November 4, 2008

The Barefoot Royals (though, it's cold in there, so I hope they have slippers)

Monasterio de las Descalzes Reales was started in the 17th century by a woman named Joan of Asturias who had been sadly widowed by her Portuguese husband at the young age of 19. Since she was part of the royal family of Spain at the time, she returned and with the means her family provided her she opened the monastery. It was also noted once we saw a few portraits of young Joan that from the time of her husband’s death she only wore black as a way of mourning forever.

The reason this monastery is a stop on some tourist routes is for its wealth of paintings and sculpture; mostly from the 15 through 17th century and many given specifically to the monastery (as prior the building had been a palace). Maybe it was because every other painting was of Jesus or Mary with child or St. Francis or St. Claire (the two saints from whom two different churches have nuns living there from) but I wasn’t overly impressed with it all. I mean all of the little chapels we got a tour of had small, great collections as well as the different other rooms we saw, but compared to what I had seen the day before it was a bit of a letdown. And it was FREEZING in there! I hope the nuns rooms are warmer than the rest of the monastery. The three highlights for me were a collection of tapestries which were commissioned by Joan’s sister and which were weaved outside of Spain and based on drawings from Rubens, a wooden sculpture of Mary which was the most delicate and beautiful I have seen her look in any works of art thus far, and the third best thing was an enormous painting of a huge ship docking into a port with small boats flanking it to the sides. All of which were FILLED with people. I know I am not describing it that well and since the monastery doesn’t know who painted it, I can’t even look it up but take my word for it, it was pretty good. Again, there was no photography allowed so I have nothing to show.

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