I STUMBLED UPON artist Román Blázquez in Madrid’s Prado museum earlier this month, copying Peter Paul Rubens’s “Saint George and the Dragon” in the middle of a large hall that holds this and other monumental paintings. (Blázquez’s version is on a smaller scale.)
What ego, I thought! To think he could adequately match the master, who created this work in Genoa between 1606 and 1610. And do it in public!
On second thought, given the potential for humiliation, Blázquez’s painstaking brushstrokes were more like derring-do! He kept painting as museum visitors drifted around and past him, some ignoring him, others engaging him briefly. He stopped long enough to make sure I spelled his name correctly in my notes, then went back to work. I understand that copying works of art is part of an artist’s development, but my Spanish wasn’t good enough to ask him why he was copying this particular painting. (Well, it’s good enough to ask the question but not good enough to understand a nuanced answer.)
As I spent that day and the next few soaking up all the art that the cities of Madrid and Barcelona had time to show this first-time visitor–incredible masterpieces, sometimes by artists I had never heard of (talk about humbling)–I began to think that all the great works of art, traditional and contemporary, have already been created. So maybe that was the “why” behind Blázquez’s project: It’s all been done, and better, so why not honor a masterpiece rather than try to outdo it?
I’ve since learned that the Museo Nacional del Prado has allowed copyists into its halls since it opened in 1819. It’s all part of the institution’s dedication to artistic instruction and development. Blázquez, who runs his own art school in nearby Móstoles, has had exhibits of his copy work, including an “Agnus Dei” (Lamb of God, but literally the portrait of a hog-tied ram) copied from a sublime work by Francisco de Zurbarán. As it happened, while I was in Madrid there was a temporary Zurbarán exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum up the road from the Prado.
If you’re visiting Spain this summer, Blázquez presumably will be working at the Prado until he has finished his Rubens. “Zurbarán: A New Perspective” runs through September 13 at the Thyssen-Bornemisza. And the Prado itself will always be there–open most evenings until 8 pm (God bless those Spanish hours!).