Of Spain, the Great Armada and a Masterpiece called, “Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber”

A place after my heart, Balboa Park spreads over 1200 acres and is the largest urban cultural park in the country, home to museums, gardens, theaters as also to the world famous San Diego Zoo. Never do I tire of visiting the park. Today is a perfect summer day, sunny yet cool, an ideal one to be roaming Balboa Park and discovering it anew. Walking along old Spanish Colonial buildings that date back to the pre World War I era, I can’t help thinking of how great a power Spain once was and of the colossal Spanish Armada. The many statues of Spanish generals and heroes on horseback in the park evoke images of Spain’s glorious political past. The Spanish Armada comprising 130 ships may have fallen in 1588, there by altering forever the course of history but timeless art from Renaissance Spain continues to live and shine inside Balboa Park’s San Diego Museum of Art, which houses many treasures from 16th and 17th century Spain, where dismissive of the winds of reformation, art flourished under the patronizing umbrella of both the monarchy and the church. Having made their way to the new world, many great artifacts of that time are now the pride of the San Diego Museum of Art, where art lovers can savor Spanish masters like El Greco, Juan Sanchez Cotan, Ribera, Zubaran and Murillo all in one go. My favorite Spanish still life at the museum is Juan Sanchez Cotan’s 1602 masterpiece, “Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber,” which made it across the waters to the United States when the dethroned Emperor of Spain Joseph Bonaparte fled here with his loot soon after the defeat of his brother Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo. Joseph Bonaparte’s loot comprised among other things this great painting which is one of San Diego’s most precious collectables. Instead of painting kings or angels, Juan Sanchez Cotan chose to paint a quince, a cabbage, a melon and a cucumber, the first two dangling and the last two sitting in a dark square windowsill. The painting speaks of a simple life, upholding humble produce as being sacred to creation, worthy of our highest reverence. The painting has been variously interpreted by experts. To me, it is a permanent reminder of the transience of all things, be it a perfect looking quince, the most luscious cabbage, the sweetest of melons, the freshest cucumber or the might of a king and his presumably invincible fleet of ships. I am not going to let that hold me back, however, from taking in the wonder of now. Life is a painting steeped in meaning.

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