The Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida is a neo-classical chapel in the centre of Madrid. The city has grander buildings, but few can be so stunning once you step into the cool interior. This one bears the handiwork of Francisco de Goya, and shows that, like any baroque master worth his salt, the Spanish painter was quite capable of IMAX-style entertainment avant la letrre.
Like Michelangelo, Andrea Pozzo and Rubens before him, Goya here produces a work which rewards the development of a crick in the neck. Ignore the mirrors provided, the painted scene demands that you consider your distance from the heavens in real physical terms. It might even be a blasphemy, in the presence of this divine intervention, to be gazing downwards.
Saint Anthony of Padua’s greatest trick was to resurrect a murder victim, doing so in order to clear a man accused of murder. The twist in the tale is that the reluctant defendant was the formerly dead man’s father. This all took place in 13th century Lisbon. Goya updates the wardrobe department to bring to life the drama in 18th century Madrid. But they could be wearing pelts for all the difference this makes. The miracle is Fresh, as the vivid expressions attest.
Sadly, it’s not possible to share fresh pictures with Bad at Sports readers. St. Tony might have broken all the laws of nature. Goya might have bent a few perspectival rules. But today, when taking photos has become as reflexive as breathing, visitors to this shrine in Montcloa will be met with a frustrating ban on photography. This strikes one as odd for at least two reasons.
Firstly, you have to be careful not to trip over Goya’s tomb in the apse. This proves that the artist who brought you here will suffer no loss of earnings from the proliferation of poor images of his tromp l’oeil feat. Secondly, photos can only increase the desire to come here. No one ever saw a mere photo of a show stopping chapel like this and thought, ‘I’ve seen all I need to’.
It’s the same story across town at the Prado. You can spend as long as you can bear it, gazing at one of Goya’s black paintings. But can you take a photo? Well, no. You might console yourself that these dim and undefined panoramas would probably photograph horribly. You might even be happy to buy a guidebook, if you want these memories as keepers.
I’m sure there are less commercial considerations for the widespread veto of Goya-inspired pics. For starters, there’s less danger of denigrating his great genius with a selfie next to his droning dog. To a large extent, one can even believe that the aura of these breathtaking works is protected, unlike say that of the holdings of the Louvre.
But as we visit galleries and connect with paintings in our own ways and build our own stories about trips we took, days out we enjoyed or pilgrimages we made, it’s a real handicap to find photography blocked. Gone are the days when a sketchbook would have sufficed. The genie is out of the bottle to use a phrase which could itself inspire a pretty black painting.
Outside the chapel, we cross the train tracks and make our way back up into the adjacent park. Four monoliths, which we missed on the way down here, now realign themselves for a perfect view. They spell out the heavy debt we owe in four of the most evocative letters in both classical and modern art. Those are of course G, O,Y, A. Here, at least, we can snap away.
Real Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida can be found on Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida, s/n, 28008 Madrid, Spain.
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