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ArribaAbajo Cervantes the Painter of Thoughts139

Helena Percas De Ponseti

Grinnell College

Throughout his novel, Cervantes presents verbally and depicts graphically the moral issues he raises. Although no conclusions are verbally drawn, Cervantes' moral and ethical stands are pictorially clarified. In my talk I shall use the terms impressionism, expressionism and surrealism, not coined until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, because Cervantes' literary practices fit the meanings these terms usually convey. Impressionism refers to the immediate, non-critical impression on the artist of objective reality and his conveyance of it. Expressionism refers to the artist's critical, subjective expression of objective reality. Surrealism refers to the artist's representation of what he conceives to lie below or beyond objective reality.

Don Quijote voices Cervantes' claim that «the painter and writer are one and the same» (II, 71). The narrator-editor, a character in the book, affirms that Cide Hamete, the manifest author of Don   —136→   Quijote, «paints thoughts» and «reveals intentions» («pinta los pensamientos, descubre las imaginaciones», II, 40).

But is Cide Hamete aware that his realistic-impressionistic depiction of characters has an expressionistic dimension adumbrating their psychology; that his detailed reporting of events contains surrealistic penstrokes prompting provocative ideas; that he is a forerunner of painters to come? Cide Hamete and his creator, Cervantes, are offering two different views of life through the same words. While Cide Hamete gives the facts, Cervantes runs a pictorial commentary. How this is so is the subject of this paper.

The analogy between painting and writing in Cervantes' masterpiece is explicitly brought up by Don Quijote in the course of a conversation about the history earlier published of the knight's adventures (II, 3). This is the story or history known to the reader as Part I of Don Quijote. The knight rightly suspects that the author of his biography (Cide Hamete) «set himself to write it down blindly and without any method to turn out whatever may come» («salga lo que saliere»), and compares him to Orbaneja, the painter of Ubeda, who, when asked what he was painting, replied: «Whatever it turns out to be» («lo que saliere»). Don Quijote goes on the elaborate:

Sometimes he painted a cock in such a fashion and so unlike one that he had to write in Gothic characters beside it: «This is a cock».

(II, 3)                

Behind the good-humored anecdotic reference to Orbaneja's artistic limitations, and by extension to Cide Hamete's, we detect Cervantes' serious statement of artistic purpose. Mimetic representation of reality is rejected as false. External reality -actions, conversations, settings- though necessary to maintain coherence and continuity on the narrative level does not tell the «truth», a term repeatedly used throughout the novel, about the essence of reality. The writer, like the painter, must deal with the appearance of reality in such a way as to give objective expression to inner experience, precisely what the expressionistic painter purports to do.140

An ambiguity in the lettering style of the «Gothic characters» of Orbaneja's label «This is a cock» gives us a further clue as to how we   —137→   must approach Cide Hamete's «paintings» and labels. From the context we gather that Gothic characters are large,141 thick letters,142 or Roman capitals,143 clearly stating what the subject matter is about.

However, if we are to believe the authoritative sixteenth-century linguist Covarrubias, Gothic characters means «coarse, artless, and plebeian letters drawn by men of little intelligence».144 Indeed, Don Quijote's fear that his biography «will need a commentary to be understood» because his author is «an ignorant chatterer», and Sancho's instinct that Cide Hamete writes the first thing that comes into his «noggin» («magín»), «mixing everything up» («berzas con capachos», II, 3) coincide with Covarrubias' definition. Therefore, by using Gothic characters to make his label perfectly clear, Cide Hamete is unconsciously betraying his incompetence to understand and interpret the reality he is depicting as well as his ineptitude in imparting meaning. «Gothic» expresses a negative judgment of the painter's -writer's- artistry and discernment.

There is a third meaning of Gothic characters. If we accept the deductions of two informed sources as reliable as Covarrubias, Georges Cirot and Millares Carlo, they are the Visigothic script found in medieval manuscripts difficult to decipher even for expert linguists.145 Readers who are aware of this third meaning will understand that the apparent clarity of the label is deceptive.

What are we to conclude from the Orbaneja anecdote? The analogy between Cide Hamete's unsophisticated and coarse depiction of reality and Orbaneja's unsophisticated and coarse brushstrokes, and the amphibology of the supposedly clarifying label suggest, by implication, that the text of Don Quixote to which the anecdote refers contains graphic and linguistic distortions aimed at extending meanings and revealing hidden messages. In fact, the «moles» on the face of the narrative are really the «beauty spots» that enhance it (II,   —138→   3). Indeed, we should praise the author «not for what he writes but for what he has left unwritten» (II, 44).

On the surface of the story «there is nothing to raise any difficulty», Sansón Carrasco declares. To prove his point he reports that whenever people see a lean horse go by they cry: «There goes Rocinante». In the context of Don Quijote's misgivings about his author's lack of insight to portray him faithfully, Rocinante is a coarse label heard by Cide Hamete from Sansón's lips and con-critically jotted down by the manifest author. It is a metaphor concealing Cervantes' emblem of Don Quijote's carnal side. Where Cide Hamete writes Rocinante, Cervantes means Don Quijote's animal nature.146 Throughout the novel mounts reflect their riders' natures, and in general animals in Cervantes' works allude to human personality traits as I have repeatedly observed.147

Let us see a couple of examples from Part II in which Cervantes has clearly elaborated his painting technique. On the road ahead, Don Quijote and Sancho suddenly see, crosswise, an open wagon loaded with the strangest figures imaginable: Death with a human face; an Angel with large painted wings; an Emperor with a crown, apparently of gold, on his head; the God Cupid without his blindfold, but with his bow, quiver and arrows; an ugly demon driving the mules; and, among other characters, a knight singled out thus: «There was also a knight in complete armor and ready for battle («de punta en blanco») except that he wore no helmet or head piece, but a hat instead crowned with multi-colored plumes» (II, 11): a «cock» with a «Gothic label». The wagon with its striking cargo suddenly encountered barring the road is a surrealist spectacle deliberately drawn by Cervantes to provoke the reader's discernment. Don Quijote is amazed. He is reminded of Charon's boat, a pagan image.

The figures turn out to be a troupe of actors dressed in the costumes of the roles they are to play at their next performance of an   —139→   auto, a miracle play, The Parliament of Death, in a nearby village, the devil driving the mules explains. A rhetorical error of the informant, again uncritically recorded by Cide Hamete, states that the actors represent the costumes they are wearing, and not that they are wearing the costumes of the parts that they represent. Clemencín attributes a simple error to Cervantes. Cervantes, however, through the presumed «error» is calling our attention to the costumes as role definers and as descriptive of character traits.

Unexpectedly, an actor called a clown by Cide Hamete (another «cock» with a «Gothic» label) but behaving like the devil, as Sancho calls him recognizing his ways, and disregarding his costume, figuratively teases Rocinante's lower instincts by beating the ground with his bladders, fencing with his stick, and sounding his bells. The startled animal darts into an uncontrollable gallop landing with his master on the ground, «the usual upshot of the horse's youthful follies», Cide Hamete reflects.

Why is Don Quijote being castigated in the metaphoric castration of his nag? Because he has just betrayed the object of his near mystic cult, Dulcinea, by offering his services to the comedians, an unpardonable moral error. A knight errant is a symbol of a superior human being, a figura moral that belongs in a miracle play. But like the emblematic figure on the wagon, armed to the teeth yet wearing a soldier's hat, as his colorful plumes betray,148 i.e. dressed as a knight but thinking of less lofty matters, Don Quijote has momentarily forgotten his commitment to Dulcinea.149 As a consequence of his moral error he has lost control over his baser forces represented by the runaway Rocinante.150 The knight is «the master, the logos, the spirit which prevails over the mount (that is, over matter)», Juan   —140→   Eduardo Cirlot reminds us.151 Now, matter, Rocinante, is controlling spirit, Don Quijote, and comes a cropper. Here we have a clear indication of Cervantes' ironic meaning behind Sansón Carrasco's cunning or coincidental implication that Don Quijote's biography is easy to understand because we can recognize Rocinante!

The subsequent clown-devil's race and fall with Sancho's ass, Dapple, a symbol of simplemindedness, is an emblem for Don Quijote's spiritual fall from his chivalric madness, locura in the positive sense of the term signifying divine, poetic, and prophetic inspiration, as Harald Weinrich defines it,152 to folly, locura, in the negative sense of the term, of yielding to the appeal of «comedy» and «pantomime» to the extent of idealizing their «tinsel» and «brass foil». The identification of the clown with the devil, a graphic image of the concept of madness in the sense of folly as symbolic of moral error, informs the rest of the novel and will be repeatedly found throughout Part II.

When Don Quijote wants to vent his anger on someone on the wagon, Sancho stops him by pointing out that there is no knight errant among the whole lot. What about the «knight» Cide Hamete just labeled as fully armed and ready for battle? He is no knight for he wears a soldier's hat. The dichotomous knight-soldier is a symbol for all characters who are not what they seem, the first one Sansón Carrasco, the disguised Knight of the Mirrors, who acts like a clown when he pretends to be a knight and challenges Don Quijote to a duel using the devil's tactic, deception, as the most effective cure for the knight's madness.


Don Quijote, during the night, has recovered from his momentary folly. Night is conducive to mystic meditation (I invoke Saint John's «Dark Night of the Soul»), and Dulcinea has regained her preeminence in Don Quijote's spirit.

When we first see The Knight of the Mirrors, he is wearing over his armor «a surcoat or cassock [Cide Hamete cannot distinguish which] of a material that seemed like finest gold, sprinkled with shining little disk-like mirrors». His visor is down, concealing his face, an image of deception. On his helmet flutter a great many «green, white, and yellow plumes», like so many extensions from his brain that seem to have pierced through his helmet -a surrealist touch behind the impressionistic depiction of the «dazzling» («vistoso») knight.

Sansón's exalted self-image is expressionistically revealed by the colors of his plumes, his thoughts, if we apply the conceptual European color symbolism and its heraldic significance, as well as the traditional Spanish color code.153The green plumes, being the color of nature and life, bespeak Sansón's optimism and hope in the outcome of his undertaking. The yellow plumes imply magnanimity, intuition, and illumination, yellow being the attribute of Apollo, the sun-god,154 and, in heraldry, generosity and high-mindedness.155 The white plumes bespeak purity, chastity, charity, and innocence, white being a stock symbol in Western cultures.

In a declining scale of chromatic symbolism, however, the significance of these colors has a negative import. Green, the color par excellence of «antithetical tendencies», as Cirlot calls it, now signifies envy, jealousy, malevolence, and death.156 Yellow indicates malice, betrayal, treachery, hypocrisy, cowardice, and death,157 among other negative   —142→   attributes. White, «in so far as its quality of lividness goes», is by extension symbolic of death.158 Death is the extreme meaning in the debased direction of all three colors, green, yellow and white. They belie Sansón's protestations of altruism and his justifications for his expedient to achieve noble ends; they also denounce his malicious self-indulgence in comedy and farce. He will fall off his horse once while trying to dismount (II, 12), and will be unhorsed later (II, 14), both of which graphically indicate that his animal nature is in control of his spirit. Cide Hamete's information that Sansón's is a «hired horse» is Cervantes' insinuation that the bachiller has assumed a knight's role only temporarily.

Sansón's ambivalent motivations are suggested by his «enormous and thick lance shod with more than a foot of steel» (II, 14), and by his mismatched disguise. He wears a colorful plumed helmet indicative of his gay mood, remindful of the plumed hat of the actor dressed as the soldier-knight, and an adorned surcoat resembling a cassock suggestive of the military uniform used in carrying out an execution,159 shining, moreover, with false gold reminiscent of the fake gold of the crown of the Emperor riding in the wagon of death. Everything about Sansón reminds us of the actors. In fact, we have the illusion that he is the knight-soldier on the wagon of death who slipped away when he spotted Don Quijote and Sancho to finish dressing for his part by exchanging his plumed hat for his helmet -one of those mirages Cervantes lays before the reader.

The broken surface of the mirror on Sansón's costume, designed by him in jest to mirror Don Quijote's madness, reflects, instead, Sansón's own madness. (His squire will call him mad, and Sansón will admit he is mad). The mirror, a classical symbol of self-contemplation, leading to self-knowledge and hence to wisdom, is fragmented on Sansón's disguise antithetically to denounce his self-delusion. This meaning is sustained by a visual surrealist pun: Don Quijote's authenticity as a knight errant shatters Sansón's image of him -the fragmented mirror- reflects onto the bachiller his own lack of self-knowledge.

Sansón's falseness and treachery are graphically revealed when Don Quijote raises the visor of the fallen Knight of the Mirrors and discovers «the very form, the very aspect, the very physiognomy, the very effigy, and the very image» -variants of quasi-synonymity   —143→   alluding to the bachiller's features, earlier described as reflecting craftiness, and «a mischievous disposition to jibes and japes» (II, 3) -of his friend Sansón Carrasco. Sansón's real identity, his face, and his claimed identity, his vizor, do not match. The silent pun contained in this pictorial expressionism conveys that he is a different man inside and outside, that he is two-faced.

In contrast, when in a second encounter with Sansón, now disguised as The Knight of the White Moon, Don Quijote is unhorsed, he declares without raising his vizor, «as from within a tomb» -says his candid chronicler Cide Hamete- that the ideal, Dulcinea, is the most beautiful lady in the world. The vizor that he does not raise proclaims that his external and his internal identities are one and the same. Don Quijote's armor, of neutral grey, stands as a symbol of the solitude and sadness of the committed man. (Covarrubias equates grey with crying).

Like the mirror, the moon painted on the Knight of the White Moon's shield, his spiritual identity,160 is a reflector, but of ambivalent character: it is both protective and dangerous. Its faces or phases give it a changeable character. Sansón's many faces are still his predominant character trait. He claims on both encounters that he wants to cure Don Quijote of his madness (II, 7, 15, 65), but he admits after Don Quijote initially defeats him that he will seek revenge (II, 15).

In their second encounter, Sansón's silhouette on the horizon between earth and sky seems to be what the neo-Platonists called a 'cosmological image' encompassing the figurable and the conceptual worlds, capable of performing on the receptor, in this case Don Quijote, a sudden 'allegorical cure' of his presumed madness.

But it is the fallen Don Quijote who rises to the category of 'allegorical image' endowed with the gift of performing the 'allegorical cure' by imparting sudden moral knowledge to Sansón, thus regenerating his spirit and curing him of his madness, for Sansón will concede the unsurpassed beauty of the ideal, Dulcinea.161 Sancho's   —144→   dictum that Don Quijote returns home «vanquished by the arm of another but as victor over himself» (II, 72) is well justified.

If we approach with the same criteria the confrontation between Don Quijote and Don Diego de Miranda, the «gentleman in green» (II, 16-18); Don Quijote's and his squire's sojourn at the «country home», «palace», or «house of pleasure», for all three designations are used, of the Duke and Duchess (II, 30 and ff.); Sancho's experience during the hunt of being left dangling from a tree branch by his green hunter's suit (II, 34); Ricote's return to Spain disguised as a beggar (II, 54); Sancho's fall with his donkey, Dapple, into a dark pit (II, 55); in fact, all the episodes of part II, we discover that Cide Hamete's non-critical, impressionistic depiction of what he sees before him adumbrates Cervantes' surrealistic-expressionistic meaning of reality.

I shall resist the temptation to discuss here the encounter between Don Quijote and Don Diego de Miranda, the «gentleman in green», very much a case in point for my development. Let me simply indicate here in keeping with the thrust of my own focus that Cide Hamete's impressionistic view of Don Diego's attire is of the gentleman's appearance whereas Cervantes' expressionistic view of it is of his substance. Cide Hamete presents Don Diego as a worthy, prototypical member of society. Cervantes wittily insinuates that he is a fake and a rake. If I have aroused your curiosity with these remarks you will find a detailed explication of Cervantes' dual description of Don Diego de Miranda in my forthcoming monograph, Cervantes, the Painter and the Writer of «Don Quijote». In it, I briefly discuss Gerald L. Gingras' important and thorough article on Don Diego's attire (Cervantes 5 [1958], 129-40) to make clear that Cervantes intended the reader's first visualization of Don Diego's garb to be from Cide Hamete's perspective so as to tone down his own ironic parody.

How aware is Cervantes of the subtleties his art suggests, and how deliberate are his techniques? The Antonomasia story told by the Dueña Dolorida, the disguised Duke's steward, conceived to poke fun at Don Quijote and Sancho, holds the answer to our question.

Antonomasia, the rhetorical term meaning «By Another Name» (i.e. her real name is not given),162 is a princess courted by Clavijo, a   —145→   very bad poet, musician, dancer, and artisan excelling at making bird cages, a metaphor for the imprisonment of the souls of his admirers. His name, Clavijo, is a masculinized term for clavija, meaning peg of a string instrument and rudder of a ship, thus implying the insignificance of the artist: he lacks direction, and is reduced to the technical, manual side of his instrument, or his vessel. His name further suggests that he is a bastard, for Clavijo is a conceit based on colloquialism: Clavijo, hijo de clavo, son of a ... I leave the rest to your imagination as Cervantes does.163

The princess' guardian, Dolorida, also known as Countess Lobuna and Countess Trifaldi, another conceit -Trifaldi, tres faldas, tercera, go-between-, all three suggestive of fraud, deceit, prostitution, and corruption,164 yielding to Clavijo's bribes and trinkets, facilitates the lovers' romance and later their secret marriage.

Antonomasia and Clavijo's marriage becomes known when the princess grows heavy with child. In punishment for their transgression the lovers are transformed, Antonomasia into a brass ape, and Clavijo into a frightful crocodile of unknown metal. And the pair is placed under a spell on top of Antonomasia's mother's grave.

With metaphoric explicitness Cervantes is recreating the theme of Orbaneja's anecdote, in turn a graphic reference to the whole novel Don Quijote. On a conceptual, pictorial level, the Antonomasia fantasy is   —146→   Cervantes' allegory of contemporary poetry, the unspoken name of Antonomasia. We deduce as much from the description of the beautiful princess in terms that recall Don Quijote's definition of poetry when lecturing at the gentleman in green (II, 16). Antonomasia, Dolorida tells us,

reached the age of fourteen in such perfection of beauty that nature could not raise her a point higher... She was intelligent as she was lovely. She was the most beautiful creature in the world...”.

(II, 38)                

until Clavijo debased her, it is understood. Poetry, Don Quijote had said:

is like a tender, young and extremely beautiful maiden, whom other maidens toil to enrich, polish and adorn. She is formed of an alchemy of such virtue that anyone who knows how to treat her will transform her into purest gold of inestimable price. 165

(II, 16)                

Poetry is, in Aristotelian theory, the art of the perfect imitation of nature.166 The transformed Antonomasia cannot give birth to the perfect poem, the song, the work of art, the child in her womb, because, like the libidinous ape she has been turned into she can only mimic, not create. The ape is, like the mirror, a symbol of mimesis among the neo-Aristotelians.167 Cervantes borrows the symbol in order to make a clear distinction between artless imitation or copy -the disfigured princess- and genuine creation -his own novel. He sculptures the ape in brass, an impure, hard-sounding alloy, the only kind of poetry and music Antonomasia's husband, Clavijo, is capable of   —147→   producing. Clavijo is nothing but a deceitful, seducing crocodile (in the vernacular, a liar) made of «unknown metal», a stuff not even found in nature. He is unnatural: non-existent as an artist.168

The untitled surrealistic sculpture-allegory represents The Defacement of Poetry. Its appearance is its substance. And the go-between Dolorida-Lobuna-Trifaldi symbolizes The Perversion of Art. The sculpture allegory and the go-between exemplify, therefore, what poetry should not be. The forms, the ape, the crocodile, the bristly face of Dolorida, represent an abysmal concept; the textures, the hardness and brittleness of the ape's brass, the blank roughness of the crocodile's unknown metal, and the prickliness of Dolorida's and other dueñas' bristles, are dismal qualities; the colors, the mimetic green implied in the mere mention of the crocodile (artistic dilletantism), the dullness of the brass of the ape (the uninspired Muse), the blond, black, white, and generally varicolored bristles (confusion), and the black attire (death) of Dolorida, in so many respects the unprincipled poetry-science, allude to unsavory characteristics; all there, forms, textures and colors, are irreconcilable with the laws of artistic creation.

By implied antithesis, the sculpture allegory is Cervantes' Ars Poetica, and a precise pictorial execution of his conception of fiction, of his Ars Pictorica. It is his metaphorical spelling out of how he paints the truth about his society and the human condition behind Cide Hamete's literal biography of the eccentric knight.

And, just in case we have missed the graphically conveyed message, he refers to his style in a marker between the enchanted lovers written in three languages, Syriac translated into Candayesque and then into Castilian. The marker is Cervantes' hard-to-decipher label in 'Gothic letters.' Syriac invokes, because of the faithful translations into that language of ancient texts that would otherwise be lost for posterity, accuracy of reproduction and literal precision. This is Cide Hamete's language. The Candayesque language from the non-existent kingdom of Candaya (really a metaphor for Spain) is Dolorida's own prosaic   —148→   language about a subject that needs deciphering. And the Castilian language refers to Cervantes' cryptic but clear pictorial rendering of concepts, containing all three styles.

Cervantes' invention of pictorial techniques that address the far from perfect practices of contemporary artists, and his departure from the classical representation of Poetry and of Painting as beautiful women deified by transcendent symbols, and by mottos and inscriptions, as found, for instance, in Cesare Ripa's 1603 edition of his illustrated Iconologia, 169 make of Cervantes a conceptual forerunner of the great impressionist, expressionist, and surrealist masters of recent times.