Miguel de Cervantes or the Wish to Live

Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

The exhibition shows the photographs produced by José Manuel Navia in connection with the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes in 2016. For this project, Navia followed in Cervantes’ footsteps, visually capturing the places and paths trodden by the great author throughout his life – a troubled and uncertain life that is also revealed to us in a veiled manner in his works. The photographs that make up the exhibition are taken especially for this purpose. They illustrate the places linked to Miguel Cervantes’s life, the traces of a lifetime. The photographs are accompanied by detailed texts and literary quotes that refer to the author’s life as well as to his works.

Photographer Jose Manuel Navia looks at the life of Cervantes, through 66 photographs. A subjective and evocative way to present the main places linked to the life of Miguel Cervantes.

Autumn 1547, the town of Alcalá de Henares witnesses the birth of Miguel, fourth child of Leonor de Cortinas and Rodrigo de Cervantes, barber-surgeon by profession, the bottom rung of the medical ladder.

His childhood passes amongst the magic of puppet shows (those "wandering people"will never be forgotten) and the tribulations of a country’s obsession with pure bloodlines.

October 7th 1571. Over three hundred ships of the Holy League overtake the Turkish fleet, moored in the Bay of Lepanto. "The battle at this point was so bloody and terrible that the fire and sea seemed joined as one.

"Did the harquebusier Cervantes, the day before battle, find a moment to glance across the bay to the island of Ithaca and recall his beloved Homer and the tenacious Ulysses? Come the day, "Don Quixote will be quite simply, a man from La Mancha transfigured into an Homeric hero."

Cervantes will see more action; with the taking of the fortress La Goleta at Tunis, he first comes into contact with North Africa. In these lands Miguel will experience hardships; these lands which are at once both origin and fate for the morisco world and culture, which will always stay with him.

His journey home is cut short: five years of captivity in Algiers, "that reduced Noah’s Ark, which welcomes and conceals and within its breast so many pirates closes in together."

Practically nowhere commemorates his stay. Three hundred and sixty years later Albert Camus writes in his notebook, yes, I’ve tilted at windmills. Because it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether you fight windmills or giants. It matters so little that they are easily confused. Camus the "pied-noir"; exiled from himself, like Cervantes.

"Milan for pleasures; Portugal for love". The veteran of Lepanto makes his way there in the hope of recognition for his services. He’s due for disappointment but his affection for Portugal is a touchstone.

In the novel Persiles, after disembarking in the vicinity of the famous Lisbon the pilgrims visit the city before setting off for Valencia, crossing the entire peninsula.

Guadalupe, Trujillo, Talavera and its great "Monda festival", through Ocaña and the roads to the east... All places familiar to the writer, who knows that "feigned stories are good and enjoyable the closer they are to the truth or the appearance of truth."

December 12th 1584. Miguel marries his young bride Catalina in Esquivias. An attempt to live the life of a country squire is not a success.

Two years later he leaves wife and home and sets out for Seville. But in his time living at La Sagra, occasionally getting away to nearby Toledo, and later on the roads to Andalusia, he meets the people who will form the backbone of his work.

In his essay on Miguel de Cervantes, the poet Luis Cernuda wrote: "The daily routine: the familiar paths with their workaday inns, and the people, things which no one before had observed so clearly and profoundly, come to life and finally enter the realm of art."

The Inés Inn, previously known as The Mayor’s Inn, just along from the Mill Inn "is situated on the confines of the renowned plains of Alcudia, and on the road from Castile to Andalusia."

Felipe Ferreiro and his daughter Carmen, disabled from birth, live in this isolated place. Did Miguel stop here on his repeated journeys, riding a mule and covering eight leagues a day? It’s highly likely as both inns are mentioned in his works.

Spring 1587. Cervantes arrives at what was then the financial capital of the country, in his role as provisions officer. "The constant rush, the exciting boundless energy, the opulence and the poverty of Seville were in themselves a sumptuous spectacle and endless adventure."

There are frequent changes of address, often to rough neighbourhoods where his characters would feel at home. Characters such as Rincón, Cortado, or the Extremaduran; the English Spanish Lady or Cipión, Berganza and their cohorts.

Twelve years of travelling Andalusia from top to bottom, first as a requisitioner of wheat and oil and later as a tax collector. We can follow his movements from signed documents: towns such as Marchena, Écija, Estepa, Montilla and Úbeda figure amongst others. He makes no exception for the Church and is twice excommunicated as a result. On 19th September 1592 he ends up in the prison of Castro del Río over a question of three hundred bushels of wheat.

1607. Miguel and all the family have moved once and for all to Madrid.

In the wake of "Don Quixote’s" success, he concludes and publishes the rest of his works: the "Exemplary Novels", "the Journey to Parnassus" and a compilation of his works for the theatre, so poorly received on the stage, despite his professed love of the genre.

"One morning before dawn [...] he commenced to ride through the ancient and illustrious countryside of Montiel. And it was true that this was where he was riding." The author leaves no doubt about the region that is Don Quixote’s homeland, whichever village he was born in, that place whose name he does not care to remember. No matter, "we should respect the deliberate ambiguity imposed by Cervantes" Argamasilla, Ruidera, the windmills... "In Don Quixote the countryside of La Mancha is more felt than described," in words of Joaquín González.

For Francisco Rico "in Don Quixote the countryside of La Mancha is more felt than described." La Mancha, a land with very little in its favour for those who don’t look beneath the surface; yet this is a land which can maintain the delicate "balance between honour and poverty and is the setting Cervantes chooses to unleash the great battle between idealism and realism", according to Manuel Criado de Val.

December 1615. Cervantes produces his finest work, publishing the second part of "Don Quixote". After giving his knight new adventures in La Mancha and by the River Ebro, he sends them to Barcelona.

They arrived at the beach on Midsummer night and saw the sea which they had not seen before. Although they visited this city, fountain of courtesy, shelter of strangers and unique in its location and beauty, Don Quixote was drawing slowly to his close, until finally vanquished and falling on that very beach. The fact is –as Martín de Riquer, who believes Cervantes visited Barcelona in 1610, puts it– the end of Don Quixote is at hand. And his creator’s too.

Credits: Story

Organized by
Instituto Cervantes
Acción Cultural Española (AC/E)

Curator and Photographer
José Manuel Navia

Set up and Programming
Raquel Mesa (AC/E)

Translations Spanish- English
Jenny F. Dodman

More info >

Exhibition eBook >

*All quotations belong to works of Miguel de Cervantes except those which where expressly cited.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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