion is not an organism that can be controlled, but a spring which, after one release always comes back into place for another. If some external thing occurs to irritate her pride, she comes into possession of her power and of her soul for a century or for a day.

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