By Wendy Hower Livingston
Maybe because I am a big fan of Klinger on the old TV show M*A*S*H (whose home town is Toledo, Ohio), I expected the medieval town of Toledo, Spain, to be similarly urban and gritty. Not so. This is the town where El Greco lived, high on a dusty cobblestoned hill, and founded by the Romans.
Last Thursday, the UNC-TV documentary crew and I had a mission in Toledo: Find Hospital Tavera, the unlikely place where Sarah Schroth, the Nancy Hanks Senior Curator at the Nasher Museum, made a great discovery that led to our upcoming exhibition, “El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III.” Down the street from the bullfighting plaza, we found it. The building now houses a school, a small museum and national archives. We stood outside the stone wall, trying to figure out which was Sarah’s window, and the sounds of children playing wafted over to us.
Twenty years ago, when this was still a hospital, Sarah had to talk her way into the attic bedroom of a housekeeper. This was Sarah’s last hope, after many months of searching, to find the family papers of the Duke of Lerma. (The orange arrow points to the room of the unheated attic where Sarah did her sleuthing.)
Methodically, for weeks, Sarah leafed through hundreds of records dating from the 19th century. Suddenly, one day, she came across a 1603 household inventory signed by the painters to King Philip III, detailing many works of art owned by the Duke of Lerma. This proved that the duke was the first mega-collector of Europe. “It was a huge gold mine — I knew it immediately!” Sarah had told us. “I was soaring!”
After buying Coke Lites from a street vendor, the crew (Will Mikes, videographer, and Scott Davis, executive producer) and I decided to explore the old city, which is ringed by a high stone wall. Will drove the van like Indiana Jones. The van’s side mirrors nearly scraped the sides of ancient buildings on the steep and narrow cobble-stoned streets.
I bought a bracelet depicting a few saints, the pope and the Virgin Mary. Maybe it will protect me during the weeks ahead, preparing for “El Greco to Velázquez.”
Culinary adventure update: quail eggs with tiny beans.