Art and the Imagination – From Toledo to Toledo

I was 17, flipping through the pages of an art book on the great masters, having been commissioned by my art teacher to paint a picture.  It didn’t have to be original, in fact he would prefer us to look at famous paintings and try our hand at copying one.  My teacher had dozens of books.  I found one that looked moderately interesting and thumbed through it.  I had seen most of paintings before (well, never in person):  The Mona Lisa, Starry Night, Monet’s lilies, a painting by Rembrandt, a painting by Raphael…the list goes on.  Then I turned the page and saw a painting that at first glance was merely a strange mixture of dark blues and greens and stark whites. I thought it gloomy.  I paused, shook my head, and dismissed it by turning the page.  I was closing the book and about to put it away when the image of that painting came back to me. There was something about it.  The gloom, the dark colors, the movement of the clouds, all of these things spoke of something that I was missing. I had to see it again.

Frantically, I flipped through the book.  I couldn’t find it. Slowing down, I paged through, this time making sure that I didn’t miss a painting.  There, somewhere in the middle, was my painting…the “View of Toledo Spain” by El Greco.

A View of Toledo (c. 1596–1600, oil on canvas, 47.75 × 42.75 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) is one of the two surviving landscapes of Toledo painted by El Greco.

It seems silly now to think of the romantic connotations that struck my fancy concerning this painting.  But I grew up in Toledo, Ohio.  An industrial town, which I always saw as rather blue collar and unromantic.   But El Greco’s Toledo was vivid and alive.  The rich blues and greens, the stormy skies were marvelously contrasted with the bright whites of clouds and stones.  El Greco’s depiction of this Medieval city suddenly became my standard, my median for all such cities.  Every time I started to write a story – for some reason most of my fantasy stories seem to take place in rather Medieval/Renaissance-esque settings – I would  envision a city by a river and it would take the shape of Toledo Spain.  I put my hero on that long road up to the first gate and over the bridge and into the dark and winding streets that held mystery, murder, and adventure.

Since happening upon this painting, I have longed to see Spain.  To walk those streets of Toledo that I could only dream about.  Recently, I had the opportunity.

Everyone asks what was it like.  It is challenge to put words to emotions, feelings, sights and sounds that, even while experiencing them, one can only gape at in wonder and serenity.

I just grin.

This is my view of Toledo Spain. My heart trilled at the sight and I do believe I was rather giddy, like a kid at Christmas.

Just thinking about it brings a smile to my face.  How do you put this into words?  Suddenly the greens and blues and the sky of El Greco’s painting make sense.  I can see them and I can finally experience them.

I became the hero walking through the gates.

Puerta del Sol

I got to walk through those streets and see what adventures awaited…

Long, narrow streets led up hill and down, toward plazas, castles and a cathedral…

The Alcazar (castle to us) was once a fortress, now it is a military history museum. It was full of interesting facts and historical bits about Spain I did not know.

The Alcazar had lovely gardens and vistas that overlooked the beautiful countryside.

From the vista at the Alcazar

There, in the distance, you can see the cathedral.  …Now if only I could get there….

But before we found a way to the cathedral I found a lost knight…and my traveling companion, Melissa, found a marvelous bookshop.

Don Quixote lost his fight with the windmills but he stands guarding this hotel. If you cannot tell I am rather shocked.

Books, no matter in what language they are, are wonderful things, full of hidden treasures and…wonderful things.   Melissa is very happy to have found this little bookshop.

The cathedral…no matter how you try to capture the majesty of it…there are no appropriate words or  good angles.

I tried…Melissa tried…and no matter what we did, we were always missing something.  The height and splendor of that tower and the magnificence of the doors demand a better camera, a wider lens.

Inside was just as marvelously too good for words…maybe a few pictures will help articulate.

The Choir inside the Cathedral.

Behind the Nave

I wandered the city and found artists and craftsmen

A artisan doing damascene, often crafted into jewelry, it is the art form of inlaying precious metal such as gold or silver over steel.

Toledo Spain has a sense of humor too…

This is the Street of Toledo of Ohio. Just a little shout out to home.

And I found the “house” of El Greco!

El Greco’s house…which in now an art museum and has a reconstruction of his studio and living quarters.

There were even street performers…

This one man band reminded me of Bert from Marry Poppins. All the children loved him

Toledo is a city of history and art, music and culinary masterpieces…

This is a replica of Puerta del Sol made out of mazapan, a famous Toledo pastry

Melissa and I joked that we could have eaten our way through Spain, but with tapas like this we really weren’t joking.

…a city whose sky is textured with clouds, blue and the brilliant sun.

The sunset over Toledo

Words cannot express how much I miss Toledo Spain.  There was a part of me that feared my romantic imaginings of this city would lead me to disappointment, but Toledo Spain exceeded my dreams.

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About LizzyBeth

There is a Story inside of me that I must give a voice. I write so that imagination can take me to Faerie and I can catch a glimpse of the Otherworld and hopefully so will you.

Posted on May 4, 2012, in Art, Inspiration, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Rachel Burkholder, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. El Greco is one of my favorite artists! The way he expresses emotion through roiling waves of color and light never fails to enchant me

    • I completely agree. His use of light and the way he elongates figures actually makes his painting come alive and adds such emotion and depth to his subject.

  2. Such beautiful pictures… ^_^

    • I am glad you like them. I cannot take all the credit for the pictures though, some of them Melissa took. She has a really good camera and a great eye!

  3. I too love El Greco’s painting of Toledo. Your story of how you came upon the painting reminded me of how I did. In 1957 my parents bought me a set of World Book Encyclopedias. I was a 3rd grader. When I got to the Paintings they had the picture of El Greco’s dark and gloomy Toledo which I thought it enchanting, mysterious and so foreign to a girl from Illinois.
    Finally on my 3rd. trip to Spain in 2011 I had the pleasure of spending several days there. It is a magical place to wander around in. Now I am getting around to “doing” my photo album and wanted a picture of El Greco’s painting to put next to mine taken from across the river. That’s how I came across your article.
    Happy Travels

    • Oh, I am so glad to have shared a delightful introduction to El Greco. I hope to go to Spain again and enjoy more of the city.
      Happy Travels to you too!

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