Friday, February 23

Francisco Pradilla, the painter who took advantage of the ‘madness’ of Queen Juana to succeed


The masterpiece of history painting, the most properly Spanish genre of all, is an overwhelming metaphor for women’s glass ceiling. In it, a legend that occurred almost three centuries before is presented as true, thanks to which a queen was dispossessed of her government to be kept first by her father and, later, by her son. She contemplated her political operation from her Tordesillas prison, where she was imprisoned by her family for almost 50 years, after accusing her of madness of love.

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The masterpiece of history painting hangs in the Prado Museum, it is entitled Doña Juana the crazy and it is the work of Francisco Pradilla (1848-1921), who painted it in 1877. This monumental and popular canvas, in which he exaggerates the legend of madness, made him the most admired, recognized and awarded artist in the country who it was a few years away from sinking definitively as an empire, off the coast of Havana. Responsible parties were sought. And the artists looked to the past to illustrate and dramatize the historical events of a country adrift.

Pradilla went crazy with the daughter of Isabel la Católica. She made sketches and more sketches of this scene and so many other episodes in the life of the arrested queen. Why was Pradilla so interested in Juana de Castilla and not in her mother’s? “This is related to a pictorial movement that focuses on the figures of the unhappy conscience”, responds Javier Barón, head of 19th century painting at the Prado Museum, taking up a concept coined by Hegel on the inability of the human being to build your own world freely. The museum has just inaugurated an exhibition that pays a small tribute to the centenary of the death of the Aragonese painter.

Be touched by Juana

The historian Wifredo Rincón, doctor in Art History from the University of Zaragoza and curator of the exhibition Francisco Pradilla Ortiz 1848-1921, held at the end of last year at the Lonja de Zaragoza, has another answer about the painter’s interest in the figure of Juana: “He was moved by her.” He explains that Pradilla was in love with medieval history and found in the figure of the unfortunate queen a “maligned” story. Nor does Rincón find the painting an agreed response that adapts to the interests that the Academy rewards at that time to favor an image of women excluded from the political plane.

There is an explanation beyond “tenderness”. As the historian Erika Bornay clearly explains in the essay Lilith’s daughters (1998), men at the end of the 19th century found themselves fearful of being subjugated by the new woman who was opposed to being conceived as an angel of the home and to satisfying man’s pleasure in all facets of her life. Bornay assures that it was a rare man who welcomed women into the public and political territory, which until then they had considered her exclusive property. The conspiracy against their government will not surprise the citizens of a country that in its recent democratic history has never had a female president. Not even a candidate to be.

At the end of the 19th century, men received the feminist movements with alarm and mistrust. And the wealthiest caste of the fine arts tries to stop them by making women responsible for the misfortunes of the country. Pradilla could have presented at the 1978 National Exhibition, for example, a canvas in which Juana de Castilla’s father, Fernando el Católico, or her son, Carlos I, appeared imprisoning the queen in Tordesillas.

to imprison oneself

It is curious how the Prado Museum describes these events in the cartouche that accompanies the painting Queen Doña Juana la Loca, confined in Tordesillas with her daughter, the Infanta Doña Catalina (1906). She says: “Interested in the figure of Queen Juana de Castilla for decades, Pradilla chose for this cabinet painting a chapter that narrates her imprisonment in Tordesillas, where she was held captive until her death.” According to this reflexive formula, she gave herself prison and not her father and son. A vision that hides the violence suffered by the queen and continues to be suffered by women today, as Cristina Fallarás discovers in her latest novel The crazy woman (B editions).

History painting at the end of the 19th century was not interested in looking for the decline of the empire in one man. He was not interested in portraying Carlos I as a failure despite the poisoned inheritance he receives with the introduction of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty on the Spanish throne. And that he makes him king of Castile and Aragon, lord of the Netherlands, of the Austrian territories, entitled to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire and sovereign of Flanders and Brabant. This glorious and devilish imperial heritage kept the country in constant wars. Today we know the economic and human cost of a warlike conflict. And then as now all economic income of the country was dedicated to defray the expenses of the war efforts, forgetting any investment in Spain. Felipe II, son of Carlos I, declared bankruptcy up to three times during his reign. Neither the academics nor Pradilla saw in this heritage an “unhappy conscience.”

Javier Barón added in the presentation of the exhibition that the painting that made Pradilla famous has the virtue of introducing realism and verisimilitude into history painting. “It tells the story truthfully,” says the historian. And we already know that verisimilitude does not have to comply with the truth. But with the effect.

This does not happen to men. About losing your mind. Contemporary historians whom Pradilla reads dictate that madness was the providence that freed Spain from much greater evils and much worse dangers. And that thanks to her the reins of government were pushed “into the able and strong hands of her father”.

The ideological program of the painting turns Juana into a woman who has lost her mind for love of someone who is more of a whore than a beauty. And that she, therefore, should not rule the country for another day. By dint of twisting the affections, of salsarosize the scene, the artist was applauded, admired and recognized by the public then and now. Pradilla puts drama even in the candles in her warning: a woman cannot be queen, because she is too weak. too much woman



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