Cespedes: Poem on Painting

aa3I’ll start out here, Painter of the World.
On the first and second days
Right up to the last day of rest,
From confused and shadowy chaos you brought
A happy face to light from out of the deep;
And the bright shining heavenly throne
Of most varied and perfect painting,

Which decks the sky with purple tints,
So distant from our human bustle,
And with different flaming lights
Adorns the shining sovereign enamel:
You show your skilful and mighty hand
When you so marvellously paint
The great signs of the ethereal cloister
On the western and the southern sides.


Here I offer you two verses from Pablo de Céspedes Poem on Painting from Teoría de la Pintura del Siglo de Oro edited by Francisco Calvo Serraller  (Madrid: Cátedra, 1991).

The Siglo de Oro is the Spanish Golden Age and there are many treatises in this collection that give valuable biographical and technical information about artistic practice in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  I find the debate about the nobility of painting fascinating and, even after studying the period in depth, I am continually struck by the paradoxes.

For example, it is Velázquez’s work that makes him of interest to me, not his nobility.  I could really give a fig whether he was a knight of the Order of Santiago or not.  Yet painters were keen to make the point that they were not mere craftsmen and that their work should be considered alongside poetry, music and philosophy, not sculpture, ceramics and textiles.

This poem gives us the image of God painting the world.  It is a loose translation.  Although I generally prefer to stick closely to the original the involuted phrases just sounded pompous in English.  The Spanish is lively, varied and intriguing.  Maybe I’ll put some more of it up when I have the time.

I did the painting on a cold day at the weekend.  A wren came down and hopped in front of me contre-jour to provide me with the main motif!

About Jason Preater

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9 Responses to Cespedes: Poem on Painting

  1. russellboyle says:

    The loose translation works well. Lovely painting…


  2. nannus says:

    Winter seems endless this year and we are waiting for spring, and there it is, in your painting.

    “From confused and shadowy chaos you brought
    A happy face to light from out of the deep”



  3. kestrelart says:

    Interesting poem. I love the painting. Acrylic?


    • Yes. I am using old mounting board that I have cut into strips that fit in my hiking bag. I have a pretty basic set of colours but it does me. I was out again today- sitting in the rain.


      • kestrelart says:

        Thanks. Can i ask? In the rain, how resistant is this? Can you actually paint with rain falling on the board? I might try this.


      • I usually use old paint to give a mid-tone to the board before I go out and, because it is acrylic, that makes it pretty resistant to the rain. Actually, I do all this in the wood. When I finish painting I use the left over paint to prepare for my next session: it makes me feel like I am anticipating my next foray! If it rains a lot, like it did yesterday, I return with a pretty soggy bit of board all the same, but it dries out OK.


  4. Just love this painting.


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