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Francesco Goya, tapestry cartoon, Prado

Following his very successful sell-out screenings at the Rotterdam film festival(*), my friend Nathaniel Dorsky received an invitation to go to Spain, for some screenings in Madrid and La Coruña.  He’d never been to Madrid or Spain before so I wrote him some thoughts about things to see – paintings, the Church of San Antonio da Florida with the lovely Goya frescoes on the dome interior, the Goya tapestry cartoons at the Prado.   I like Madrid a lot, and assured Nick he’d likely find it as wonderful as I do.   He went last week, and shaking the jet-lag, went off into the city and in turn sent me some letters, which I found delightful – expressive of the almost child-like joy of his wanderings in museums and streets, the tasty jamon iberica, the architectural treats.   The letters were such a pleasure for me I thought others might find them similarly joyful, even if one doesn’t know him, and asked him if I could publish them here.   He thought about it a little and accepted.

Madrid facades and street life

5.28   your tumbling tumbled weed
Well about Madrid…  I arrived in the middle afternoon, a driver and all,  and then my hostess, Beatiz, led me around a little after a lunch (the only vegetables here are green house tomatoes, little  pickles, iceberg lettuce and canned string beans…  but more to come…)  I walked in the super lovely huge park, dark and dense with  Chestnut trees and lovely earthen alleys, charm, charm, charm…    and then went to the modern museum (all the museums are open till 9pm everyday…   well that is still two hours before diner time ) (I eat  breakfast and a late lunch, only) where they have just great Picassos and Juan Gris etc.  Today I went to the Prado.  Bigger in a  sense of the actual paintings than the Louvre.  Boy, do I not enjoy painting from the 1600’s.  And now I know another reason why…   I hate the gesture of the frozen moment in time which this century held so dear, it so terribly dull, egoic, and sickening. Beforehand, then it is good, and the 1700′s become heavenly, especially at the Prado where the Goya collection is almost worth walking here from SF.  He, not unlike Picasso, can paint in any style required and they are all very very touching and beautiful and generous to the  eye and the heart and the profound sense of the cosmic and the  color, so right and so healing.
Also the Bosch collection includes the HUGE  Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych along many other of his paintings and  paintings  from that period, including an amazingly avant garde Van der Weyden Descent from the Cross which took care of the 1600’s in one fell  swoop.

Now I am home resting and the hot day has cracked and it is pouring  with bursts of yellow lightening.  My hotel doors to the tiny balcony are open and cool airs wafts across my sweaty self.

And I also loved on the very top floor all the Goya “cartoons” for tapestries if I can trust my non existent Spanish… and there are also three large circular allegorical paintings (one of two woman spinning yarn)  that I found SO touching both as human depiction and color rendition….  wow…   and I went back this evening and re saw with MUCH less people the Bosch’s ..  that earthly delights MUST be seen in the real….    wow…  and came upon, that goodness, the very large Annunciation of Fra Angelico which I found deeply moving….   the shadowed exterior of the banishment from Eden and the columned portico illuminated by purity of the angel’s golden wings and and golden rays of light….

Yes, tomorrow San Antonio da Florida  n.


Today I went to the train station that has an iron and glass roof, not quite as pretty as the stations we love in Paris, but it is filled with tropical trees of all sorts, so it is like being in a dream that is one half the glass houses in Jardens des Plantes and one half Gare du Nord.  The train was super modern, a kind of TJV with reserved
seats and I took it for on half hour to a Toledo.  There is a very famous Cathedral there with many great paintings in it. The glass to me looks like it is from the 1400’s. They have a Caravaggio I actually loved… which is genuinely quite unusual for me. His paintings are usually not so sympathetic, but rather more demonstrative. It is a terribly sexy depiction of a young Saint ?? (who has a lamb and a staff, a body to end all bodies and hung out in the desert as a teenager?) OH, The Baptist, of course. This painting does not suffer from the frozen-moment-syndrome and actually allows one to enter and it brings forth presence… of course
it is rather “body”.  [Later, I received an email from a friend, Vivian, who informed me that a friend of hers who is an expert art historian told her that the painting is in question as to whether it is painted by Caravaggio. Now is not that interesting?] 

The not Caravaggio in Toledo [Just as Toledo Ohio is not…]

There were many El Greco’s also but gosh the 1600’s are missing my psyche right now and also a dark Goya which was hard to appreciate.  Then I visited  the Jewish section of town which had two synagogues from also that period of time in a more Islamic style.  I walked back to the train station from high on the hill and crossed over a beautifully constructed stone bridge arching high over the river surrounding the town built by the Romans.  From the bridge you could see another they built.  They are so sturdy and graceful and practical and must be almost 2,000 years old.  No upgrades…  working perfectly.
A thunder and lightening storm began just as I reached the station which has all sorts of Islamic architecture with colored glass windows in  that style.  They have many benches out on the platform under the cover of an open roof, so one could enjoy the cooling down pour as dry as could be.  Now I am back home in my room.  I think tomorrow I will  go back to the Prado, as looking at paintings is the thing I by far enjoy the most here, especially the deepening discovery of Goya.  They have almost 200 paintings by him in many many different styles as we have discussed. The Prado is closed on Monday, so I think I will save that day for going to San Antonio da Florida to see his frescoes.

OH!  Spain must of just won a football game as everyone out my open window is suddenly screaming as the evening comes in.

I am quite alone here and it is almost too much.  The Spanish culture is a new one to me that I appreciate the way one might appreciate New York, but I have no real feeling for it or its language.  I am simply HERE walking around.  It is not France and it is not Italy and the Christianity is just TOO haunted by the immeasurable amount of pain, murder, and torture that has gone down under its name to shake loose of that for me.
I have been warned that only 20 people may show up for my shows as ag film has no presence here and certainly no following.  But being here has been a truly great inspiration in terms of painting.

Your meat-filled Jew boy,  Nathaniel

5.29        as we speak
Dear Jon, Thanks for the fill in’s. Those demonstrations for more jobs (in the huge square) are two blocks from “my” hotel. They seem to be working, as more police seemed to be employed than ever….. ahh, the political process in action.

AND:   my new film is at the neg cutter and the title is being shot and sent to her and then she will send the a and b’s on to my lab in  Colorado.  It is 27 minutes long and could be titled:  The Return        or it could be titled:   Broken Moon      Any suggestions.  I worked at it as hard as I could to perfection (not biting of lower lip) from pre-breakfast till 11 pm ever since we last saw each other in Rotterdam.  There are three shots from that wintry place, all shot on that Saturday (you were already in Amsterdam) the was extremely windy. Perhaps you remember.  It is 80% fuji neg and 20% eastman neg, a very rich and varied and workable cocktail of failing emulsions.  (our river trips footage a hair too descriptive for the film’s need).

Today I will either go back to the Prado or to San Antonio….   this Goya love is just too interesting and can only be quenched in this city   (someone just walking by playing ” Tequila” on a trumpet).   My hostess wants me to take a train to Cordoba…  a little expensive…   to see a little more of southern Moorish Spain and its architecture…   not sure if I want to be stuck for the day in such a place… they all seem SO tourist-tamed… ultimately depressing… how many sword, cross and helmet shops can you see without wondering about all that happened because of that nice Jewish boy who could see through everything except self-deification (a major sin, to say THE LEAST in the good old testament days). But then, the deification could be the results of
Spin Doctor John, and have little to do with who knows what really happened.

Well, be well……     and thanks for the football info…       nick

Foto by Jon in Madrid summer 2010

Barcelona had just beat Manchester United, 3-1, for the Champion’s League Cup, the World Series/Super Bowl of European Soccer.

5.29    lip flap from afar
Dear Jon,

I spent the morning at San Antonio de la Florida where Goya did the ceiling frescos….   such a beautiful and subtle sense of color.  I have never seen dome and ceiling painting so brushy and in such subdued but deeply beautiful colors.  Perhaps there are some online as everything seems to be these days.  Then I went over to the Prado again as my day pass continues to work. This time I began with Goya and looked at everything again.  Then I went to the 1400’s and so deeply loved the Fra Angelico Annunciation which is quite large. After looking at it for awhile in detail I went back to a seat in front of it and sat there for an hour, falling asleep and awaking again and again…  every time I popped back into the room there was a different configuration of people looking at it wearing different color clothes and many times, no one.  It made a very wonderful  personal film with the refrain of the painting mixed with quick dreams.  Then I went and looked at the other great work from the same century, and I mean Great!  They have a Dirk Bouts four views of the Virgin’s life which is extraordinarily beautiful…  the one of The Visitation is definitely one of the greatest paintings I have ever seen from that period…  the colors, the composition, the poetry…   a major major masterpiece sitting right there, hardly noticed.  I then went and looked at  Bosch’s Earthly Delight triptych again and for great good fortune no one was there (as usually there is a crowd of folks) and I think I eventually saw almost every detail which takes about a half hour to do.  There is always some new super charming thing to discover.  And then to straighten myself out again I went in the next room to look again at two David’s from that century of a Madonna and Child….  both of the very very highest order.

Then after two salads in the cafe (the only green thing to eat I have seen here since arriving)  I decided to look at all the paintings I had not liked the first day just to see them as this museum has more great work on a high level than any place I have ever been…  more than the National Gallery in London, I feel.  And that was interesting and could enjoy them more because I had been so healed by what I had already experienced.  I cannot even name all the great geniuses from the 1600’s that are there in great number and great quality.

The lovely park I spoke of before is up a hill behind the Prado and I walked up there and bought some water and strolled under the dark green canopy highlighted by the evening sun, sat around a little and listened to the doves as the day began to cool slightly and walked home and am now resting.

Love,  Nathaniel

PS: Sitting in front of The Annunciation I began to enjoy the title:   The Return     more because it is an announcement of an event, that event being the montage to follow, rather than a name as such.  And also I seemed very uninspired in my attempts to improve it…  but I  am OPEN….

Goya fresco, dome of San Antonio da FloridaVan der Weyden’s Deposition

Reading these letters I was transported from somewhat soulless (at least for me) Seoul, to the vibrant world of Madrid, and prompted to go once again to the museums, to walk the streets, to go out in the late night social whirl of cafes and talk.   Getting these two I begged Nathaniel to keep up his missives, which I find joyful and revealing, and also remind me of him – one of my very favorite people.  Knowing his films, one can glimpse the intense visual and spiritual acuity he brings to the paintings he speaks about, which makes me want to go see them myself, again.    After writing this last one, his screenings were on tap.  I told him I thought likely the forewarning of an audience of only 20 was not going to happen as I have found for myself lively and full audiences and I thought he’d do OK.   He’d been surprised in Rotterdam so perhaps Madrid would provide another.  (See this for words on Nick’s Rotterdam shows.)  More letters later.

Dirk Bouts’ The VisitationFrom Nathaniel’s The Visitation




While being far from any expert on Caravaggio, I have seen very many and unlike Nathaniel I am, I guess, a “fan”.   In Rome some years ago I saw a large exhibition, I think it was in the Scuderia del Quirinale (former horse stables of the grand palazzo where Italy’s titular President lives), of Caravaggio and his school.  I think I might have seen this one there.  I recall seeing some, which like this one, had slack or miscalculated proportions – to me the torso here is missing some structural form, and the arm on the left is too short in the shoulder to elbow part, and the one on left is too thick.   Also the leaves are rather unlike the foliage I have seen in other Caravaggio’s.  And the light, while chiaroscuro, is not, as nearly always done with the master, used for drama.   So I bet against this being by Caravaggio, though I imagine in the dark setting of the church there, maybe it looked passable.   And it raises for me the curious matter of what if a painting by an artist you really like, happens to be not by that artist?  One of my most favorite Vermeer paintings, Girl with a Red Hat, certainly has a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting it is not by Johannes.  And while it is one of my favorite of Vermeers, I would have to say that evidence decisively says it is not his.

Alleged Caravaggio St John the Baptist

[Note: if you double-click on many of the painting images you can see them bigger – check the Bosch that way.]



  1. Thanks so much for sharing these letters. I fell in love with Spain about 15 years ago and have returned frequently. Madrid is under-appreciated in my view. Most Americans are more impressed by Barcelona.

    I do find the comment about Mardid and religion surprising. Spain as a whole is extremely suspicious of the church because of its complicity with Franco.

    For an amazing “religious” spectacle, go to Sevilla during Semana Santa. As they’ve done for centuries, the people there turn the city into a huge theater while “pasos” depicting the passion are carried throughout the streets. Each one is accompanied by a band and penitents. This goes on for 24 hours every day and it’s a huge party. People revere the pasos in silence as they go by, but then resume their partying. It’s a truly pagan ritual. (In fact, it’s literally based on a pagan ritual that preceded Christianity.)

    But if you want to capture the true “religion” of Spain, go to (legitimate) flamenco performances. Flamenco is a virtual dance with the soul as a figure from the underworld. Once you see good flamenco, Goya’s work makes perfect sense.

    By the way, I’m no fan of Dali but I visited his “theater” outside Barcelona and was blown away to find a series of etchings that satirize Goya’s work. They all focus on the penis.

    • I suspect it was what Nick brought to Spain – a bit of history – that made his thoughts about religion ring as they did. Like most the Catholic countries of ,(excepting Poland?) my observation is most of the people in them fled the church long ago. Rome is full of nuns and priests… from Africa, Philippines, SE Asia, but precious few Italians. My travels in Spain have been limited – long ago in Malaga and a drive along what I think was called The White Way – towns perched high on mountains, safe from the once-pirates etc – and then Salamanca and Toledo and Madrid. And very long ago, 1963, was in Cadiz on a ship. Marcella may be doing an internship in Madrid and if I lose (find out in 15 days) my professorship I think I’d join for Sept-Oct. I long ago had a friend in LA who went to Spain to do flamenco, as a hobby. But outside movies, I have never seen. I guess a must-do next time around.

  2. “Well I’ve never been to Spain, but I kinda like the music . . . .” I’ve also never seen a film of Mr. Dorsky’s, and believe I never will unless I rent a print and find myself a 16mm projector. Scottsbluff has the Midwest Theater, something akin to the Mary Riepma Ross in Lincoln, I suppose. Perhaps something could be arranged.

  3. Thanks for posting these letters, Jon. Wonderful to read, not least because my attention to Spain has been drawn to the amazing ¡Democracia Real YA! movement recently. Nathaniel notes the police presence at Puerto del Sol — worth mentioning that while he was writing, it was much worse elsewhere (the first two videos are deeply shocking, worse than what we have seen in London recently…)

    • Ah police, the front line of the status quo, always asked to be the thin line between that and some kind of meaningful change. Dealing everyday with society’s worst, they get dehumanized and before you know it they’ll hit peaceful demonstrators with batons. At least they aren’t shooting them (yet?) as in Syria or…. Unemployment (official) is around 20% now in Spain. And the system doesn’t really know how to do anything about it. In next door Portugal the right-wingers just won election so things will tighten up there too. Matthew – I will be in London June 23-30. You nearby or there? Would be nice to meet.

  4. Indeed. Distressing that even though what they get up to as the armed wing of capital is now being filmed and distributed instantly, it’s clear that they don’t need to care. And beatings can be streamed live on TV… Youth unemployment is 40% in Spain, twice as bad as here… Unlikely, sadly, that I’ll be in London again before the end of this month (it’s a 3+ hr train journey away, and I’m a bit short of pocket money these days), but if I do make it, I’ll definitely drop you an email!

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