Master of the Prado by Javier Sierra is a memoir, an account of his discovery of art. I was immediately drawn in because of my college art history classes at Skidmore. I had an art history professor who would go to Europe during the summer and take Kodachrome slides of masterpieces various European museums. He had an incredible cache of slides he would use in class and unlock their secrets just as Doctor Fovel does with Sierra in the early 90’s in the Prado. What I learned in my art history classes has stayed with me as I taught English and now as I tour the great museums of Europe and America. So much culture, history, and beauty reveal themselves in these pages. This is a good example of “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” This is a personal journey and reflection, which are the best things to read IMHO.
The mysteries imbedded in art are the most magical ones. In art history we learned how masterpieces were actually marriage contracts, depictions of agreements made by one ruler with another, attempts to understand some religious event, accounts of the battles between life and death. We know the names of these masters and how they are all connected in some kind of bizarre or supernatural way. But above all are the secrets these paintings hold. We know the paintings; we use them in English class to augment a poem or short story or novel. When we look at the symbols littering those old Flemish or Italian or Spanish painters we are left with mouths agape at what they mean. We are captivated by the stories, the myths, the mysteries these paintings hold. We are held by the stories of the paintings, the dissection of the parts of them, the symbols embedded in them. Sierra’s tale is such a story of enchantment and intrigue as we, each of us, seek truths and evidence about our faith or lack of it. Just as I have been intrigued about art since my early art history days and then as I read more and visit these museums, I find myself more of one of those believers of how everything is connected. How often has one thing we know connected up with something we learn made us jump to another level of our own inquiry about life and death? This book has enthralled me only as a few before it have.
This book belongs in the collection of books of secrets and intellect: The Swerve by Stephan Greenblatt; The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco; and even The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. If these books captured you, then The Master of the Prado will excite and stimulate you.