(Forward) What Do You Do When You Come Face To Face With The Spanish Inquisition?

My article “What Do You Do When You Come Face To Face With The Spanish Inquisition?” — about paintings at the Prado Museum in Madrid and the Harvard Art Museums — appears in the Jewish Daily Forward.

Here’s the lede:

“Nobody,” the Monty Python skit goes, “expects the Spanish Inquisition,” and the same goes for visitors to the Prado Museum in Madrid. Turning a corner on the second floor, viewers come face-to-face with Emilio Sala Francés’ 1889 painting “The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain.”

Expulsion of the Jews. Emilio Salas

The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain (in the year 1492). Emilio Sala. 1889. Oil on canvas. Madrid, Prado Museum. (Click to enlarge)

In the picture, a lavishly-dressed Jewish emissary has laid a treasure chest at the feet of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, who sit enthroned beneath a canopy bearing their motto, “Tanto Monta.” Just as it’s impossible for viewers to connect with the messenger — his back is turned, and it’s easy to get lost in the folds of his lavish attire — his plea to prevent his people’s expulsion falls flat.

All eyes, save the apparently-napping queen’s, are on the modestly-attired monk Tomás de Torquemada, who dramatically casts a crucifix on the box. The message is clear from Spain’s first grand inquisitor, whose name Britannica notes “has become synonymous with the Christian Inquisition’s horror, religious bigotry, and cruel fanaticism.” If the Catholic monarchs accept this Jewish blood money, they might as well be Judas selling Jesus out to the Romans.

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