Friday, 10 January 2014

Silent Music

Last year I had the opportunity of attending a conference that, within the program Enfoques organized by the Foundation of Friends of the Prado Museum, was given by Profesosor María Nagora. Entitled "Silent Music", the conference was about the similarities between the work of the painter known as El Greco and the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria.

The class took place next the the work Adoration of the shepherds painted by El Greco around 1614, and its aim was to show the parallelism existing between this painting and the piece O magnum misterium by Tomás Luis de Victoria, in order to help us seeing the painting's "silent music".

El Greco. The Annuntiation (detail), 1597-1600. Museo del Prado
I couldn't take notes during the conference, something I regret but only partly because in this way I could enjoy it with all my senses. The case is that, as I couldn't take notes and I haven't found any text reproducing what was said during the class, I have tried to remember as much as I could and I have collected some information about the life and work of Tomás Luis de Victoria.

The parallelism between both authors starts in their own biography. Doménikos Theotokópoulos, most commonly known as El Greco, was born in Crete in 1541. At the beginning of his career, we worked as painter of Byzantine style icons, whose iconography will always persist in his work. In 1567 he decided to move to Venice where he evolved to a Renaissence style under the influence of Venetian painting. In 1570 he moved to Rome, where he had the opportunity of seeing the work by Michelangelo and Raphael, introducing mannerist elements in his painting. At that time, Philip II of Spain, absorbed in the interior decoration of the Monastery of El Escorial, was hiring numerous Italian painters. El Greco decided to try his luck in the Spanish court but without success. Finally he settled down in Toledo, where he lived and worked from 1577 to his death in 1614.

We don't know exactly Tomás Luis de Victoria's date of birth, but it is thought that it could have been around 1548, in Ávila. After his early training received in his hometown, at the age of 19 he travelled to Rome, where he will continue his training and will start his career as a composer. In 1585 he moved to Madrid to start working as chaplain of Empress María de Austria. Victoria will live in Madrid until his death in 1611.

Victoria is, together with Palestrina, the most important composer of Spanish Renaissance Music. The main parallelism between his biography and El Greco's resides not only in the fact that they lived during the same period of time, but also they were in Rome at the same time. Keeping in mind the enormous quantity of pieces that Victoria was asked to compose in Italy, it is very probable that El Greco would happen to listen many of them.

This parallelism can be found in their work too, as I mentioned above. Bothe the musical and pictorial composition run from the top to the bottom, ina desceding movement, signifying that God has "come down" from Heaven and has become man. In El Greco's painting this movement is strongly hightlighted through a curve that, starting where the angels are, falls to where the manger is represented.

El Greco. Adoration of the shepherds, 1614. Museo del Prado.
Beyond any doubt, what I found most extraordinary in this class was to confirm, once more, the comparisons that can be established between different artistic genres. It is a proof of what we say in Sala12's manifest: every aspect of a culture is related, and it is not possible to understand one without the others as all of them are the product of a same period, History and Society.

Almudena Ruiz del Árbol Moro

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