Alexandra Fiedler: España as Text 2022

Photo by Monica Schmitz: CC by 4.0


Alexandra Fiedler is a second-year student at Florida International University who is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Spanish. After moving to Miami from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Alexandra is fascinated by the cultural, historical, and geographical differences between the place she grew up and the places she is experiencing for the first time. Alexandra passionately strives to learn and help others, while expanding her knowledge about the exciting cultural phenomena not just here in Miami, but also abroad in exciting, new places like España!

Madrid as Text

“From the Classroom to Reality”

By Alexandra Fiedler of Florida International University on 13 June, 2022

Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez

Madrid is a city full of rich history, intertwining different cultures, groups of people, and stylistic movements throughout the ages. Being established as the capital of Spain in 1561, Madrid seemingly overflows with the amount of historical significance that its city limits contain. The art especially demonstrates how truly influential and impactful the artists, city, and country have become for the art world. Although Spain has not necessarily popularized or established a “new” style of art, many of the greatest artists this world has seen have originated or established themselves in Spain. Velazquez, El Greco, and Goya, just to name a few of the most memorable, have many prominent works featured in the world-famous El Prado museum in Madrid. 

But what was most fascinating to me as I journeyed through the museum and was transported back in time was realizing just how real all of these works are. It is one thing to learn about Las Meninas by Velazquez and Goya’s Dark Paintings from a textbook or a classroom powerpoint; it is an entirely separate thing to stand directly in front of the works and truly take them in. I especially loved learning in depth about what makes Las Meninas so impressive. The absolute complexity and mystery that shroud the painting due to its usage of paradox, lighting, mirrors, reality, and unique characters truly encapsulate Velazquez’s impeccable talents and special understanding of art. Then as the class ventured to Goya’s painting, La Familia de Carlos IV, I felt I gained a new understanding of the art community, and how talents and techniques inspire others and how individuals constantly adapt well-established techniques to develop uniquely powerful pieces of their own. Seeing Goya standing in the back of his own painting of the Spanish royal family seemed eerily similar to Velazquez’s own self-depiction in Las Meninas. However, the energy of the two paintings were clearly contrasting. Goya appeared in the shadows, seeming unwanted or unnoticed by his superiors, while Velazquez appeared to be adequately intermixed into his surroundings. This noticeable difference possibly indicates the different ways the two men viewed themselves in their profession. Perhaps Velazquez felt more self-assured and valued in his work, while Goya viewed his work as something he had been tasked with doing–not feeling particularly special or important to those who commissioned him–leading him to feel as if he belonged with the shadows. 

La Familia de Carlos IV by Goya

The intensity with which I studied and pondered the works of art simply could not be possible in any other setting than El Museo del Prado. The environment most simply caters to deep thought and curiosity. As I traversed the museum, I felt transported all throughout the past, both through time and space. I felt like I was in Goya’s lonely home while studying his Dark Paintings, I felt like I had experienced the greatest eras of classicalism in Rome, I felt like I was also witnessing the lives of royal families through the eyes of their artists. It was a surreal experience that has enriched my experience here in Madrid, and has only made me more eager to discover all the other incredible things this city has to offer. 

Toledo as Text

“Toledo Through the Eyes of an Artist”

By Alexandra Fiedler of Florida International University on 15 June, 2022

If there is one man who has truly made his mark on Toledo, it has to be El Greco. Born in modern day Crete by the name of Domḗnikos Theotokópoulos, it is no wonder that he eventually received his iconic nickname when living and working in Toledo in the late 1500s. The class was lucky enough to see some of his greatest works throughout our voyage through Toledo. The most iconic had to be The Burial of Count Orgaz, a painting several feet high and wide, commissioned for the titular Count after his death. El Greco masterfully incorporated elements from both the human world and the heavenly realm, with Count Orgaz’s ascending soul breaching the divide between the two realities. The mannerist style of painting, the complexity of characters, and the impressive use of religious and historical figures come together to create a visual masterpiece. 

Photograph by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0

The class then visited Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada, which was home to an impressive 19 different Greco paintings just in the room where priests get dressed: a sacristy. The visit to the cathedral really brought to life how much of a staple El Greco was in Toledo. He did not just paint a work here or there, he was commissioned several dozens of times to create a vast range of beautiful works that decorate various establishments throughout the city. 

However, the most impactful way I experienced El Greco’s work on our trip was when a group of us hiked to the very spot where he painted the iconic View of Toledo. It was a magical experience; staring over the wall of Toledo, seeing the cathedral towers, steeples, and the sprawling city. I felt transported back in time, like I could have been there when El Greco was. It was so surreal thinking that I was viewing the same exact place as this insanely talented artist from the 1500s–except with some modern improvements of course. That experience I got to share with friends made the excruciating heat and exhaustion fade to the back of my mind. It is not everyday that I get a chance to experience something as cool and unique as the view of Toledo, and I would do it all over again in 105 degree heat if given the chance. 

Photograph by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0

Cordoba as Text

Photograph by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0

“Mosque or Cathedral?” 

By Alexandra Fiedler of Florida International University on June 21, 2022

Similar to many of the other locations throughout Spain, Cordoba has a rich yet turbulent history, in which different religious and cultural groups grappled for control over the immediate region and even extending into the surrounding areas. The thing that truly draws millions of people into the ancient city year after year is the great Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. One of the most unique structures in the world, the Mosque-Cathedral is an excellent example of the cultural mixing and convivencia that was once characteristic of Spain. 

The convivencia refers to the period of time in Spain in which people from different religions cohabited Spain peacefully, and without religious persecution of the other groups. Typically, it is used in reference to Christians, Muslims, and Jews all coexisting harmoniously in Spain before the 1492 Inquisition in which Christianity became the only legal religion, and the other religious groups were forced to either leave Spain, convert, or be killed. 

The Mosque-Cathedral highlights the somewhat troubling history where Catholics took the mosque from the Muslims when they gained control of Cordoba. But due to its impressive architecture and magnificent artwork, the Catholics decided to convert the mosque into a cathedral as opposed to destroying it in their normal manner. From that point on, only Catholicism could be practiced within the former mosque’s walls, meaning that Muslims would no longer be able to use one of the greatest mosques in the world to practice their religion–even though it was designed as a place to worship in the Islamic faith. 

Much controversy has been caused by the conversion of the mosque into a cathedral, as many people purport that it should be returned to the Muslim community, since the greatness of the now iconic mosque truly started from their deeply ingenious artistic and architectural designs. However, the point remains that the mosque would have been destroyed during the country’s strictly Catholic years if it had not been converted into a cathedral for practicing Catholicism. In that sense, the Catholics saved the mosque, and it is only due to their efforts that we are able to view the magnitude of the creation thousands of years later. 

I personally don’t know how to feel about the Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba. Being raised Catholic, I know how seriously Catholics take their sacred spaces, meaning that the Cathedral-Mosque will never be returned to the Islamic people. Once it has been blessed, it would be viewed as desecrating the space for any other religion to be practiced there. Howveer, my heart truly goes out to the Muslim people who feel that their place of worship has been stolen front hem. In a sense–it has. But history is twisted, complicated, with lots of gray areas. The Catholics are the reason it is not a mosque anymore, but the Catholics are the reason the mosque exists today in any capacity. I don’t have the answer for what should be done: it would be nice to see a place where the two religions could coexist peacefully, but it just simply is not realistic. Although the convivencia may have thrived in the past, when it comes to something as delicate and complicated as this particular Mosque-Cathedral, I cannot be sure how any ending would make everyone happy. Hopefully, through honest communication and compromising dialogue, the affected groups can find ways to continue to honor both traditions while preserving the extraordinary piece of history. 

Sevilla as Text

Photograph by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0

“Not Black and White”

By Alexandra Fiedler of Florida International University on June 19, 2022

Although today it is viewed as a beautiful yet quaint historical city, Sevilla was once one of the most powerful places in the world. Viewed as the gateway to the Americas, Sevilla’s Torre de Oro is the place where each ship coming and going to the Americas had to pass through in order to be processed and pay taxes.

Sevilla was such a notable port that Magellen’s excursion around the globe even began and ended in that very place. The crew of well over 200 men began their journey with a prayer in the Cathedral of Sevilla, and the 18 men who remained at the journey’s conclusion finished their voyage with another prayer at that very place. 

But perhaps the most infamous usage of Sevilla’s ports is that of Christopher Columbus. He began by asking for financial support from the king and queen in Alhambra in Granada. Once his monumental voyage got approved, he set off for India. As is very well known, instead of establishing a new route to India in 1492, he was the first of the Europeans to discover the Americas. 

What is most fascinating to me is how different the perception of Christopher Columbus is in the United States as opposed to here in Spain. As the class traversed across Sevilla, we noticed several different monuments to the aforementioned. It appears that here they have a lot of pride in Columbus and what he achieved, while the US seems to focus much more heavily on what he did wrong. There seems to be less understanding about what was acceptable for the times, and more of wanting to hold him accountable to the standards of the present day. There truly is no clear cut answer for how he should be regarded or how his legacy should be remembered. It is a very messy slice of history that cannot be broken down into black and white. 

Barcelona as Text

“Barcelona: A City of Style”

By Alexandra Fiedler of Florida International University on June 24, 2022.

If there is one thing I learned after spending a week getting to know the beautiful city of Barcelona, it’s that the city has style. Aside from its unique cultural identity, identifying itself as Catalonia as opposed to part of Spain, Barcelona has also developed a uniquely stunning style of artwork that can be discovered throughout the urban sprawl. Modernismo quickly became one of my favorite architectural styles that I saw all throughout Spain due to its special integration of naturalistic elements, implementation of materials such as glass, ceramics, and mosaics, and usage of curves over typical straight lines and edges. I was lucky enough to see some truly beautiful examples of Modernismo art and architecture throughout Barcelona in places such as the Palau de La Música Catalana, Park Guell, and La Sagrada Familia.

Photograph by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0

The Palau de La Música Catalana was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner and is one of the most iconic musical theaters of all time. Decorated in highly ornate ceramics, one can marvel for hours at the intricacies that line the walls and ceiling. But the true masterpiece of the theater is the giant golden orb hanging down from the center of the ceiling. Acting as a sun to light up the room, the impressively detailed glass glows unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Surrounding the sun are thousands of ceramic roses, dozens of chandeliers, and ornate statues depicting majestic animals and mythical muses alike. Montaner’s masterful use of the Modernismo elements like the incorporation of nature and inexpensive materials create something beyond breathtaking that people still enjoy over 100 years later. 

Photograph by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0

Learning from his mentor Montaner, Antoni Gaudí went on to create some of the most iconic architectural structures in all of Spain such as Park Guell and La Sagrada Família. Focusing on Park Guell, it was an unfortunately unfinished project Gaudí took on in which he intended to design 40 houses in his own unique way. Although only two houses were ever completed, an incredible community gathering area was also designed and completed. What makes it so special is Gaudi’s usage of ‘trencadís,’ a style in which pieces of ceramics, tiles, and glass are broken by hand and then reassembled into a mosaic design. It is said that Gaudí would tell his workers to bring any bottles or pieces of tile they found into work which he then would incorporate into the artwork. Park Guell was unlike any mosaic I’d come across and I loved how it transitioned from design to design, from color to color. It was highly apparent that someone with a masterfully artistic mind had to have been the one to put it all together. Regardless if the original project was finished, it was still such a blessing to be able to see any part of Park Guell at all. Modernismo makes Barcelona a truly unique place to experience creativity and artistry you can’t truly replicate anywhere else. 

Sitges as Text

Photograph by Jena Nassar//CC by 4.0

“Deering’s Estate(s)”

Perhaps the best example of the Ida y Vuelta theme of our study abroad was presented to us in Sitges. A short train ride from Barcelona, the picturesque beach town sits right on the coast. Atop a seaside hill, we approached a white stuccoed complex of buildings. The first hint that this was something similar to what the class experienced in Miami was the iconic logo that adorned the Deering Estate back home. The rising red sun over the blue waves was also the signature of Charles Deering’s home, art collection, and museum here in Sitges. It was so fascinating to see where his art collection truly began because I was much more familiar with seeing his former collection and estate back in the United States. I really enjoyed the tour we received as it was incredibly enlightening to the thought and dedication Deering had to the arts. He worked with other art appreciators, namely Miquel Utrillo, to amass works from throughout Spain and even other parts of Europe. 

Photograph by Alexandra Fiedler//CC by 4.0

Walking into the house immediately amazed me because I was not expecting it to look the way it did. The house was set up in a salón style, meaning almost all the available space on the walls was covered in artwork. Whether it was paintings, drawings, decorative plates, stained glass, or tapestries, there was something covering absolutely everything. Perhaps it is because the Stone House in Miami has been almost entirely emptied, but the Cau Ferrat Museum really brought Charles Deering to life in my mind. It was much easier to visualize an eccentric  and passionate art collector when I was staring at his Goya paintings and Picasso drawings. Overall, it was really special to see the place where Deering’s collection began that would eventually be transported across oceans to end up in our very own Miami, Florida. 

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