El Escorial Library

Our trip to Spain this month found us visiting some incredible sites.  One of our notable visits (for me, at least) was the Monastery and Royal Palace of El Escorial in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial; specifically the Royal Library.

Biblioteca del monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, by Xauxa Håkan Svensson, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The library consists of several rooms (most of them no longer used), however, only the Main Hall is opened to the public.  Measuring 177 feet long, 30 feet wide and 33 feet high it’s one large, wondrous gallery of gorgeous woodwork, frescoes, globes, armillaries and books.  It was established as the Royal library by Phillip II when the palace/monastery was created in the late 16th-century.

The library is believed to have been finished about 1585.  It was the first large-room library to use the “wall system” of book storage – where the bookshelves sit flush, lined up along the walls. Prior to that, libraries used lecterns or stalls to hold and store large folios. The initial 4,000 volumes came from Philip’s personal library, as well as additional books and manuscripts belonging to the Crown but kept elsewhere.

Books were purged over the centuries, particularly by a fire in 1671, but the library still maintains about 40,000 volumes including a number of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts.

The library was designed by architect Juan de Herrera. The Herrera-designed bookcases were built by José Flecha, Juan Senén and Martín de Gamboa. The frescoes were painted by Pellegrino Tibaldi based on a theme defined by Father José de Sigüenza. You can see the influence of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings in these Tibaldi works.

The themed friezes are anchored at each end of the hall by semicircular tympanums; the northern end is Philosophy (acquired knowledge) and the southern end is Theology (revealed knowledge). In between the two, within the seven main panels on the ceiling, are representations of the seven subjects of the liberal arts: the Trivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectics) and Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, Astronomy). Along the sides directly above the bookcases are images of significant historical figures and scenes corresponding to the liberal art designated on the ceiling above them.

Details about the frescoes:

The vault is occupied by personifications of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, painted di sotto in sù and surrounded by giants. In the lunettes are representations of individuals, from antiquity onwards, who had cultivated these disciplines. Scenes on the friezes refer to the trivium and quadrivium. Of the former, Grammar is represented by the School of Babylon and the Tower of Babel, Rhetoric by Hercules the Gaul and Cicero Defending Gaius Rabirius, and Dialectics or Logic by SS Ambrose and Augustine and Zeno of Elea Showing the Gates of Truth and Error.

Of the quadrivium, Arithmetic is represented by the Gymnosophists and Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Music by Orpheus Rescuing Eurydice and David Playing the Harp before Saul, Geometry by the Death of Archimedes and the Priests of Egypt Dividing the Lands and Astronomy by the Solar Eclipse at Heliopolis after the Death of Christ and King Hezekiah Contemplating the Orbit of the Sun.

Philosophy on the north wall (the School of Athens with Zeno and Socrates) and Theology on the south (Constantine the Great at the Council of Nicaea) complete the programme as the basis and goal of knowledge. The upper library is decorated with a comprehensive series of portraits of saints, pontiffs, sages and artists.

Source:  https://el-escorial.com/el-escorial-decoration/

The books are shelved with their spines inwards towards the wall; the gilt-edged pages face outwards with the title written on them – ostensibly to protect the bindings from light and allow the pages to “breathe.”  The effect is quite impressive with gold shimmering at the visitor from within the shelves.

The center of the main hall has tables with a collection of maps, globes, astrolabes, and other scientific items – including an outstanding, huge armillary sphere built by Antonio Santucci about 1582. The world and celestial globes were made by Joan Blaeu about 1660. These items conveyed the scientific dimension that Philip II desired for his library.

I was mesmerized by the room’s beauty and grandeur; and was particularly enchanted by the frescoes and what/who they represented.  I was trying my best to discover the various historic figures’ names represented in all the panels on ribbons next to each.

The library fell into neglect after Philip II’s death in 1598.  There was also the aforementioned fire in 1671.  Philip V decided to create a national library in Madrid and therefore the El Escorial library discontinued any additions to its collections.  Finally, the library was reorganized and catalogued in 1885. Thank goodness it was saved and preserved. It’s a gorgeous and magnificent tribute to knowledge, discovery and beauty!

 

Photos from our visit . . . .

 

Some additional images from Creative Commons on flickr . . .

El Escorial – astronomy ball o’ fun” by Rebecca is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

la biblioteca en el monasterio de san lorenzo” by bob is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

The Library at El Escorial” by John Keogh is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

 

 

 

Sources:

  • Jacques Bosser and Guillaume de Laubier, The Most Beautiful Libraries In The World (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003), 188-197
  • James W.P. Campbell and Will Pryce, The Library: A World History (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2013)
  • Carmen Garcia-Frias and Jose Luis Sancho, Guide – Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial (Madrid: Patrimonio Nacional, 2017), 28-32.
  • Jérôme Coignard, Manuel Jover and Jean-François Lasnier, The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (Connaissance des Arts), 36-39.
  • El Escorial Monastery, el-escorial.co
  • El Escorial, Wikipedia

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

 

Romanticism

 

What is Romanticism?

Ask anyone on the street what “Romanticism” is and you’re likely to get replies that include:  beautiful flowers, surprise gifts, elegant date nights, heartfelt love letters, tender gestures, etc. – – essentially, anything that generates romance between two people in a relationship.

While that concept is nice (and important) it isn’t the same definition of “Romanticism” as my focus in this article.

Specifically, I speak of Romanticism as a state of mind; an attitude or philosophy toward life, the world and the universe that ignites and maintains a passion for living. It is key to living an enriched life and regularly experiencing wonder and joy.

First, let me differentiate between the specifics of this mindset and the historical period commonly referred to as “Romanticism” (with a capital R). There are similarities.

 

The Romanticism Movement

As a response to the age known as The Enlightenment, artists and intellectuals from all over Europe responded (rebelled) against the rigid reason, order, rationalism and conventions of the period. The rebellion took the form of poets, authors, composers, artists, architects and philosophers embracing an approach to their craft that exalted various characteristics including:

  • Emotions, spontaneity, feelings & intuition
  • Imagination, originality and creativity
  • Nature and the Sublime
  • Beauty
  • Freedom/Liberty
  • Individualism and self-becoming
  • Glorification & Idealization of the Past
  • Heroism & hero-worship
  • Mysticism and the mysterious

This Romanticism “movement” occurred roughly between 1770 – 1870. It crossed over individuals of all political leanings (liberals, conservatives, radicals), as well as being embraced by theists and atheists alike.

Many (most) of it’s attributes apply as well to my current definition of “Romanticism” below . . . .

 

Romanticism as a State of Mind

So . . . This Romanticism period ended about 1870. Does that mean it can’t be experienced or made a focus of life in the modern world? Did it cease to exist across the Earth? Is it now taboo? Is it a fluke that anyone in this modern day should still experience and relish some or all of these attributes?

Throughout this web site whenever I mention “Romanticism,” I’m referring to a certain mindset or attitude that can (and does) embrace many of the same characteristics of the Romantic period practitioners. However, this frame of mind doesn’t require us to be world renown artists, writers or philosophers. It’s simply a personality trait that allows one to embrace and live life with joy, passion and gratitude – an enriched life. It’s a philosophy of life that can be adopted by anyone if they so choose. It comes from within you.

This mindset of romanticism allows us to see the beauty and wonder of the world everywhere; to be grateful and appreciate nuances and details so easily overlooked by the typical urban dweller.

The foci I see most vividly contributing to this modern romanticism include:

Adventure – Experience something (anything) beyond the day-to-day mundane. Get out of your couch-potato comfort zone. Savor the uniqueness of a different experience. Appreciate out-of-the-norm surroundings.

Beauty & Aesthetics – Appreciate and be grateful for elegant beauty wherever you find it (music, art, architecture, landscape gardens, decor, nature, human physiology, human behavior, etc.). Surround yourself at home with aesthetic elements that resonate and inspire you.

Freedom/Liberty – Free yourself from the social, cultural, religious and intellectual restraints imposed on you throughout the formal education and social indoctrination you experienced since birth.

Heroism & Idealism – Find real heroes and attempt to emulate their best qualities. Envision in your mind and heart an idealized reality/existence. What qualities of those heroes inspire you? Can you adopt any of their attributes?

Individualism & Self-expression – Be the best and unique self you can (or wish) to be. Continue to improve and self-learn. What would an idealized self and its associated life look like to you? Let that vision inspire you.

Discovery – Expand your horizons to experience and learn beyond the programming you received in school and your upbringing. There’s a universe of exciting knowledge out there for you to discover; be a Knowledge Adventurer.

Nature – Appreciate the beauty and mysteries of nature, whether grand or simple. Visit and envelope yourself in the world’s gorgeous nature-scapes: forests, mountains, gorges, waterfalls, streams, rivers, storms, snowfalls, plains, bays, glaciers, volcanoes, caves, cliffs, arches, desserts, sea-shores. Yet appreciate the simple wonders of nature too, such as a bee gathering nectar from a flower, or a bird nesting and feeding its young.

Building and creating – Create something . . . anything. Make it an expression of yourself. If you do have an interest in some craft or skill but don’t know how, then learn. There’s much to be gained from how-to websites and videos across the internet. Years ago (a mere two decades) you were stuck with trying to locate a book at a store to learn something new. Now the world’s knowledge and skills are shared on the web. Take advantage of that amazing gift.

History – Experience the magic and mysteriousness of all that came before:  relics, ruins, art, architecture; literature – all from decades, centuries and millennia past. Wonder about the people who produced it. What were they like? How did they accomplish it? Who were they? Could they have possessed knowledge and abilities beyond what we know? Ponder on the passage of time and what you may leave for the generations brought forth in the future.

Slow Down and Notice – Develop a heightened awareness of the world around you so you can experience all of the above. Wonder. Ask questions. Challenge mundaneness. Consider reality beyond existing paradigms. Appreciate what you may heretofore ignored.

Feel The Emotion – Get in touch with your emotions while experiencing all of the above. Allow yourself to feel and experience with your heart – a Romantic:  wondering, questioning, discovering, appreciating. Allow the feelings to fill your soul and mind.

 

Romanticism vs Realism

What about realism, empiricism, science, objectivism, rationalism, and their importance to providing an accurate picture of life? Aren’t they important to living a life of reality and practicality?

Sure. But . . . are the two mutually exclusive?

Romanticism:
feeling, emotion, intuition, imagination, wonder, amazement, gratitude, beauty, appreciation, heroism, idealization, history, creating, subjectivism

Realism:
truth, knowledge, understanding, reason, logic, rationalism, empiricism, objectivism

Certainly not.

We are led to believe that you must be one or the other. And usually it’s indicated that we are more tied to Romanticism in our youth, then more likely to move toward Realism as we age and mature. While this might be the general tendency in life, I have to disagree that they are mutually exclusive.

In fact, I believe that the most well-rounded and accomplished in the world possess qualities of both realms.  I would call it “Romantic Intellectualism.”

 

Let Romanticism Enrich Your Life (Romantic Living)

Treasure, savor, appreciate, relish, admire the entire breadth of these gifts of life. Experience gratitude – even the simplest of things. Feel alive – the energy and emotions of gratitude, satisfaction, delight, wonder, awe, passion, bliss, joy, ecstasy, excitement, enchantment.

Desire to rise and live beyond the mundane standards of the herd. Pursue and embrace the elegant over the mundane, the beauty over the ugly. Think of it as a Romanticist way of living – being a “Romantic” at heart.

Have a passion for life. Don’t let yourself plod aimlessly and without inspiration or passion. Seize life. Follow your passions. Make your life wonderful, and share its magic and wonder with those around you – family and friends. Make sure you live such that on your deathbed you have a sense of having truly lived.

Romanticism is wonder. And, no matter how much of a realist you are, there’s always room for Romanticism in your life.

🙂

 

 

 

Some decent sources:

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.