The image impressed me when I set eyes upon it for the first time. It was as if it were already familiar, as if, as a child, I had already seen the same man framed in a doorway. The painting is about half life-size. It was painted by Velázquez in about 1640. It is an imaginary portrait of Aesop.

He stands there, convoked. By whom? A bench of judges? A gang of bandits? A dying woman? Travellers asking for another story?

Where are we? Some say that the wooden bucket and the shammy leather indicate a tannery, and these same commentators remember Aesop’s fable about the man who learned gradually to ignore the stench of tanning hides. I’m not entirely convinced. Perhaps we are at an inn, among travellers on the road. His boots are as worn as a tired horse with a swayback. Yet at this moment he is surprisingly dust-free and clean. He has washed and douched his hair, which is still a little damp.


Madrid
Bruce Chatwin | Interview