As I stood in awe looking at El Bosco’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” in The Prado, Madrid, I realised that something had changed. Not in the painting but in myself.

Nine months earlier I looked at the Mona Lisa in The Louvre and thought “isn’t it a bit small”? Six months earlier I sat on a bench surrounded by The Slave Epic in Prague and thought “these are far too big to take in”!

My brain was acting in its hard wired way with immediate sensory perception overwhelming any ability to perceive anything else. This is what happens when we taste coffee with added sugar and think “sweet”, or touch a radiator and sense “heat”. It happens when we see a field of sunflowers and only perceive “yellow” before moving on without seeing how they face in one direction, their regimental lines, that there is as much green as yellow ……… But what I saw and felt in The Prado showed that this “hard wired immediate sensing” could be bypassed because now I was seeing and understanding the relationship of the three triptychs, the message across the whole piece of art, marvelling at the construction of The Tree Man and the weird interpretations that could be made.

The Tree Man in The Garden of Earthly Delights

A few hours later I sat in the Plaza Mayor, Dr C with her latte and me with my Ribera Del Duero seeing MORE than just buildings and people. The stonework, tiles, variety of colours, ironwork, balconies, people on rooftop gardens, the different light and shadow on each side of the square. Had I gone mad? I got up and wandered around the four sides of the square and stopped behind two artists sitting together chatting but not painting anything. Strangely I found myself going behind them to look at whatever they were regarding and discussing, it was the building you see in the photo below with fantastic symmetry of the architecture, a wonderful colour, shimmering almost blinding reflected light, and ironwork carefully blending with the form and structure of the masonry.

Later that evening we sat in a nearby restaurant and talked about what I had seen and felt that day, sadly Dr C wasn’t party to all of it as she wasn’t well enough to visit and walk around The Prado. Suddenly I noticed the detail of the décor in an adjacent room and went to explore. I took a photo which as shown below ISN’T what the camera saw, it’s what I perceived and thought about the scene, removing all colour except the striking red.

There is no doubt that personally I had changed in how I perceived everyday things around me. Maybe it had come about because across the year we had travelled to many European cities, visited many art galleries and museums, sat in squares and plazas of varied architecture. Maybe there is a strong connection between visual art and appreciating a scene indoors or outdoors, in a city or the country and that they enrich each other.

And so maybe this enhanced sense of beauty also influences where we would like to travel to and what we do when we get there to be much more mindful of our surroundings. I need to work this out!