My favorite painting

The Prodigal Son, from my friend Irina

This might sound heretical coming from a Spaniard, but my favorite painting is not by Goya or Velazquez or Picasso or Murillo or Dalí or Miró, it is by Rembrandt (Leiden 1606 – Amsterdam 1669), and it is not even in a Spanish museum.

Unfortunately, I did not realize I was looking at what would be my favorite painting when I saw Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son when I was seventeen and visiting The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg with a handful of school friends. I was probably more concerned with looking at pretty girls or wondering about the evening’s plan with cheap Soviet Vodka -ah yes, the year was 1983, with Leonidas Brezhnev in charge of the Soviet Union!

Not long after, my father gave me a book: The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers, and Sons by Henri Nouwen and I was deeply moved. I understood the painting and it became my favorite. Nouwen, a priest (1932-1996), threads the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32) with the painting, covering each detail, each character in Scripture and the painting.

The father’s hands gently placed on the boy’s back, the brother’s jealous, angry stare, the servant, the mother, even another person almost invisible in the background, the son’s broken sandals, the capes, everything has a purpose and a meaning. The painting, painted in Rembrandt’s last years, is as spiritual as they get. It asks for your meditation, it questions our behaviors as sons and daughters. You feel the weight of the father’s hands on your back, their warmth. The painting forgives you.

What was my surprise when I discovered that a poster of the painting hangs in my school’s library, right outside my office! I walk by it many times every day, and every day I am reminded of Rembrandt, of the Prodigal son, and of my trip to Russia many years ago.

Some of my other favorite paintings are Velazquez’s Meninas in the Prado, pretty much anything by Goya, Velazquez´s Inocencio X in the Doria Pamphili Gallery in Rome, every Sorolla painting, I’ve already mentioned Frida Kahlo in this blog, etc., etc., etc., the list goes on and on. But this one wins.

What is your favorite painting? Comment below, I would love to know!

Poster next to my office!

Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism

I guess that like most people, I knew the pop culture Frida Kahlo: Mexican artist, unibrow. It was not until I started teaching that she always popped up in different cultural units and readings. So, I did some research and was blown away! Soon we were doing full units on her, watching documentaries, and writing essays for class. I was so fascinated by this woman, that in 2008 I took the train from Boston to see an exhibit of her paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

When the Norton Museum of Art up the road from me in West Palm Beach hosted an exhibit based on her, her husband Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism, I liked it so much I went twice!

Unlike other exhibits, this one delivers on what it promises; It not only has a delightful selection of Kahlo’s work, but it also has a good representation of Rivera’s work and of the whole Mexican Modernist movement, it even has a dozen Mexican dresses on show.

Of course, the real star here is Kahlo beyond the pop culture iconography; Her strength as a survivor of polio, and of having a bus handrail impale her pelvis at 18. She is a crucible of pre-Columbine and Hispanic culture, of Christianity and ancient Mexican religions, of nature and urban environments, of communism and capitalism, of sexuality, and so on with everything.

Besides the dresses, the exhibit has other nice touches like the photos Patti Smith took on her visit to Kahlo’s house in Coyoacán in Mexico City, and a quote from Carlos Fuentes, one of my favorite writers. It is a wonderful exhibit and if you are in Southern Florida you should see it.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, the Norton Museum is an oasis of culture in the suburban wasteland that is Southern Florida, so a morning at the museum with a lovely coffee in the courtyard and a visit to the gift shop is a morning well spent.