Walking the streets of Guanajuato, Mexico, I happened to pass the Museo Iconográfica de Don Quijote on free entry day. Why not? Maybe I was just in the right mood, but what I found inside was astonishing. So many beautiful representations of the Knight of the Sad Countenance! The first room was a nice introduction, and the next two rooms had me near tears. Powerful variations. Romantic (a la Goya), realist, existentialist, things in the German expressionist vein. And the color palettes of the paintings. Pastel patches reminiscent of Paris, burnt orange-red Mexican backdrops, everything. Sculptures in subdued classical and overwrought baroque. Then more paintings – cartoonish ones, sci fi ones, ones that seem to emerge from graphic novels or from a pulp fiction romance of the American West. Weird cubist ones, soft rounded figures in a naïve folk style. And the spaces. Beside the classical museum-format rooms, a Spanish-style courtyard braced by rock solid columns formed a center, with a room to the side like a topsy-turvy chapel. Then a postmodern painting, opaque in meaning, and a modernist sculpture, stretched, fragmented, monumental in size but struggling with itself for coherence. So many shades of Cervantes’s character that all of human nature and human history and human paradox seemed expressed through this one man, imaginary but so multifaceted and universal that one suspects he is more real than the shadowy, ephemeral beings who pop into being and evaporate into nothing after 60 or 80 years. And the art itself. It was as if Don Quijote were a perfect lens through which all of the styles and periods and possibilities of art came into focus. I didn’t notice if any famous artists were curated here (although I later heard that they were indeed) because I was too absorbed in the images to bother to look for the temporal names of the creators.
The only weakness, from my point of view, was the lighting. Given the magnificent range and beauty of the pieces, the lighting did not maximize the power and nuance of the objets d’art, nor of the architectural space itself, to best effect. Also, I would have liked to see a bit more of Sancho, maybe more reflections on Sancho detached from his master.
Despite the niches for improvement, this small museum was one of a handful of my favorites from around the world. I could spend all day there going deeper and deeper into the thought and emotion, the pain and the beauty of lived experience, as conjured up by the madman of La Mancha. At the very least, anyone interested in all the possibilities of portraiture should make a pilgrimage to this beautiful city and this museum.
(Forgive the low-end cell phone photography.)