Live From Madrid: Private Tours of Madrid and Museo del Prado

This is a continuation of yesterday’s Live From Madrid: Carrera y Carrera’s Plans, part of a series of blogs based on a trip to Madrid happening now.

Svetlana Kuznetsova of the Carrera y Carrera communications team and tour guide–cum–local historian Virginia González Quintana meet me in the lobby of the Hotel Villa Real at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. According to the itinerary, a tour of the city is in order, though I’m not sure if it’s by foot or car. It will be a walking tour, reveals Kuznetsova, a petite blond Russian transplant who moved to Spain six years ago after marrying a Spaniard.

From left: historian and guide Virginia González Quintana and Carrera y Carrera's Svetlana Kuznetsova

From left: historian and guide Virginia González Quintana and Carrera y Carrera’s Svetlana Kuznetsova

We leave the hotel, and Quintana directs us down cobblestone streets, stopping periodically to point out historic places. We see Casa Alberto, an old pub the red exterior of which indicated to Spain’s illiterates that the building offered red wine, and where Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes is said to have done some writing. We see myriad plazas and repurposed buildings, such as the chapel that became a stock market and was converted into a restaurant; Habsburg-era influences (think brick buildings accented with granite from the north of Spain); and displays of Mudéjar styling that nod to the country’s onetime Muslim stronghold and are also evident in CyC’s Palacios del Sur collection. We also see the oldest shoe store in Madrid, Alpagatería, which had a line of espadrille-seeking customers that went out the door. A line for a shoe store? That was as curious to me as Spain’s love of ham (“Ham is a religion here,” CyC’s Cristina Moya told me at dinner last night). “Tradition,” explained Quintana, adding that it was customary for Spaniards to buy myriad pairs each summer. I bet jewelers wish they had clients of the same ilk.

Bracelet from Carrera y Carrera's Palacios del Sur collection

Bracelet from the Palacios del Sur collection with lattice-like effects borrowed from the architecture of a mosque in Cordoba, Spain

Casa Alberto, an old pub whose red exterior indicated to Spain’s illiterates that the building offered red wine, and where Cervantes is said to have done some writing

Casa Alberto, an old pub the red exterior of which indicated to Spain’s illiterates that the building offered red wine, and where Cervantes is said to have done some writing

The oldest shoe store in Madrid dubbed Alpagatería, which had a line of customers out the door who wanted to buy espradilles

Customers wait outside Alpagatería, the oldest shoe store in Madrid, to buy espadrilles.

By the afternoon, Kuznetsova and I moved on to the Museo del Prado, where we met with Paloma Malaga, the cultural activities director for the museum who has also given CyC designers private tours. In December 2011, for example, she took the six-person design team on a jewelry-specific walk through the museum, showing them 16th-century paintings rich in crown jewels. Then in Baselworld 2013, CyC debuted the Tesoros del Imperio collection of pieces inspired by lace, embroidery, and ruffled fashions dating to the Spanish Golden Age. (This year’s Seda Imperial collection, meanwhile, speaks to the legend of the Manila shawl and is rich in floral and bird motifs.)

This tour was more magical than I could have ever expected, and Malaga, like her museum’s paintings, is a treasure in her own right. She is a walking encyclopedia of artist and collection facts whose heart most certainly belonged to Francisco de Goya in another life. She showed us portrait after portrait of his work, recalling intimate details—Goya was the resident artist for the royal family, and his dislike for them was evident on canvas—with giddy excitement that never waned, though she’s been telling these stories for 16-plus years as a staffer. One such tale: health complications with the queen in the 19th century left her toothless, an imperfection the portraitist did not remedy with brushstrokes. In all of her portraits, Goya gave her a tight-lipped smirk instead of a toothy smile—a deliberate move made to insult (not inspire) and that backfired when a flattered queen hired Goya to paint full time.  

Malaga’s jewelry-specific tour of the art shed a direct light on countless design inspirations. The famed Pilgrim Pearl and Pond Diamond—significant jewels that went missing at different points in Spanish history—adorned subjects of several paintings, while the women of Peter Paul Rubens’ The Three Graces had pearls woven through their hair. Female subjects of the 19th century, meanwhile, sported pairs of heavy gold bracelets and sometimes multiple rings across several fingers, including the index and pinky.

“And before you go, you must see Bosch,” Malaga explained, leading us to yet another level of the museum. “Bosch will change your mind.”

She was referring to 16th-century Dutch prodigy Hieronymus Bosch, whose futuristic Garden of Earthly Delights had nothing to do with jewelry, but like Malaga’s knowledge of art history, left a memorable impression.

Jennifer Heebner with Paloma Malaga, , the cultural activities director for the Museo del Prado

Me with Paloma Malaga, the cultural activities director for the Museo del Prado

Stay tuned for the final installment of the Live From Madrid series tomorrow. And for more snaps and other highlights from my trip, follow me on Instagram @jenniferheebner and Twitter @jenniferheebner.

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