Cultivating Madrid: Public Space and Middle-Class Culture in the Spanish Capital, 1833-1890

Cultivating Madrid: Public Space and Middle-Class Culture in the Spanish Capital, 1833-1890

Cultivating Madrid: Public Space and Middle-Class Culture in the Spanish Capital, 1833-1890

Cultivating Madrid: Public Space and Middle-Class Culture in the Spanish Capital, 1833-1890

Synopsis

Interdisciplinary in approach, 'Cultivating Madrid' argues that gardens and garden imagery trouble the distinction not only between nature and artifice, but also between reality and representation in general, and are thus crucial to understanding realism and the process of modernisation in Spain.

Excerpt

“IF nature had been comfortable,” oscar wilde wrote in 1889, “mankind would not have invented architecture” (Wilde 1989, 34). and had it been orderly, neither would mankind have invented parks. Wilde’s argument in “The Decay of Lying” is unabashedly aesthetic, based on the presumption that nature imitates art, not the other way around: “the more we study Art,” professes Vivian, one of the text’s two interlocutors, from a library overlooking a terrace in Nottinghamshire, “the less we care for Nature:” “What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition…. When I look at a landscape I cannot help seeing its defects…. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to show Nature her proper place” (34). Nature is unfinished, Wilde maintains, and design is its remedy, allowing “mankind” the means to overcome the landscape’s inherent “crudities” and “defects.” Vivian’s point of view echoes a Spaniard’s from over a century before, when Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos wrote in his Informe sobre la ley agraria [Report on Agrarian Law] (1794) that the foremost role of the Enlightened crown should be to conquer the obstacles (“vencer … estorbos”) that nature presented to market reform (1997, 407). Some forty years later, Jovellanos’s words on restructuring the rural landscape found their way into Ramón de Mesonero Romanos’s plans for modernizing Madrid, in which he sought to remake the city in the image of Europe’s other leading capitals, largely by assessing “las causas físicas que la naturaleza puede oponer en nuestro pueblo a la perfección deseada, y tratando de investigar los medios con que el arte puede vencerlas o modificarlas” [the physical . . .

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