Friday, September 30, 2011

Royal Armor and the View of Kings

The Royal Palace / Palacio Real
09/30/11 – Calle Bailén
1561 view of Madrid
When you emerge from the obligatory route through the gift shop into the vast, sun-drenched courtyard of the Royal Palace, you begin to realize the role of geography in the making of Madrid.  The eye is drawn to a wall of arches across the way, framing a landscape of distant trees.  At closer inspection, you can see how steeply the gardens descend down the slope, the perfect vantage for a fortress and walled city.  Remnants of the Moor’s ancient wall can be seen in various places around Madrid, but the fortress they built in the ninth century is long gone, as is the Spanish fortress that arose around it (pictured, in a 1561 drawing by Anton Van der Wyngaerde).  

The Palacio Real
The Spanish Royal Palace stands on the same overlook, in its 1755 incarnation of cool marble.  An earlier palace built with wood burned to the ground in 1734.  A King no longer lives in the Palace, and its richly-decorated rooms are open to visitors.  I’ve seen so much faux Rococo (Real Housewives of New Jersey?) that when faced with the original, it still feels fake.  But even the blasé will go bug-eyed in the dressing-room of King Carlos III (reigned 1759-88).  Decorated by the Italian Matteo Gasparini, the ceiling is three-dimensional, and fairly drips with Chinoiserie.  The walls are embroidered! Another Italian, the architect Francesco Sabatini, tried to bring a modicum of restraint to his neoclassical rooms.  You decide which pleases more. 

In addition to the royal chambers, there is the chapel, royal pharmacy, and a room that displays not one but five musical instruments crafted by Antonio Stradivari: violín chico, violÍn grande, two violinchelos, and a violo contralto

Though not known for my love of weaponry, the highlight of this visit was the Royal Armory.  Housed in a separate building at the west end of the courtyard, the Armory fills two floors.  The collection of medieval armor for horses, men, and even small children, is superb.  It is beautifully displayed.  See the set of armor with the stylish bell skirt—designed to deflect lance-blows below the belt, but intriguingly feminine to a modern viewer.  A nearby set of torso armor, shown from the back, is custom fitted to some knight-errant’s taut buttocks. A sensation of claustrophobia and pain accompanies the Armory experience, but it’s not unpleasant.  The 10 Euro price of admission to the Royal Palace feels like a bargain.

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