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Woman Triumphant (La Maja Desnuda)

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It was eleven o'clock in the morning when Mariano Renovales reached the Museo del Prado. Several years had passed since the famous painter had entered it. The dead did not attract him; very interesting they were, very worthy of respect, under the glorious shroud of the centuries, but art was moving along new paths and he could not study there under the false glare of the skylights, where he saw reality only through the temperaments of other men. A bit of sea, a mountainside, a group of ragged people, an expressive head attracted him more than that palace, with its broad staircases, its white columns and its statues of bronze and alabaster—a solemn pantheon of art, where the neophytes vacillated in fruitless confusion, without knowing what course to follow.

The master Renovales stopped for a few moments at the foot of the stairway. He contemplated the valley through which you approach the palace—with its slopes of fresh turf, dotted at intervals with the sickly little trees—with a certain emotion, as men are wont to contemplate, after a long absence, the places familiar to their youth. Above the scattered growth the ancient church of Los Jerónimos, with its gothic masonry, outlined against the blue sky its twin towers and ruined arcades. The wintry foliage of the Retiro served as a background for the white mass of the Casón. Renovales thought of the frescos of Giordano that decorated its ceilings. Afterwards, he fixed his attention on a building with red walls and a stone portal, which pretentiously obstructed the space in the foreground, at the edge of the green slope. Bah! The Academy! And the artist's sneer included in the same loathing the Academy of Language and the other Academies—painting, literature, every manifestation of human thought, dried, smoked, and swathed, with the immortality of a mummy, in the bandages of tradition, rules, and respect for precedent.

A gust of icy wind shook the skirts of his overcoat, his long beard tinged with gray and his wide felt hat, beneath the brim of which protruded the heavy locks of his hair, that had excited so much comment in his youth, but which had gradually grown shorter with prudent trimming, as the master rose in the world, winning fame and money.

Renovales felt cold in the damp valley. It was one of those bright, freezing days that are so frequent in the winter in Madrid. The sun was shining; the sky was blue; but from the mountains, covered with snow, came an icy wind, that hardened the ground, making it as brittle as glass. In the corners, where the warmth of the sun did not reach, the morning frost still glistened like a coating of sugar. On the mossy carpet, the sparrows, thin with the privations of winter, trotted back and forth like children, shaking their bedraggled feathers.

The stairway of the Museo recalled to the master his early youth, when at sixteen he had climbed those steps many a time with his stomach faint from the wretched meal at the boarding-house. How many mornings he had spent in that old building copying Velásquez!...