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and the Golden Age

Don Quixote and Sancho.jpg

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: The Golden Age
4 '  x 4 '
oil on canvas

As a teacher of art and art history, my most fundamental goal is to prompt students to ask: Why was this artwork composed the way it was, and not in another way? 

In the case of the painting that I am presenting you here in Barnes & Noble Bookstore tonight: why did this artist speaking to you choose the  form of a 4'  x  4' square? Why is there a circular window-like inner frame?  Why the seeming appearance of a double portrait? Why was the "ochre" color palette chosen? Why are the figures arranged as they are, side by side? Why the elements included, such as the red lance, the background space, the inclusion of the animals?

Also, on a deeper level, why the choice of subject matter -- The Golden Age  -- from the many, many possible aspects or themes that abound in the novel by Miguel de Cervantes?

Indeed, why paint an image of this novel at all; why not a scene from the Bible, from current events such as 9/11 , or even the War of 1812?

Why this, why that, why choose this aspect or element, and not that?

Perhaps in your mind, the word "picture" or painting brings to mind an arrangement of flowers, a scene where an ancient statue stands on a pedestal, next to a Roman arch or fountain. But how many of us think knowing or knowledge might be represented on a painted canvas?

But all great art, from the Taj mahal to a tiny pearl inset on a gold band or perhaps even a carved piece of driftwood, while giving us pleasure, also confronts us -- asks questions of us -- or inspires us to ask questions. In this sense philosophy or the asking of questions, goes hand in hand with form.

In The Golden Age tonight, you may note that there are two human figures, one of whom seems to be looking at you -- the other firgure is looking at the companion, etc. A lot of looking going on. And somehow we are ourselves included in the act of looking -- on multiple levels.

Levels -- you may also note that there are 2 spaces, 2 levels of space, created by the round frame, etc., and other surrounding elements, interpenetrating each other, much as two characters interact with each other and with us -- in the same way, this canvas is interacting with our space here in Barnes & Noble, as (first of all) a physical object that is measurable and occupies space, and is also the subject of conversation at this moment.

Painters are interested in space -- multiples of the one space we all ase -- in the multi-layer format of this canvas, I admit I was exploring the multi-layered quality of space as we see it, and as we perhaps don not! Some people claim to see the future, to see spirits, or they claim that they "see" the reasons for this or that. In my painting I was making a reference to the irchnedd of the experience of vision.

Autobiographically, the fact that my father was by profession an eye physician may explain my interest in the act of seeing and of vision in general -- but I really believe that this is a very general human interest -- to ask how it is that we see -- is it with only our eyes as physical organs, our nerve impulses, or what? And how do we know that what we are seeing is really there, and not otherwise?

These are questions for a philosopher interested in epistemology or ontology... but I think also for the painter.

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One of the most famous scenes in the novel that inspired this canvas is that of Don Quixote charging full-force against a a group of windmills located somewhere in his native region of La Mancha -- claiming that what he sees are foes, that they are giants. The novel by Cervantes is full of such episodes dealing with this problem in different ways, from varying perspectives. You may see I include a windmill -- that seems to be emerging from a scroll, in pop-up fashion. I did this to highlight the storybook nature of reality (Don Quixote had read about "giants" in the many books of knight errantry that he highly prized in his own library at home). But I was also trying to suggest that much of what we think we see as real is but a story being told or read inside us, so to speak, by an often too-invisible story-teller. We follow an inner script even when we can swear we are seeing something real out there.


So, one of the most interesting aspects I read in Cervantes' novel is this idea of how we somehow see from inside out, and not from outside in -- and thus the adventures of Don Quixote's supposed madness from all the books he has read or the ballads he has heard sung, with many of the stories contained in these tales having clouded his vision, is nothing but an artistic way of making us aware that we all have our own madness, and our giants to conquer, our windmills to be conquered by -- indeed, that we can even, by reading, or by the manner in which we read -- and by the feelings that result from this experience -- see our lives affected in the way that certaing adventures and not others enter our lives or determine in some way the sort of life we lead. We can be part of our inner storytelling. We are the artists of our own story. There is and there is not a set script for us. In some way, everything is not already written but being co-written by us right now, as we read, as we feel, as we dream.

Don Quixote is full of proverbs, refranes, most of them spoken by Sancho Panza, who is a living storehouse of such popular wisdom. But the knight, too, often mentions his own favorite sayings, for instance : "El hombre es hijo de sus obras" -- which states that one is a child of his or her own deeds or actions. In this sense, maybe this means that one is essentially free.

Don Quixote as a novel is very much about this issue of human freedom -- of man constantly imagining himself in conflicts of one sort of another.

Photo 3



Don Quixote is full of proverbs, refranes, most of them spoken by Sancho Panza, who is a living storehouse of such popular wisdom. But the knight, too, often mentions his own favorite sayings, for instance : "El hombre es hijo de sus obras" -- which states that one is a child of his or her own deeds or actions. In this sense, maybe this means that one is essentially free.


Don Quixote as a novel is very much about this issue of human freedom -- of man constantly imagining that he is at war with foes of that freedom. Many authors and visual artists have addressed the same theme of freedom through time – incidentally, autobiographically, I became aware of its importance as a child when my parents explained to me that our family would be emigrating from our native land, due to problems connected to the question of freedom, or the problem of the absence of freedom in our country.

It is also interesting that relatively few readers nowadays look in the novel Don Quixote in order to think about this problem genuinely. It is a book of fantasy and perhaps because of that it is one of the best sources of wisdom we can consult to see what freedom is all about – freedom and fantasy and dreaming go very much hand in hand. This is the reason why in most countries where freedom is assailed, poets and artists are the very first figures who are persecuted.

There are two final aspects of my painting that I would like to tell you about before closing this presentation – and both of these points are related to the idea of freedom.

1)      The two characters who are the focus of my canvas, Don Q and Sancho; and 2) my title The Golden Age, LA EDAD DE ORO. 

In my canvas I tried to show an intimate connection between these two elements: the double portrait and the myth of the Golden Age.

The novel that inspired this canvas was published in two installments, the first of these in 1604 and the second in 1612. Turbulent time for Spain, a major world power. On the surface, the book tells the story of a man in his 50s, of a minor aristocratic class, whose brain “dries up” from reading too many books of knight errantry, to the point that he decides to go out to the real world and look for adventures – to see them – as they appeared in his favorite poems and books of this aforementioned type. Therefore, he imitates what he has read about – in the things he wears or carried, his arms, in the places he goes to, and also in the company that he keeps – in his squire Sancho Panza, specifically. In my canvas you will see how Don Q is angular in his features, while Sancho is more rotund, and this is my way of describing visually what I see in their characters in the way they express themselves or act in the course of the story.

In my canvas the two characters are the central focal point of the composition, and I painted their expressions serious or pensive (Don Q) or smiley, jolly, kind (Sancho). But note how I depict Sancho’s arm slung on Quixote’s shoulder. Also, Sancho’s torso is bare, bringing out his more carnal personality, his more earthly values, so to speak, his down-to-earth disposition. The theme of humanism and friendship throughout the novel – the book is one long dialogue between the two characters, discussing many things. But perhaps most of all, in those conversations (not a few of which are full of friction and issues of pain or grief and disagreement between them) – the overarching lesson of this book seems to be the importance of conversation, of communication with a kindred soul – the gift of friendship, and how this quixotic/sanchoesque friendship can be one long adventure in its own way, or can be one way of travelling through life. Conversation and freedom, to tie this together now, may also be very intimately related. Knowing that we have friends – there is freedom in this knowledge. (Jorge Luis Borges says in several of his works that for his countrymen and women, friendship is indeed a passion. I would venture that there is much passion in the friendship between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, as evidenced in their conversations. Freedom and passion go hand in hand!)

The Golden Age – LA EDAD DE ORO – the scene where this is discussed is in Chapter X, BOOK I—which is cradled in a series of chapters where this theme is present; Chapter X immediately follows that of Quixote’s encounter with the Vizcayan – but the don’s speech about the Golden Age, for the goatherds, is one of his most moving addresses in the novel – where he reflects on an era, in illo tempore, or in some remote time, where there was no distinction between yours and mine – a sort of dreamlike state of communism, when, as Don Q explains, there was no greed or even the need to wear  unnatural coverings imposed on one’s body, etc.

To experience knight errantry – as Don Q sees and expresses things – is the only way to take us back to the Garden of the Golden Age. Interestingly, Don Q points out at the beginning of the novel how in his friendship with Sancho there is no inequality or imbalance of this golden parity: the relationship they have of lord and squire is, at heart, one of peers or equals.

The Golden Age, for us, I would suggest, involves a rediscovery of humanism and friendship in everything we do, as a way back to the Garden. It is a return to fantasy and art as a way to see the world from within – from the inner script which we may co-write or co-author with certain books.

The Lady of the books of knight errantry represents the feminine in the highest form of knowledge. That which is at the heart of everything, of every situation or story.

Time in Don Quixote : the proverbs “…en los nidos de antaño, ya no hay pájaros hogaño…” (“There are no birdnests of yesteryear in today’s tres”)

Duality – Sancho and Quixote : seeing double, in order to see straight or to clear our vision.

El Cuento de Sancho Panza sobre la Grija

A goatherd  called Lope Ruiz and his mad dash to escape from his former love, the shepherdess who was called Torralba
5"  x  11"
pen & ink


My Pen & Ink illustration from chapter XX in the First Part of Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, depicts the moment when Sancho Panza tells Don Quixote a story on the condition that his listener keep track and COUNT of the narration.

A certain goatherd named Lope Ruiz has to cross to the other side of a river all of his 300 goats, one by one, with the help of a humble fisherman who happens to be on the riverside at that moment. This is a cliffhanger: Lope Ruiz is running away from a shepherdess named La Grijalba whom he once chased.
As soon as he grew tired of her and noticed how ugly he was, Sancho saying that she even had several unkempt mustache hairs above her upper lip!, he lost interest in her and started to flee her advances.

Meanwhile, Don Quixote himself soon grows tired of Sancho's tale and refuses to keep COUNT of the number of goats (---of the 300--) safely taken across the Guadiana River on the raft. At this point Sancho Panza's story ends abruptly, because his conditions had not been respected by the exasperated Quixote.
This is a story about the importance of memory in art, in narrative, and in human relations. Number and count are sacred.

Cueva de Montesinos.jpg

In the Cave of Montesinos, this old medieval sage shows Don Quixote the hero Durandarte (of Charlemagne's Twelve Peers of France) asleep under a spell, after his heart was carved out and sent his Lady Belerma so she could see her image in her knight's heart
11"  x  14"
pen & ink


One of the most amazing moments in Cervantes' novel DON QUIXOTE de la Mancha (Part II, chapter 23) presents us his main character as he enters or crosses over into the realms of Charlemagne and Merlin the Magician, and meets two of the knights or "PALADINS" of the Frankish court, who have been waiting for him across the ages, some 800 years, deep inside a cave in the Spanish regions of La Mancha.

Don Q narrates to Sancho Panza what he saw in the depths of the cave in these words: "Montesinos came toward me, and the first thing he did was embrace me tight, and then he said: 'For a long time now, O valiant knight Don Quixote of La Mancha, we who are here enchanted in these solitudes have been hoping to see thee, that thou mayest make known to the world what is shut up and concealed in this deep cave, called the cave of Montesinos…' "


[ Montesinos...llegόse a mí, y lo primero que hizo fue abrazarme estrechamente, y luego decirme: “Luengos tiempos ha, valeroso caballero Don Quixote de la Mancha, que los que estamos en estas soledades encantados esperamos verte, para que dés noticia al mundo de lo que encierra y cubre la profunda cueva por donde has entrado, llamada la cueva de Montesinos….”]

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